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I grew up in the United States and am still pretty unfamiliar with German customs and social interactions. I am currently working as an intern in a moderately large company in Germany. It's about a 40 minute commute and I usually rode together with a family member who has a very high position in the company. Due to external circumstances my family member took two weeks off and I asked to carpool with a group of coworkers that were close enough to where I live.

It has been fine for the most part since 1 or 2 would be missing consistently, but today it resulted in one of the coworkers taking his own car to work citing lack of space as a reason (it's very cramped if all 5 of us are in the car). I asked at the beginning of the carpool relationship how I could contribute to gas costs but my question was completely brushed off.

I would very much like to show my gratitude and appreciation for their patience and willingness to take me along (they may also have felt that they could not refuse due to my family member that has a very high position in the company), but I am unsure how to express that and what kind of gift/action would be appropriate to convey it.

Any advice is greatly appreciated!

5 Answers 5

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Ask your co-workers. Say something like this: "In the USA, it's our custom to contribute something towards gas money when riding in a car pool. Please tell me what the customs are here in Germany. I would hate to make a social mistake."

I believe, having lived in several cultures, that it's almost always appropriate to ask this kind of question about cultural customs. It's most appropriate when the situation is immediate, not abstract.

That is, ask your carpool mates this question. You also can ask the fellows at the local gym, but the question won't be as meaningful to them.

Even if your carpool mates still refuse your offer of payment, you have started a conversation about social customs and you (and they) will still learn something.

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  • While I find this a great answer I feel it would such a question (if asked of the employees I carpool with) would be answered with something along the lines of: "Oh there is no need to do such a thing." I think you were referring to co-workers in general, which will indeed be very beneficial. Could you slightly clarify the scope of employees in your answer or state that the ambiguity was intentional? I would be happy to mark this question as answered then :) Aug 1, 2014 at 9:09
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You already did the right thing and asked to share the gas costs. That's definitely the polite thing to do, but it's not unusual that those costs are not shared because quite frankly, the cost of actually collecting the people in terms of time spent for the driver is way higher than gas prices, even in Germany.

Be someone people like to have in the car. Be nice, be friendly and above all in Germany: be on time. A perfect passenger is already waiting when the car arrives.

For two weeks, you don't need to do anything special or costly. Make sure you offer your thanks. "Danke für's mitnehmen" (thanks for giving me a ride) would be appropriate and a normal saying whenever someone takes you somewhere. Showing appreciation goes a long way and is worth more than anything you could buy.

You cannot go wrong with a box of chocolate though.

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    Take heed I've found Germans are VERY disappointed by what we in the US find to be decent chocolate. If you're going to give them chocolate you might want to make it a point to get local chocolate or a high quality chocolate. (Edit, it's not that they are picky, most commercial chocolate in the US is pretty low quality) Aug 1, 2014 at 19:14
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Don't sweat this overly. As an intern, you likely make a lot less than the others, and they know that. In addition, it's only for two weeks. Not really a big deal.

Of course, a little present would be appreciated. Perhaps a medium-priced bottle of wine for each of them (assuming they all take turns driving), which might set you back more-or-less exactly the price of one tank full of gas. Or chocolate.

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    Don't forget breakfast! Nothing shakes of the morning gloom like some free bagels. Of course you would be mindful of people's policy about having food and drink in the car. Maybe gift cards to a nearby café/food place. (I'm not sure how these are in Germany).
    – Bmo
    Jul 31, 2014 at 13:24
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The fact that you're grateful for the efforts they've gone to could go a long way.

I can't speak specifically for German customs (hopefully another user can do that) but in a case like that I'd write a "thank you" note and purchase a gift card - especially one that can be used at bigger chains; this has the benefit that they can use it for fuel or something else if they like. I'm a fan of gift cards especially because a lot of people I know wouldn't be comfortable about asking for/accepting cash for doing someone a favour.

Your colleagues brushed off your offer so it's possible that they don't expect it to be a long-term arrangement. If it turns into a longer-than-expected arrangement you might want to raise the subject again.

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I'm actually mildly confused why you just don't ask your family member? Surely they would know German culture and customs. Perhaps it's something along the lines of social etiquette says to always refuse help with gas but that the other person should always insist and give it to them anyways. If I were the one driving (mind you I'm from the U.S), I wouldn't tell you to give me gas money (I know you asked but it's always awkward to say "yes, give me fifty dollars) but it certainly wouldn't be out of place for you to insist and give me some anyways.

I agree with everyone else that you asking originally was the polite thing to do, and as they don't live very far and it's a temp arrangment, they perhaps generally don't mind.

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