I think traveling is the best thing I can do to improve at inventing and writing fictional cultures.
As much as I learned about Germany from my family and language courses in school, being here has been a brand new experience.
In some ways, Deutschland is not so different from home. I’ve seen many tree-covered, rolling hills in the United States. The gas station we stopped at operated much like the ones along US freeways. Many city streets here would not be out of place in a US city.
But no one–no book, no web article–can tell you about all the little things that are totally foreign.
Like that everywhere there’s road construction they make the driving lanes super scary skinny.
Like that orange flavored Fanta is yellow.
Like that toilets flush by pressing a button, not a handle.
A fictional character encountering a new culture will not only notice large differences, but little ones. Things about the everyday objects they interact with. In fact, they may not notice large things like government system differences, unless it has a large impact on tourist life.
Anyway, just a few thoughts from Deutschland.