Now that I'm finally finished sharing pics from our Paris anniversary trip, I thought it would be really interesting to share some observations about the differences between Germany and the United States.
As a little disclaimer, these are just my personal observations about the differences between two places I've lived based on past and current experiences. I'm certainly not trying to make any sweeping cultural statements or start anything with anybody!
Things Germany Does Well
I grew up in the Bay Area in the '80's and recycling was super important in my family. My dad was part of the group that helped get one of the first curbside recycling program in the country started! I'll carry something home so I can stick it in the recycling bin instead of throwing it out. I've always been like that, its just how I was raised.
All of this is to help you understand how significant it is when I say that I am really, really impressed by the recycling here. At our house, we have a small black can for Restmuller ("rest of trash") that is maybe the size of two large shoeboxes. And Restmuller is only picked up every other week. If you generate more trash than that, you have to buy special bags that are super expensive to place next to your can at the curb. There's a separate blue bin for altpaper ("old paper") that's picked up once a month and a brown one for biowaste (kitchen scraps, yard trimmings, etc.) that's picked up every other week. Most places have a Yellow Bag bin, for plastic, glass, and tin, but in the town we are living in you have to take those to the recycling center, which is only open Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings.
There are also garbage police. The guys who come around in the trucks on pick up days actually open up your bin and check to make sure that you've putting the right things in that bin! I'm not sure what happens if you do it wrong, but I have a hunch that I don't want to find out!
Germany builds incredibly well-built buildings. The door frames in our house are around a foot thick and the exterior walls are closer to two. Basements and attics are basically always finished spaces. Roofs are peaked to prevent issues from snow. There are electrical outlets everywhere and heated floors are the norm in buildings, as are fancy windows that swing open as well as tilt from the top. I suspect that all of this will be a necessity come winter, but it seems terribly luxurious to me! Germans also dislike elitism, so in a given neighborhood all of the house will be super close in size and cost. Even apartments will fit in with the style of the neighborhood.
Germans have an almost pathological addiction to tidiness! There are trash cans about every five feet when you go out for a walk, everyone sweeps their sidewalks, and I even caught our next door neighbor rinsing out his Biowaste can with a watering can yesterday!
Germans seem to loath clutter and their houses and restaurants are a charming mix of modern sterility and old world cottage charm (lace curtains next to IKEA-modern). Despite making fun of this a little at first, both Hubby and I noticed that we really felt like Paris was dirty in comparison. I think I might be catching a bit of that tidiness bug!
Taking Care of Workers
German workers are incredibly spoiled compared to the United States. You don't tip in restaurants here, because servers already make a living wage. There's universal health care, generous unemployment, everyone gets retirement benefits, and college is free. Now, Germans do pay very high taxes in comparison to Americans, which is why they can afford all of this, but they also don't have to worry about saving for college or retirement, which are huge concerns for most Americans.
Things Germany Doesn't Do Well
Oh, how I miss air conditioning! Germany is noticeably lacking in air conditioning, central heating, bathroom fans, and other systems designed to move air around. Even in the dead of winter, you have to tilt open your fancy windows for a while each day to let air circulate, which negates the benefits of those nice thick wall if you ask me.
I was bewildered at first by the incredibly large section of scented candles at the PX on post, but Hubby told me I'd figure it out really fast. And I did. Because there's no air circulating, smells linger for an incredibly long time, whether it's last night's dinner, someone's *ahem* stomach ache, or the cows down the road. We have more scented candles in the house right now than I've owned in the last five years combined, and we use them daily!
I think I'm very spoiled in this regard, coming from a comparatively new town out West with very laid-back drivers. I'm used to large parking lots, wide multilane roads, streetlights every 10 feet, and a modern grid system of roads. Here? Not so much. In Germany, things like speed limits, politely letting someone else have the right of way, safe following distance, yielding to pedestrians, and even stop signs are for the weak. It's all drive-like-your-hair-is-on-fire, bat-out-of-Hell around here. Again, I think if I had more experience driving in a big city, like say LA, this wouldn't be a jarring for me, but it's definitely a huge difference compared to what I am used to.
The roads are terrifying, too. You'll head down a winding, narrow country road through a field and think that it must be a one-way street because it's so tiny. Yeah, no. Cars will come barreling at you head on and expect you to get out of their way.
Oh, and the situation in the driving handbook that we both giggled over with tractors? Not hypothetical. They're EVERYWHERE, even in big cities.
Parking is also basically non-existent. We will wind up walking for 30 minutes each way when we try out a new restaurant in town because it probably doesn't offer any parking.
German appliances are all very space and electricity efficient. The dishwasher and washing machine use less water than their American counterparts. But they are also incredibly time inefficient and don't seem to work all that well. The washing machine takes TWO HOURS to do a single load, and they don't seem at all cleaner than the 30 minute cycle back home. The dishwasher and dryer are hit-or-miss when it comes to actually drying dishes or clothes and we wind up hanging up a lot of clothes and air drying a lot of dishes on the drying rack, which kind of defeats the purpose of having these appliances in the first place!
After air conditioning, I think I miss the convenience of stores' hours in the United States most of all. Here, everything is closed on Sundays. And closes in the early afternoon on Saturdays to boot. Grocery stores close by six pm during the week, so too bad if you are running late after work. There are no 24-hour anything and something like a convenience store or a drug store is unheard of. I have no idea what you are supposed to do if you get sick in the middle of the night and need cough syrup.
Small business are even more confusing. Restaurants are open at mysterious and seemingly random times. They may be closed on Tuesdays without posting a sign, or go on summer vacation for six months with no warning. The butcher is open only every third Thursday from 10:15-10:45, or something like that. (Okay, I'm exaggerating SLIGHTLY about the butcher, but I have yet to go there and have it actually be open for business!)
People say that Americans are obsessive about this, and I guess its true. Smoking is EVERYWHERE here and it is so, so gross. I'm especially sensitive about this, since I have asthma and second hand smoke makes me very, very sick. :(
It's definitely been an interesting learning experience moving to a different country and continent. I really do like the experience of living somewhere totally new and different, although there are still some things I'm getting used to.
What would be the hardest thing for you to adjust to if you moved to a new country? Let me know in the comments below!
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