After two years of living in Germany, I wonder to myself how ‘German’ have I become versus my American culture? The last time I visited home in the States was at Christmas last year, and I could already notice a difference after my first year. So, this got me thinking — How German Am I Now?
The answers to this question lie within the differences I see between the two cultures and how much of an effect living in Germany has had on my own personal thoughts, feelings, and attitude. The following are presented in no particular order.
- Crossing the Street: CHECK. When I am walking and have to cross a street, rarely do I jaywalk now and I always follow the little red man telling me not to cross. Even if I can look all the way down both ends of a flat, straight street at 2am, I will not cross until I see the green man. The real question is, what am I doing walking at 2am?
- Watching out for pedestrians & bicyclists: CHECK. To follow #1 – when I drive our car, I now have a sixth sense that looks out for people walking into cross walks or riding a bicycle. I mean they have the right of way (ALWAYS), but I am from New Jersey and we considered that target practice….but, not any longer!
- Grocery Shopping: FAIL. I still grocery shop like an American, where I go only once a week and fill up a grocery cart. And, the checkout system still stresses me out to no end!! As the shopper, you have to place your own groceries onto the checkout table and put your own groceries away in the cart, paying as quickly as possible with both the cashier and those waiting behind you giving you that stare as you have the audacity of holding up the line. You have to buy each bag to place your groceries inside unless you bring your own. And, since I have a week’s worth of groceries, I can usually fill up two large IKEA bags….best bags ever!!
- Recycling: CHECK. Pfand! At 15 to 25 Euro cents per bottle, I no longer just throw away an empty drink bottle. What seems like a small amount quickly adds up if you buy a few 6-packs of cola, water, beer, etc and each bottle has a ‘Pfand’, which is what some States in the US call a ‘deposit’. I like to call it a ‘ransom’ in that you return the empty bottle, you get your money back. Most grocery stores have automatic vending machines where you stick the bottle inside and then you receive a ticket to hand the cashier at checkout.
- Paying with Cash & Pay in Exact Change: CHECK & CHECK. Since a lot of places do not accept credit or debit cards, I now carry more cash than before & I pay in as close to exact change as possible. In the beginning, I would just hand the cashier a 50 Euro bill for something that cost like 25.45 Euro. I did this because I could not understand what the cashier said at checkout, and I was not too familiar with the currency. But, then I realized that like 90% of the registers show the price, I now can understand the language better, and I realized that money is money. The added benefit is my reduced collection of loose change, which can add up quickly given the 1 & 2 Euro coins. I counted all my loose change once and had almost 50 Euros (about $55).
- Carrying Pocket Change: CHECK. I now always carry with me some pocket change, especially the 50 Euro cent and 1 Euro coins, as most parking meters only except coins or paper currency, and I need that 1 Euro coin anyway to be able to use a grocery cart at the store. I get my 1 Euro coin back when I return the cart to its original place….that German efficiency & order thing again, ensuring customers (not workers) return their carts.
- Quiet Time: CHECK. I no longer listen to loud music or have the TV too loud, especially in the evenings in our apartment. In Germany, there are noise laws where no loud noises are allowed every day between 1-3pm, between 10pm in the evenings until 6am, and at no time on Sundays or on holidays! Sure, there are exceptions, but pretty much these ‘Ruhezeit’ or ‘rest time’ rules are followed. I do not know the exact penalty, but I do know that the police will enforce this if needed. And, I understand that this is how it has been for centuries in Germany. But, I guess given that Germany is the size of Montana with 82 million people (i.e., 4% of the US space & 27% of the population) that with the population density 7 times greater than the US, noise can be a problem.
- Speaking German: CHECK & FAIL. I now speak German when I need to, but still find it too easy to say ‘Mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut’ (my German is not that good), which lets me off the hook in trying to speak the language. Most Germans speak & understand English better than my German. But, after spending a whole day ‘actively’ listening, sometimes it is just easier to help them with their English. At least that is the public service that I am offering.
- Dining Out: CHECK. I do not like to be bothered by the waiter or waitress at a restaurant unless I need something. I noticed this last year when I visited home in the States that what I use to consider great service is very annoying (i.e., when the waiter comes to your table every 5 minutes asking if I needed anything). This always seemed to happen at times of ‘deep’ conversations with family and friends. Where in the US, the servers are paid just barely over $2 per hour and earn their wages primarily on tips, in Germany, the servers typically are paid a full wage with complete benefits. So, it is not about turning tables quickly, but about enjoying the atmosphere and company while dining out. At first, Americans think that German servers are terrible, but once you realize that they are in fact respecting your space, it makes dining out a relaxing and enjoyable experience. Quick note on tipping: tipping is different in the Germany, where normally you just round up the bill in increments of 5 Euros vs. the 15-20% add-on in the States.
- Driving Wicked Fast: CHECK. I love driving fast!!! Sure, you can drive fast in the States….just not legally. The fastest speed limit in the US is 85mph/135kph (and that is just a very small area in Texas). Compare that to some places on the Autobahn being the ‘minimum’ speed you can drive!!! While I must admit, I have never been a ‘car guy’ or a ‘speed demon’ — I do like to drive faster here in Germany. Given that we drive a BMW, that there are hardly no broken-down or jalopy cars on the road, and the roads themselves are built for high-speed….well, when in Rome (err Germany) do as the Germans do and go fast!!! Quick note about the Autobahn: it is more than one road (it is actually a connected network of highways), there are speed limits in construction & heavy traffic areas (but there are ‘no speed limit’ areas too), and there are rules of the road to follow (i.e., only pass on the left, stay to the right, and follow the speed limits, etc.).
- Public Transportation: CHECK. When I have a need to travel somewhere, my first thought is what train or tram can I take instead of a car. At first, trains/trams were intimidating to me as (1) the signs were in German & (2) I am use to driving anywhere I needed to go in the States. Public transportation in Germany (most of Europe for that matter) is excellent. Even traveling between small villages there is usually at least a bus that will take you there. Buses, trains, & trams typically will take you to the center of connecting villages, towns, and cities – and normally the attraction of these places are in the center. And, given German efficiency, if a train says it will arrive at 4:08pm, it will usually arrive by then. If not, after about 5 minutes you can see the frustration in fellow Germans waiting, as this is not usual.
- Taking Vacations: CHECK & FAIL. We do our vacations both like Germans and Americans now. In Germany, we have 6 weeks of paid vacation plus usually 2 weeks of holidays. With so much time, we can now plan out trips well in advance. But, since all Germans do this too, places like our dog boarding place can fill up quick during summer or holiday times. So, now, before we book our travel we reserve boarding for our dog (which can be a year in advance). And, we take our vacations!! But, we tend to travel like Americans still, where we try to see as many of things as possible instead of picking one place and relaxing the whole time. Honestly, I think we would prefer the latter, but we know our time in Europe is limited, and we plan to take advantage of our location as much as possible.
- Sick Time: CHECK & SOMETIMES FAIL. In Germany, when you are sick or on holiday, you are to not be in the office or checking-in via email or telephone. You are to either take the time off to get better or to relax. There is a definite split between personal and work. For the most part, we have successfully done this, but I know there have been times where I just had to be at work (the American in me) when I should have been at home because I was sick. In the States, when leaving for holiday, sometimes there is an unwritten rule that you still should check email, but this is frowned upon in Germany. The reasoning is the belief that if you take the time to recharge yourself, that you will come back more productive. However, it is hard to sometimes do this if you are still dealing with colleagues in the US or in Asia and they are needing something….but, this is something that is great to be German about!!
- World Politics/News: CHECK. Germans are fairly up-to-date on world events and have an opinion on topics Americans do not like to talk about in the workplace like politics and religion. There are a lot of open news sources in Germany that report on not only events happening in Germany and Europe, but globally as well. Sure, there are some media outlets that are slanted based on their viewpoint, but in the US — all of the media seems biased and only centered on the US. I feel like I know more about what is happening in the US now than I ever did while living there….and, I am 4,000 miles and 6 time zones away from the East Coast. This non-news reporting that is done in the US became very clear to me when my CNN phone app sent me a “breaking news” alert that Kim Kardashian & Kanye West got married and I had to “look up” the current events between the Ukraine and Russia. The date of May 24, 2014 (the wedding date of Kimye) was the date I deleted the CNN app from my iPhone.
- Restricted Shopping Times: FAIL. We miss the convenience of living in the States. Not that this happens, but if it was 2am and we needed milk and a bicycle tire, we could find a Wal-mart that was open back home (there’s that 2am time again?). It is not that we always need something late at night, but the fact that if we wanted to, we could go, is a good feeling. But, it is not that bad, but what does make it bad is that most stores (shopping & grocery) will close at 8pm and most (if any) are closed on Sundays. While I have gotten use to this, my wife does miss going to retail therapy. And, the other consequence goes back to #3 on this list in that all the grocery stores are packed with people on Saturday, because like us, they work during the week and it is the only available time to go shopping.
- German Meats: CHECK. Germans love meat. Where in the States, it is easy to find a Starbucks on most street corners, you do not have to go far to find a Metzger (butcher). Or, go inside any grocery store, and there are entire dedicated aisles to various different cold cuts and wursts (sausages). This is an easy ‘check’ for me, as I loved this Stateside, but the choices here are astounding. The only disappointing thing is trying to find American hot dogs, American pepperoni, and having an American hamburger or steak). But, if you like meats, cheeses, and breads….you will love Germany. Also, if you need to succeed at the Atkins Diet…come to Germany!!
Okay, I will stop at 16 as I am sure I could keep going and going. If any other Expats are reading this or if anyone has any other thoughts about seeing the differences between two cultures then please leave your comment below. What ways have you become more German, more American, more Chinese, etc.?