In June, I visited home in the United States, and it was the first time back in almost 2 years. I was home for only one week, and the time flew by. From visiting different family members and friends, the days just went by very fast. Before I knew it, I was back home in Germany.
While I enjoyed seeing everyone, it became very apparent to me that I was answering the same questions over and over again. And, the fifth time that I explained what it is like living in Germany, I still had to have the same level of enthusiasm I had the first time I provided my response.
The following are 14 questions from my family and friends that were asked each time. So, since these questions were always asked, these must be the typical questions that an American Expat can expect to be asked when returning home to the States after living in Germany.
Q1: Do you really work? I mean, I see on Facebook & your travel blog all of the places you have visited.
A: Yes. As the saying goes, we work hard and we play hard. And, in our case, we replace the word ‘play’ by ‘travel’. In Germany, we (and most workers) get 6 weeks of vacation with at least 10 holidays on top of that. At least 1/3 of the holidays fall on a Thursday, so this sets up a lot of extended weekend trips. Traveling in Europe is much different than in the US. For example, we can drive from my parents’ house in North Carolina to my wife’s parents’ house in upstate New York in 10 hours (traveling through 6 States). The same 10 hours of driving in Europe, we can drive from our flat in Germany to any number of European countries in either direction. And, if we wanted to go, Paris is only a 3 hour train ride away. So, yes, we work, but we travel to a lot of different places that seem far away, but realistically from Germany is not that far at all.
Q2: What has been your favorite place you have visited?
A: This is really a tough question to answer because there are so many wonderful places. For us, there really is not that #1 place (well, except maybe for Mauritius). So, my response is that it depends on what you are wanting to see? My favorite landscape destination was to Iceland & Norway. My favorite city is a tie between Paris & Rome. My favorite country is Italy. My favorite place in Germany is any small, medieval village still with original half-timber buildings. My favorite castle is a tough one because we have literally seen over a hundred, but Neuschwanstein is awesome.
Q3: What is driving on the Autobahn really like?
Q4: Are there really no speed limits?
A: Yes, in some places on the Autobahn there are none. My favorite sign to see is the white circle with diagonal black lines! But, most places on the different Autobahns have speed limits (but still it is way over our 75 miles per hour!)
Q5: Is it scary to drive on the Autobahn?
A: At first, it is a white knuckle experience. Coming from the US where it feels like complete chaos on the interstates, the order and regulations about driving on the Autobahn helps make it not feel as scary. Plus, our BMW rides great!
Q6: So, you bought a BMW?
A: Yeah, we were like since we are in Germany, let’s get a German car. However, the funny thing was getting our car, looking at the paperwork, and seeing that it was manufactured in South Carolina.
Q7: Do Germans talk about World War II and the Nazis?
A: Obviously, this is a touchy subject, but our German friends and co-workers we have talked to about this do open up about stories they heard from their family members. How it was such a tragic time in history, and that everyone basically had to follow along or risk being killed themselves. The subject is taught in schools and the lessons learned are shared, for the simple fact to understand history such that it does not repeat itself.
Q8: How’s the food in Germany? Is it really just bratwurst and sauerkraut?
A: There are so many different types of bratwurst, based on the area of Germany you are. Most German meals have some sort of pork or chicken as the main course served with potatoes or vegetables. For breakfast, it is usually just an assortment of cold cut meats and breads with maybe a soft-boiled egg. Lunch typically is the largest meal with dinner just being a little smaller. There are Italian & Chinese restaurants, but they really taste a little different than in the US. And, then there are a lot of Turkish meals and restaurants also because of the large Turkish population in Germany. The food is good, it mostly tastes different than the US because of the reduced amounts of sugar used, and it really is an experience to try to different varieties in the different areas of Germany.
Q9: What do you miss most about the US?
A: Other than friends, family, and familiarity of our surroundings, this answer has really changed over time. When we first got to Germany, we really missed American television and food & drink. But, we figured out how to watch American television online, and we grew more accustomed to German food. Probably the most constant thing we miss most is the convenience of things in the US compared to Germany. I mean, back home, if we needed something and it was 10pm or heck even 2am, there was always some shop or store we could go. If that same need arises in Germany and it is after 8pm Monday-Friday, after 4pm on Saturday, or anytime on Sunday, you basically have to wait until the next day! Not that we did a lot of shopping or having to go somewhere late at night back home, but if we needed to do so, we could.
Q10: How’s Octoberfest, and do you drink a lot of beer?
A: Oktoberfest actually starts in September and ends the first week of October. And, everything you have ever seen about Oktoberfest is very true, and very awesome. That is, if you like beer and crowds. Almost anywhere in Munich during Oktoberfest is fantastic, but you have to book hotels and biergarten spots many months in advance. The beer…yes, it is absolutely great and there’s nothing like it in the US. While a lot of beer is consumed in Germany, drinking wine is even more popular, especially in my region of Germany in the Rhineland-Pfalz. Any drive along the weinstrasse (wine road), you pass dozens and dozens of vineyards and wineries, and it is amazing.
Q11: Does everyone have electricity?
A: This may be the craziest question I was asked, and to my family member who asked this…yeah, that was a crazy question! Germany is one of the most advanced countries in Europe and the world for that matter. All homes and places have electricity. Yes, some homes and buildings may be over 900 years old, but they do have the modern conveniences of electricity. Now, their internet speed sucks, but that is a different story!
Q12: Have you learned to speak German?
A: Ich spreche ein wenig Deutsch, aber ich verstehe es viel besser. I can speak a little German, but I understand it much better. Even after taking German lessons for 1.5 hours each week since we’ve been here, I still struggle mainly from the grammar and the use of the der, die, das articles; but it is a work in progress.
Q13: How is the healthcare there?
A: Do you mean, does Germany have Obamacare? Let’s put it this way, we had gotten sick once and had some tests done. Our bill before any insurance was about $30, and the medication cost about $40. After insurance, in total it was about $10. The same in the US, the costs are about $800 before insurance. The doctors we have seen, they speak English. There are out of pocket expenses, but nothing like back home in the US.
Q14: Maybe so, but what are the taxes like in Germany?
A: Almost everything has a sales & value-add tax (VAT) that adds about 26% onto the costs of things purchased. And, our pay is roughly taxed about 45%. But, while no one likes paying taxes, at least in Germany you see where the tax money goes. Healthcare and university costs are nil. The infrastructure is in great shape with constant improvements being undertaken. When you retire, you receive a pension from the government, and there is also benefits paid for taking care of you when you are elderly and need special services. In the US, a good proportion of the tax money goes into defense funding and other programs that the everyday person does not even see the benefits of.
Usually from this point on in the conversations, the debate starts on politics and beliefs, and the questioning about Germany seems to stop.
So with that, what are some of the repetitive questions you get asked when you travel home after living in a foreign country? Do you have different answers to any of these questions?
We would love to see some of those questions others are asked, so please comment below.
Until next time, bis später!