Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Reflections on life in Germany, from an Auslander's perspective

My list of little observations about living in Germany:

1. Instead of clapping after a research presentation, Germans knock on the table. Apparently there might be a linguistic link as this might also be common in Austria and Switzerland.

2. Bring a birthday cake on your birthday and

3. Throw your own retirement party. In the US it is more likely that this will be organized for you and actually paid for by your employers.

4. Wurst-Salad (yum! er, yuck!). (Wurst is sausage, though it applies more widely than the term is used in English.) OK, so we have tuna salad and chicken salad...but it seems a line should be drawn somewhere for what is referred to as "salad." What looks like chopped up bologna is where I draw the line in calling something a "salad".

5. Smoking like crazy everywhere, particularly under "no smoking" signs in the University.

6. Kid-accessible cigarette vending machines on the sidewalks.

7. Three years of Kindergarten. Why doesn't the US steal this great idea? We already copied their research universities, might as well go for real Kindergartens, too.

8. Accessories required for Kindergarten: "gummis" (rain boots), rain pants, toothbrushes, etc. Kids really learn to be self-sufficient and prepared, and to have good oral hygiene.

9. Bathroom sinks in hallways--they look out of place, but are very convenient to have near the office.

10. Bags in grocery stores are not free. This would seem like a seismic shift in the US, but it needs to happen.

11. Weird cheapo grocery stores. I have to admit stores like Aldi and Lidl scared me at first: poor lighting, often no shelves, strange generic brands... But now I have found the good deals that pop up there periodically (Mexican week! American week! Italian week!), and I am a bit fond of them. I do miss nice grocery stores sometimes, but a short trip to Belgium takes care of that.

12. Bubbly water as default (which I like, too).

13. Cold cut sandwiches good for all 3 meals a day. Strange that Subway can be open for breakfast without changing its menu--it sells the same thing as bakeries, so why not?

14. Apartments are rented without a 1) Kitchen 2) lights 3) floors 4) sinks 5) mirrors.--plus you paint when you leave and pay for all non-rent costs additionally (eg, building maintenance). I don't really understand how this system evolved to really punish renters who have to invest a great deal in a temporary place!

15. No credit cards anywhere--well many places, but not at places you would expect like Ikea or an electronics store where the items for sale cost quite a bit. Funny with the MC support of the world cup "if you bring your Visa, American Ex, well or even your MC, you can't use it"! It does probably reduce the incidence of consumer debt, which is out of control in the US.

16. They write phone numbers with a different grouping mechanism here. Usually it is something like this: Even stranger for an American here, local numbers are not required to have 7 digits, so if a phone number doesn't work you don't know if it is because you are missing a number or not, as there might only be 6 digits.

17. The verb is at the end of the sentence--do Germans have superior semantic working memory than English-speakers to hold all of the info in mind until the crucial verb is spoken at the end?

18. Germans keep both hands visible at the table when eating, it is rude to have one hand under the table (what are you doing with it???).

19. No over-the-counter drugs; cough syrup for kids is seen as child abuse by the pharmacist (though the doctor will prescribe it, no problem).

This will have to be continued in a future post, of course...

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xanafunny said...

20. Acceptance of public nudity.
21. More summer-y clothing, by European standards. Germans have no problems wearing shorts in public in 20 degree weather, meanwhile across the border in Belgium people are most likely wearing light jackets
22. grocery stores rarely sell fresh fish
23. carnivals and Xmas markets are super elaborate, take ages to put up, and are very safe and hygenic.
24. similar to 23: Many outdoor markets are permanent, and each market stalls are much more elaborate than in other countries, often have sinks, and stays up for the whole day.
25. ethnic ghettos/neighborhoods are rare and inconspicuous. In D-dorf the closest thing i can think of to a conglomeration of businesses representing a single foreign nationality is Immermanstr. which has a lot of Japanese shops, but most Japanese expats actually live across the river.
26. although wine stores are plentiful, beer selection is very limited. exports are rare, and it is pretty difficult to find beer produced in other regions of Germany.
27. strict/strange beer production laws
28. Vistors are always offered tea. And probably accompanied by a coffee cake. If you pass that up it may be coffee, water, or multivitamin juice. In America you would be offered soda, then Miller or flat water.
29. There are many bakeries, all produce very healthy products, and they take on the responsibility of making all sorts of things other than bread such as puff pastries, pie crusts, and the raw materials for gingerbread houses. However, patisseries like in France and Belgium are pretty rare and seem to exist mainly for elderly people having their Sunday coffee and cake. Although Germany produces many sinful creamy and chocolaty delicacies such as the famous black forest cake, Herrentort, etc. However, I have rarely seen any one eat anything other than simple coffee cakes and apple pies which are available at the local bakery. Plus, even the most delicate cake is sold by the poorly wrapped slice to take home, as if it were a donut.
30. Everything is well documented. And people are expected to carry many of the documents on them at all times.
31. little boys with mohawks

xanafunny said...

32. automatic church tax, depending on your religion
33. large stores which specialize in selling drinks of all kinds, by the crate
34. lack of regular fabric and sewing stores
35. lack of local hardware stores
36. yogurt dressing, by default
37. playgrounds built for Spiderman
38. boring grafitti