Real Life in Germany
** Warning – This is a longer post, sorry!**
Living in a foreign country takes a little getting used to. I mean, living in a new city anywhere takes some adjusting as you learn the ins and outs of your new town. The same is true when you move abroad, only it is amplified. We’ve lived in our house for eight months now, Germany for nine, and here’s a rundown of what life is REALLY like living in Germany 🙂
1. Germans, in general, are not warm and friendly the first time you meet them. It may take a time or two of you saying ‘Hi’ first, getting completely ignored, and not even acknowledged, before you get a smile or wave back. After that, they are very warm and helpful. Apparently Americans are overly friendly to strangers….
2. Most Germans speak or understand some English. They start learning English in grade school and continue on through high school. As with any second language, people have different proficiencies and willingnesses to use the ‘new’ language. Attempting to speak German, though, does help a lot!
3. Americans are wimps when compared to most Germans, especially when it comes to the weather. I look outside and see its raining or cold (or both) and decide to stay inside or find someplace to take the girls indoors. Germans look outside, see the same thing and grab their umbrella, rain gear, hat, scarf, and head out into the world. I have definitely felt like a wimp numerous times as I watch a 75 year old woman walk around, for leisure, in the cold and rain, and I can’t even make it out to my car. Families at Madelyn’s school just bundle up their little ones in special gear and walk in the rain/cold to school. I drive the 1 kilometer in my car. I am one of the ‘Americans.’
4. Germans are prepared for the weather. They ALL carry umbrellas, have rain shields for strollers (I do, now, too, since I got caught one too many times in the rain with the stroller), and wear many layers – scarves, hats, gloves, and wonderful things called ‘strumpfhose.’ These are basically really thick tights. Madelyn’s are chenille and very warm. Olivia’s has owls on them or flowers. If you do not have your child/children adequately dressed, older women may say something to you. I have heard several stories of Americans being told they are not covering their children enough for the weather. I, fortunately, have not had to experience this yet! I am learning from the mistakes of others, and assuming that the people who have lived here their whole life might know a bit more about the weather here than I do. Olivia has frequently been ‘cooed over’ by an older German lady who will take off her gloves and grab Olivia’s hands to see if they are cold or will put their fingers on her neck to check her body temperature. So far, I’ve ‘passed.’ Olivia also has this sleeping bag thing that attaches to her stroller seat. She wears a regular coat and hat, but doesn’t need any additional blankets inside her little cover. Its fleece lined and works great! I love it!
5. Kids here play outside in the rain. Madelyn has to have a full rain suit at the kindergarten because they go outside when it is rainy or muddy. She has waterproof coat, waterproof lined overalls, and rain boots. Kind of looks like a hazmat suit. Her gear is always covered in mud 🙂
6. Because there are so many people and living space is tight, there is a lot that goes into organizing and managing your space. Ikea isn’t German, but the ideas seen there are VERY popular here. The essential idea is clean lines, simple colors, and effective use of space. Sorting, categorizing, and classifying happens a lot in the decor and is taught early on in school, including Madelyn’s kindergarten.
7. Germans and Germany are VERY clean. Unless you are in the downtown areas where there are literally thousands and thousands of people walking around, there is virtually no trash on the ground! And they take their trash VERY seriously! (More about that in a minute) Yards are meticulous and very beautiful. Public spaces are respected as such and I have only seen someone litter maybe once or twice the whole time we have been here and it was shocking!
8. Speaking of trash, living in Germany means you have to sort it. A LOT! We have 4 small ‘waste bins’ under our counter – paper, recyclables, organic/compostable, and ‘restmull’ which means ‘everything else.’ Outside, we have 3 large trash cans. Paper gets collected once a month on Saturdays. Bio/compost and ‘restmull’ alternate, meaning bio/compost is, say, weeks 1 and 3, and ‘restmull’ would be weeks 2 and 4. Each trashcan has a barcode on it, and if your ‘payment’ for trash collection isn’t up to date, your trash stays with you!! Also a fun thing we learned, none of this goes in any sort of bag. So our rest mull trash we just throw into the trashcan without a plastic bag. It actually works really well because you fit more trash in since you aren’t working with a ‘shaped’ object. Our indoor trashcans get washed every few days and it isn’t really given a chance to ‘smell’ like it would if you had a large trashcan with a bag in it.
As for the recyclables, we have to take them to a local facility. Once there, more sorting happens. 🙂
- Glass – sorted by green, brown, and white
- Plastics – water bottles, sodas, juices, etc, except hard plastics – e.g. – legos, rough tote type plastics
- Metals – metallic (soup cans) and non-metallic (aluminum foil)
- ‘Containers with plastic lining’ – juice boxes, orange juice containers, milk containers (explain later)
- Packaging – any sort of plastic wrapping, hard plastics, styrofoam
- There are other bins as well – large metals, ceramics, wood/lumber, cardboard, appliances, and a few others that I don’t even know what they are!
I’ll be honest. It really is kind of exciting going to the sorting facility. It is free and it is always busy. There is something soothing in sorting and organizing your items. It has also made us more aware of what we buy and why since we have to dispose of it in someway eventually. Germans also have this awareness and package most items simply and with items that can be easily recycled.
9. Milk and other beverages usually come in the half gallon cardboard cartons or smaller. Since space is at a premium, kitchens are small. Our kitchen is one of the larger ones we have seen! This also means that the refrigerators are too small to hold a gallon of milk. So we either buy a half gallon twice a week or if out in town at the German markets, we buy two quart sized milk containers. It took a little getting used to, but it is nice going to the store all the time because our produce and food is always fresh. As an added bonus, we throw out less food because there isn’t room to store leftovers and not eat them 😉 Our freezer as small as most dorm room freezers! It can hold 3 things of ice cream and nothing else. We rarely buy ice cream and bring it home… or if we do, it gets eaten REALLY fast 🙂
10. Germans are honest. And very trusting. It is really refreshing! Obviously, there are always exceptions, but by majority this holds true. My friend and I were walking one day last spring and there was a ‘fresh cut flowers’ garden that was self-service. There is a box/barrel with a hole in the top, and a sign with the prices. You cut your flowers and just drop your money in when done. There was even had a box cutter for you to cut the flowers!
11. Being active outside is a cultural norm that we have really embraced. There are walking paths and bike paths everywhere connecting cities and countryside. These paths cut across fields and link everyone together with beautiful and direct routes. I can walk to groceries, shoe stores, coffee shops, etc with my girls in about an hour. We get our exercise in and our errands taken care of! Madelyn loves going on the walks and Olivia seems to enjoy them as well. The paths are very heavily used by bicyclists, runners, other families with strollers, and those out for a leisurely stroll. The paths have benches and rest points at scenic spots along the way. They are very well planned out and I wish the U.S. had such a well thought out system 🙂
12. Kids in the German Kindergarten have to have something called a ‘house shoe.’ They are not slippers like in the U.S., but a felt or canvas shoe with a hard bottom that is ONLY worn indoors. Because they play in the mud outside, they don’t want to have everything get muddy, so they just change their shoes (brilliant!) Many Germans also use them in their homes. When arriving home, they take off their regular shoes and put on house shoes. They are sturdy enough that you ‘could’ go out to the trash can or car in them, but wouldn’t want to wear them to the store.
13. German Kindergarten is a lot different than American Kindergarten. ‘German kindergarten’ starts at 3 years old and lasts until 5 or 6, depending on the child’s readiness for school. The focus is much more social and solving conflicts. Teachers sort of ‘lead’ the kids in tasks, but if the child chooses not to participate, they don’t participate. Very little is done with letters, numbers, or colors in a structured ‘teaching’ format as in the U.S. The kids choose activities and most of the activities are to strengthen focus, concentration, and fine motor skills. The kids are given a lot of autonomy and control over their daily activities. The 5/6 year olds can ask to go outside and play in addition to regular recess times. If an argument arises between children, adults do not step in to mediate. It goes one of several ways – 1) The kids settle it themselves with a solution both are ok with, 2) One kid ‘wins’ and the other kid does not adequately verbally stand up for himself, 3) Other kids enter the situation and help come to a compromise OR ‘judge’ what is happening and make a decision that is explained and the situation is rectified. Only as a last resort OR if the argument becomes physical does an adult step in. I have seen this several times in Madelyn’s school and am always fascinated at how quickly the kids resolved their own problems without a ‘tattle-teller’ and that other kids jump in to arrive at a solution. There are a lot of other differences that I may just have to dedicate to its own post. How their school system is set up is one thing I really want to learn more about. The elementary school is only about 4 hours a day, for example! How is everything done? I will find out and write a post of its own 🙂
14. There are ‘quiet hours’ every day from 1-3PM. This allows children and the elderly to have a nap or rest. This means no mowing of grass, or anything else inside or out that would wake someone sleeping nearby! It seems restrictive, but is REALLY nice! Same for in the evening from about 10PM to 8AM. Its really funny because you will not even hear the town workers start until 8AM. 7:55, nothing. 8:01 – mowers, leaf blowers, etc start up and garbage trucks start. 🙂
15. NOTHING is open on Sundays, including grocery stores, department stores, gas stations, etc. It is considered a ‘family day’ and it in order to do so, everyone must be home! If you drive out somewhere, there is zero traffic because everyone is home with their loved ones. The ‘quiet hours’ are all day Sunday. This means no grass mowing, car washing, etc. You are supposed to be spending quality time with family. You can do quiet things outside – weed gardens, plant flowers, and such and going for walks as a family is a HUGE tradition here! Even in the rain 😉 The BX and Commissary on base are open as well as a few gardens and restaurants around town.
16. Telephone numbers are different lengths and sometimes start with a zero! Our number is like 10 digits long. Our neighbor’s is like 5 digits. Sometimes the ‘area-type’ code is 4 numbers… sometimes 5. I don’t know why. I just always hope the number I call works!
17. The toilets are ‘super low flow.’ There are two flushing ‘options’ (more water and less water, depending on your ‘need’) and every toilet has a scrub brush so you can make sure the toilet is clean for the next person. I have yet to walk into a bathroom that is not ‘clean’ in that respect 🙂 People use the brushes! I appreciate it 🙂
18. Light switches – Press down to turn on, up to turn off!
19. The Autobahn. Yeah, whatever you are thinking, yes. 🙂 In the cities, the speed limit is very strictly enforced at 100 kilometers per hour (60MPH) by cameras. There are rarely Poleizi on the side of the road only to stop speeders. Instead, they use a variety of styles of cameras. Some are stationary and some are non-stationary and they move them around the city. There are different types and sizes and if your picture gets taken, you get a ticket in the mail. It is very difficult to contest photographic evidence of you breaking the law. Outside the cities, however, there really isn’t any rule other than get out of the way of the faster guys. These are usually ‘sport wagons’ aka station wagons!! Those things are speed demons!
20. It is also illegal to make hand gestures while driving. You can actually be ticketed by a complaint from another driver for hand gestures. Honking is also frowned upon unless it is absolutely necessary to warn another driver.
21. Talking while holding the phone or texting is illegal and if caught, results in an ‘on-the-spot’ fine. Yes, they can and do collect some fines immediately. You must have the cash on you. On the U.S. bases, if caught using your phone, you LOSE driving privileges IN GERMANY for 7 days! These are in addition to points being added to your license.
22. While driving on the Autobahn, there are no billboards and very few places to stop at each exit. About every 5 kilometers (3 miles) there are ‘rest stops.’ Some of them have bathrooms that are in general clean. However, there are almost no toilet seats. EVER!! All stops have picnic tables and sometimes that is all that is there. That means no fast food, gas stations, or bathrooms! People just seem to ‘wander off into the woods’ and come back a few minutes later at those stops. There are very few exits off the Autobahn once outside of the cities. You may drive 15 or 20 kilometers before finding the next exit and there may be nothing off of that exit for miles. Having the rest stops is nice 🙂
23. About every 50 kilometers or so, there are ‘formal’ rest stops with gas stations and a fast food restaurant of some sort. Some even have a small hotel! The only catch with these rest stops is because they are cleaner, you have to pay to use the restroom! Sometimes there is a person that actually
collects the money, and sometimes it is a turnstile thing you go through after putting in your money and getting a ticket!
24. For the amount of beer consumed in Germany, we have always been surprised by the lack of public bathrooms. Large department stores have public restrooms that you in general have to pay to use. There is usually a person constantly cleaning the restrooms and it is a courtesy to leave somewhere between .30 Euros and a full Euro. You can make change from the coins left if needed.
25. Jon and I are both VERY intrigued by the farming here. We need to do more research on the exact rules, but from what we have been told, the European Union has very strict laws regarding produce and animal products. They are not fully ‘Organic’ by American standards, but pretty close. They do not use growth hormones or GMO seeds, and very few pesticides. And the price is only a little more expensive than what we pay in the US for it to have all that additional ‘stuff’. Some things, like milk, is actually cheaper in German grocery stores than an ‘Organic’ US milk.
Therefore, we try to only buy meat, cheese/milk, and produce grown in the EU. Raises some interesting questions about food sustainability and quality in the US….especially when considering the smaller refrigerators, less food waste, and community composting efforts….
26. Water in Germany is usually fizzy water. So unless you specifically order your water without bubbles, you will have carbonated water! All water comes from a bottle and is NEVER free! You pay for the bottle whether or not you drink all of it and if you want more water, you pay for a new bottle. There is no such thing as tap water served at a restaurant. Oh.. and no ice either!!
27. Playgrounds here are amazing. I want to play on some of them. They are all wood and metal and super tall. They are a challenge for the kids to climb and master. The ground beneath us usually wood chips. They are real playgrounds, not the wimpy US kinds where a kid ‘might’ get hurt and the town is afraid they will get sued. Here, society recognizes that you chose to bring your child to play. The trade off?? Your child has more self confidence and pride in knowing THEY climbed that all by themselves! What a better way to build confidence! Allowing the kiddo to try, fail, problem solve, and then succeed! Madelyn has come up numerous times saying ‘I can’t do it’ only to come back later screaming “I did it!” and having me praise that instead 🙂 I knew she could do it. She just had to prove it to herself 😉
28. Shopping carts have a lock on them that uses a quarter/Euro coin to unlock. When you return the cart, you receive your coin back. I WANT THIS IN THE U.S.!! It is an ingenious idea to get people to return their carts to the proper location. Every store has these devices, including the American bases! I also make money every time I do laundry from all the coins in our pockets 🙂 If you don’t have a coin, you don’t get a cart.
29. When at a grocery store, you bag your own items in the bags you brought to the store. German stores do not have ‘Wal-Mart bags’ and they do not bag your items. If you didn’t bring your bags, then you just toss everything back into your cart and take the cart out to your car and load without bags. You will do this one time and one time only. But, when you go to the recycling center that week, you won’t be taking bags or use up any precious space in the restmüll trash can!
30. There seems to be a lot more women in authority roles. I don’t know if this can be proven statistically, but it seems like many Polezei cars have a male and female team. About half of the guards at the gates to check us in are female and even the Prime Minister of Germany is female. It took me a while to pick up on this, but thought it was interesting enough to note since the question of gender equality is still a topic of concern in the U.S.
31. In places where there are no elevators, you get this…
Ramps to take strollers or wheelchairs down. Sometimes they are only for a few steps. This one I had to use once was pretty scary, especially since I had to walk down it backwards with the stroller to go down. We all lived 😉
We have really enjoyed the time we have had so far in Germany!! Living here is so much different than ‘visiting’ for a few days or weeks and so thankful we are getting the opportunity to explore some of the places the world has to offer 🙂