Americans, Canadians, and other English-speaking expats living in Germany (and Austria, Switzerland) suddenly discover one fine day that something they take for granted in their homeland is not found in Germany at all. Or it may be almost impossible to find. As the German saying goes: “Other lands, other customs.” (Andere Länder, andere Sitten.)
No added sales tax (VAT). It’s included. The price you see is the price you pay. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo
Sometimes it may be a favorite food item (Cheerios, real salsa). Other times it may be a service (toll-free calls, Uber) or a medication (cough syrup). One day it dawns on you: I’ve never seen an in-sink garbage disposal in Germany! (Against the law or discouraged in most of Germany.) Or comes the day when you realize something you use all the time costs more in Germany than back home: contact lens fluid (only available from the Optiker, for a pretty price). Below are some examples of common things NOT found in Germany, divided into three categories: 1. Never or Almost Never; 2. Rarely, Once in a Blue Moon; and 3. Sometimes, Depending on Your Location. Okay, here we go, starting with things you’ll never or almost never find in Germany. Continue reading →
I am 4 hours out of the hospital and already posting about giving birth in Germany. When anyone gets on the internet to write about an experience this quickly it could be because it was outrageously bad or overwhelming positive. Lucky for me (and other soon-to-be expat moms in Germany), I feel compelled to share 8 things I learned about giving birth in Germany because it was simply awesome.
I also feel a certain amount of duty as I am the recipient of some seriously good karma. No sooner had I announced I was pregnant in Germany without a clue then I started receiving advice on what to expect. People shared their experiences – the real nitty gritty – and general messages of support. When I felt truly freaked out I would go back and refer to their stories and feel stronger, knowing that people (like our German-Way team) had been here and done that. In an effort to pass it along, I am sharing a picture of my brand-new Berliner and a little bit of what I’ve learned . Continue reading →
Do I look a little tired here? That’s because I am. Last week was baby week. After 35 weeks of pregnancy, we were cramming hospital registration, one of our last doctor visits (plus ultrasound) and 2 long nights of prenatal courses into just a few days.
My dad politely asked if we weren’t a bit behind as he remembered taking courses before breaching the 9 month mark. He gave me an out, saying maybe this was just a difference in countries’ standards or that they took their courses 30 years ago. Erm – nope. We were just late.
After being all gung-ho to get started on classes, find a Hebamme (midwife) and generally be prepared early in the pregnancy, life had simply caught up with us. All the decisions that come after the relatively breezy, “Sure, we are ready to have a kid!” and just after the “OMG. We are having a kid!” have been daunting. Trying not to make a false move, we now find ourselves in the position of being the typical Americans in German, half-cocked, only partially ready and surrounded by people who know better.
I have written a few posts about homesickness here at German Way, not because I am constantly homesick, but because it is a major theme in an expat’s life. The first wave of cultural euphoria keeps you riding high in your new surroundings for about 6 weeks, and then you suddenly begin to crave familiar people and places. The valley of your first intense homesickness is usually around 3 months, and by the end of 6 months most people have largely adapted to their new way of life. The wave continues like a sine curve, its magnitude (and your respective strength of emotion) getting ever smaller. According to the experts, it tends to level out slightly above “normal” for most people. This means that most expats are, on average, happier as a result of going abroad.
In my many years of experience as an expat, the model described above fits remarkably well. Even watching others as they arrive and go through the stages, it is the 6-month mark that is crucial to adapting. Also, beware of going home or receiving visitors during that 3-month valley, or you can set back your own adaptation process and start all over again (so I’m told…) Continue reading →
Having spent my formative adult years in Germany, I have been to more German weddings than American weddings. There are some striking differences in how each culture approaches the celebration (and paperwork) that accompanies two people committing their lives to each other. As Gina mentioned in her blog post in 2010, weddings in Germany aren’t retail extravaganzas – this is one of the biggest differences. However, there are numerous subtle differences that change the entire experience, and even the symbolism of the ceremony.
Let us begin before the wedding day. There is no such thing as a bridal shower in Germany. Brides-to-be are not showered with gifts in advance of showering them with more gifts, and while wedding plans involve many details, the industry built around them is miniscule compared to the North American version. Bachelor parties, and bachelorette parties, are newer traditions but are increasing in popularity, as young people love an excuse to go out and misbehave. There is no bridal registry, although you can select a number of gift ideas at a local shop and have them displayed at a Hochzeitstisch (wedding table).
In our modern age, you can probably also set up a wishlist on Amazon.de and share it with your guests, if you really want to. The average age of Germans on their wedding day, however, is in the 30-33 year old range. This means that most Germans who are getting married already have everything they need in their home. In fact, most of them have probably lived together for a number of years already and don’t need a new crystal vase or a Crock-pot. Continue reading →
One of the most poignant feelings I have experienced as an expat is loneliness. It was an emotion that I knew very little of before I moved abroad. In some sense, I was probably naive in my adventurousness; I wanted to experience things that were new and different, I wanted to absorb another culture. I jumped into expat life without ever reading a book or blog post about what life abroad entails. Had I known anything before I boarded the plane, I might not have gone at all, so it is probably for the best that I was naive.
My first time abroad, studying in England, I had little chance for loneliness. After all, I was still speaking my native language, and in a university town there is no shortage of young people to meet. It was, however, my first experience with what happens when you leave somewhere: Out of Sight, Out of Mind. My friends from university went on with their lives and were unable (or unwilling) to keep in touch. I received occasional emails, dwindling as time progressed. Facebook didn’t exist in those dark ages (perhaps to my benefit, according to my friend Sarah), and airmail was too complicated for my friends back home. They couldn’t figure out the time change, phone calls were expensive, and there was no Skype. Still, I wasn’t lonely. I made new friends, had fantastic times, created new memories, and enjoyed my adventure. It was so addictive, I wasn’t ready to return to the US when the school year was over. I wanted more of this European lifestyle.
It’s hard to believe that I have been living in Europe for nearly six hockey seasons. Though, when I think back to my first year in Germany, and how much I have changed since then, it feels like it could be much longer. Of course making the nearly-spontaneous decision to move to Germany was exciting, but that first year abroad was equally as difficult as it was enjoyable.
Aside from learning how to adapt to a new culture and language, it was the change in lifestyle that really took the most adjustment. I had been employed, to some degree, since I was 12 years old. I didn’t know life without work. Just before moving with my then-new boyfriend, to this foreign place called Dusseldorf, I had taken on a great new job; the career kind. I had moved out of my best friend’s basement and got a little house all my own. I bought a brand new car, and everything seemed to be heading in the right direction for me. Little did I know then that within only a matter of months I would quit that job, rent out that house, and tarp up that car on my mom’s driveway. I wasn’t aware of the term at the time, but I was about to become what is known as the “trailing spouse”.
My first trip to Hamburg’s famous Reeperbahn was a bit of shock. I think I can more accurately call it culture shock now though, as I look back at my reaction to the “sinful mile”. Having only been in Hamburg for a few days, after spending the summer in Canada and living the previous two years in Switzerland, the large German city certainly took some getting used to. Specifically the Reeperbahn, with its boldly lit sex shops and strip clubs, mixed in with typical touristy pubs, theaters, and a cop shop; at first glance it was all both amusing, but also confusing. Amusing were the map wielding, walking-shoe adorned tourists, departing from their musical matinee, gasping at the sight of shop windows decked out with ball-gagging manikins. Confusing were the young women lining the side street across from the police station, each placed perfectly six feet from each other, dressed in hot pink and sporting fanny-packs. “Promo girls?” I asked my husband, assuming they were part of some street marketing team. “Not quite” he replied. No, they weren’t in fact selling any products, they were selling themselves. “Hookers” he explained, “sorry, prostitutes.”