When you move to a new place it takes a while before you start getting the feel of belonging, the sensation that you are on some sort of vacations or just visiting takes some time to start wearing off and in my experience with Germany, this is a job that’s done both by your efforts to establish a routine and get acquainted with the place AND the reaching of certain very German milestones that left you with the feeling they have taken you in, this is it, you made it: Germany is talking to you! Here my top 4 epiphanic moments:
1. Your mailbox (the real one, not the virtual one) is jammed.
Before moving to Germany I had received something like 4 letters in my entire, all of them sent by friends living very far away and who wanted to give me a nice surprise by sending an actual letter rather than an e-mail. Well, here in Germany you will rediscover the post.
No matter where you come from, I doubt there is another country where they use the post like Germany does. Well into 2018 and every single piece of paperwork you have to do with any German institution (public or private) will be done via post. And it will not stop there because here people still send letters as a normal means of communication, for example, it is totally normal to receive an envelope containing a birthday invitation from some friend living one hour or so away from you.
To the social interaction add all the advertising, newspapers, coupons and catalogs you wish to imagine, your thousand insurances paperwork, your bank statements, all sorts of reminders from the different governmental offices you have to deal with, whatever you decided to buy on the internet, etc. and one thing is for sure: you will always have mail when you come back home in the evening.
2. You know very well where the governmental offices are and their opening times.
As soon as you have the right to stay in Germany for a period of time that exceeds the touristic purposes, it is your obligation to register in your city of residence. This will be the beginning of a never ending odyssey between the numerous governmental offices in Germany and your persona.
Going to school? getting married? getting a new place? want a driver license? language course? do you need a parking spot? Whatever you need to do, it has to do with the government and you have to know where to go, which forms to fill and never forget to make an appointment in advance.
3. You already purchased a binder.
Paper and more paper. Germany is very near the top when we talk about countries that recycle. Funnily enough, this does not stop them in their mania for actual, physical paperwork.
As soon as you cross the line from “visitor” to “resident” -even if it is temporarily, you will start getting a lot of important papers that you will have to learn how to organize and keep safe in what will become one of your most beloved belongings: your mythical binder – the proof that you are being germanized. The more important papers you have, the more German you are! (ok, not really, but it IS a little burdening).
Be sure to purchase a fat one and plastic covers for the pages you will be keeping there and don’t worry about not knowing which papers you should keep and which you can throw away: most of the time your documents will have printed the legend “Important document, keep it”.
4. Passive-aggressive mail.
Any situation that poses a potential violation to a German law or rule will be reason enough to get one of these passive-aggressive letters from the government in the nick of time.
For example? I can provide two:
Someone in the building where I used to live either did not know how or simply did not care about how to properly separate the trash (probably the most horrendous faux pas you can make here). Since the trash containers are shared and every tenant brings their trash out and deposits it in the appropriate container, there was no way to know who had done wrong. This was enough for every tenant in the building to receive a letter threatening with the suspension of the trash recollection service if such a situation were to happen again. I never got to know who was to blame, but the service was not suspended and I like to assume my ex-neighbour found the right path after all.
The second example happened without anyone breaking a rule beforehand. One day I received an envelope with five or so pages with a very detailed explanation of how the public TV and radio signals broadcasting works in Germany and the nice story of why, since some years ago, every household in Germany is charged a tax for it. After the sweet and educative text, they very kindly requested for me to provide evidence on the payment of said tax and offered me a couple of options in which this could be done. On the next paragraph came the passive-aggressive warning that, shall I fail on fulfilling their request in the next four weeks, they would promptly report me to the city where my place of residence was registered. What would happen as a consequence of that? I don’t know and I did not want to find out.