November 5, 2015

German Swag 101: Top 10 Differences

It's like no matter where you live or move to, there are always going to be differences. We experienced differences moving around California, then definitely when we first moved abroad in 2011, and now we're in another new country. We always compare and contrast every new place we live in or even just visit.

While this list is by no means exhaustive, it is the top ten differences we've noticed since moving from France to Germany in August.

1) Cash really is king.

Credit cards, and more specifically, Visa cards, are not readily accepted everywhere. Very rarely in France, and almost never in the USA, did we ever get told, "cash only." We've had to make some "I owe you" payments already.

2) Pedestrians have needs, too.

I talked about this in an earlier post, but I can't get over the lack of attention to pedestrian needs in city landscaping. Sidewalks and crosswalks are happenstance, and for a country where people drive really fast as a rule, I feel like I would be safer running rather than walking.

3) Toilets are not free.

It's really easy to assume that the larger EU countries like France and Germany would have similar service systems. France charges tolls for the freeway, but has excellent rest stops with free bathrooms. Germany has the free and speedy autobahn (freeway), but there aren't great rest stops, and the gas station bathrooms all charge a fee. The lone freedom fighter for free toilets? McDonald's.

4) Neither is the internet.

Again, apparently only McDonald's and Starbucks really know how to fill their restaurants. The almost-everywhere hotspots in France are non-existent in Germany. Finding any wifi signal is difficult enough, then if one appears, it's usually password protected. Scotland and Holland seem to be the only countries who really have the free wifi thing down: every train, bus, station, and other public space is open internet territory. Even German hotels and hostels have had sketchy signals. Any internet entrepreneur who wants to set up affordable and strong wifi could really take over the market here.

5) A water crisis.

The tap water in Germany is great and way under-appreciated. How so? There's not even a hint of a drought and everyone drinks sparking/mineral/gas water! And by everyone, I mean they even drink it during sports practices and games! So we show up to a match, and our team is provided with carbonated water. Danke. In addition, Germany is the only country I've been to where even if you ask for tap water in German, the waiter will bring you bottled water and charge you for it. I prefer water from the sink and it's what I want to drink with my food. Have it your way, Germany: I'm bringing my own water to the restaurant.

6) Meat vs. cheese.

In France, an entire refrigerated wall was devoted to French cheese. "Other cheese" was somewhere else. In Germany, an entire aisle can be devoted to sausage. There is still a variety of cheese, just as in France there was a variety of meat. But the culture shift in taste is very apparent.

7) Bavaria on a budget.

The cost of living (for us, the "cost of living" is basically just food) in little Vilsbiburg is low compared to California and Paris. We have more sport time here and less free time, which ends up being a money saving strategy anyway!

8) Regular clean-up time.

The cities clean the streets and sidewalks! In France, we'd be crunching over at least two years worth of dead leaves every fall. France seemed to believe that Nature would clean up after itself. The autumn leaves have been quickly removed at least once a week the past month. Normal trash doesn't "decorate" public spaces, either.

The leaf collectors in action.

9) Got milk?

We were never really able to drink a glass of milk in France. It tasted strange to us, and we settled for just using it in cereal and coffee. We were amazed to find the milk in German supermarkets to taste relatively "normal" and good with everything. It may sound minor, but after four years of avoiding French milk, it's really nice to sit down to a glass of milk with cookies (because we have a real oven now, too).

10) How to say hello.

I know it was weird and awkward when I first arrived in the land of cheek-kisses. Belgium broke me in with single kisses, then France doubled up on us and I really grew accustomed to it. The Germans are all about the handshake and hug, and here I am feeling awkward again in a case of classic reverse culture shock. (Notes: handshaking on initial introduction is still totally normal. Hugging my teammates is still totally normal.) All of Marc's basketball dudes were shaking my hand every time we saw each other, and I felt like we were closing a merger or agreeing on a real estate venture. The Californian in me was screaming, "We're all friends here, not business associates!" While I will miss the Parisian "bisous" probably forever, I've found a happy balance with high-fives for now. If you're reading this and you've shaken my hand, I'll high-five you soon like it's no big deal.

There are other broader differences, too; like the ease in which we applied for our immigration paperwork, less cigarette smokers but more beer drinkers, and how many people speak decent English. No matter where we are living, there are things we are going to miss from previous places and new things we are going to enjoy. For now, we get to enjoy the clean outdoors and an abundance of milk and meat. Different can definitely be good.