I love Germany. I’ll admit, it’s not a country I would have selected if given a choice. Perhaps I would have landed in Turkey, Argentina, Russia, Sweden… Maybe Morocco. But my husband is German, this is where he was born and raised, leaving at 27 to marry me and embark on life in America at my side. And now it’s my turn to return the favor, allowing him time to enjoy his familiar life here once again while I journey down the path of unknowns and what-ifs, exploring German life. We are only splitting our time between Germany and America right now, we have not relocated here permanently or anything. Who knows what the future holds and where we will ultimately settle? But for now we live in two countries and I’m going to tell you a little about my life here as it stands today.
Life in Europe in general is so very different from my ‘world’ in America. Of course, Europe is comprised of many different countries with each having its own set of laws, culture, language, much different from America and our many states but Germany is in Europe and it is, as a whole, much different than American life on this continent. European life is known for being a bit more relaxed, more environmentally aware, and less focused on consumerism than what I am accustomed to in the states. There is also this very deep sense of history and a real pride for country and culture. I grew up in America and in many ways, it’s the only life I’ve known. Until now. Living in two countries only for the past 3 weeks has been the most amazing experience for me. If you ever have the chance to even spend a few months in a foreign land, no matter where that may be, by all means JUMP at the chance. For the many friends reading these words who have done this, or who currently reside in a new land you must agree that the ‘trials’ involved in adjusting to a new culture are worth it. The experience is one I will never forget.
And this is just the beginning.
I’m in Germany until the 3rd week of December. Then we’ll return again next year, perhaps in the late Spring. I’ve already commented to my husband that I feel a shift inside since being so far away from my life in America. There is much to absorb and experience. The first thing is that one must arrive to a new land with plenty of humility and a sense of humor. If these aren’t natural characteristics, one will be forced to either learn them to survive or if not learned, the process of living in a foreign land will be quite difficult. I say this primarily because my German language skills are on the same level as a first grader. I do not speak German fluently so I have many frustrating moments, but thankfully I have a sense of humor so most of the screw-ups I make aren’t that hard for me to crawl out of with my pride still intact. Though I must say some days are harder than others. Recently, in front of a long line at a very packed bakery, I asked a lady for a squirrel (Eichh?rnchen) instead of the horn-shaped cookie (Mandelhoernchen) my husband sent me there to grab for him. She looked at me quite perplexed. Suddenly I felt my face turn bright red because I realized what I said (extra loud as I was trying to speak above the noise) and those around me paused from their conversations and cell phone chats to look at me as if to say, “Did she REALLY say that?”. I then apologized to the cashier and stated that what I really wanted was an Mandelhoernchen. The crowd snickered and I did everything I could to not crawl beneath the counter. I paid for my cookie and made a bee line for the exit, careful to not make eye contact with anyone. Suddenly I remembered that a sense of humor is my closest friend in times like these, so the moment I stepped outside I burst into laughter. On my walk home I kept recalling the look on the cashier’s face and on the faces of those around me in line. I bet they went home that very day to tell the story of the girl asking for a squirrel at the bakery.
Each day, I wake up to a new culture, a fresh slate in many ways. It’s interesting to explore life here and to compare the differences between America and Germany. I’m proud to say that I’ve become much more ‘green’ since arriving. I now recycle everything; plastic, glass, bio, paper, bottles, all of it. We have glass containers on the corner near our house, a bio bin downstairs, a special container for plastic, another for paper, and I return all of our bottles to the local grocery store each week. In America, sadly, I throw everything into one big trash bag and off it goes to the town dump. How sad. When I return to the states, I vow to keep this up. It’s important to think more green and yes it takes more time, but I’m very pleased to say I am in the habit of recycling now and it’s a good thing. Did you know that in Germany if you do not recycle you can be fined? Oh yes, it’s the common law here to separate all of your trash, using only the proper bags and bins. If you don’t and are caught, you can get into trouble and have to pay a fine. You also cannot throw your glass bottles into the local bin (ours is near the playground on the corner) after 7pm. Yes really. It’s not acceptable, as glass hitting glass makes too much noise. You need to show respect for your neighbors. In fact, this ‘neighborly love’ translates into other things as well. Let me explain.
For instance, in most apartment houses here you must be quiet between 1-3 p.m. each day. This means you cannot play your stereo loud, do laundry, vacuum, nothing. You can make necessary noise (hair dryer, shower, etc.) but not unnecessary noise (vacuum, etc.). You should have seen my face when I learned this a few weeks ago. I started to vacuum around 2pm and my husband walked in, his face filled with horror. I immediately thought something horrible happened, maybe the end of the world? An earthquake? A death? Nope. I was vacuuming between the hours of 1-3 pm! OH MY GOD. The horror! Again, I burst out laughing, thinking he was pulling a very funny joke on me. But he was dead serious. Now I watch the clock each day to ensure I am quiet in the afternoon. I work from home so this is often a challenge for me, but I’m growing to appreciate this respect thing because it is nice to have a specific time period each day in which you are guaranteed some peace and quiet from the neighbors.
Another interesting cultural difference is that on Sunday everything is closed with the exception of a few kiosks and select drug stores. A few (very few) bakeries are open in the early morning, and the cafe in the nearby forest is open (we have cappuccino there after our Sunday morning walk each week), but none of the shops are open, grocery stores are closed, even IKEA is closed. Instead of shopping, Germans play with their children, go to the many parks and gardens here, visit museums, emerge themselves in cultural and sporting activities. At first it was weird for me to adjust to this. No shopping on Sunday? Are these people insane?
Then I thought about it. It’s starting to grow on me.
I thought about how back in America my husband and I do our “Target Run” on Sunday. Then I thought about how sad it is that we never slow down at home and always have our minds on running errands. Why? Because we CAN. When you cannot shop, you are forced to do something with your time, something more meaningful. On Sundays here in Germany, we go hiking, visit family, and usually go for dinner at our favorite Greek restaurant or we stay in and cook a special Sunday dinner. I know the U.S. economy depends heavily on commerce, but if Americans vowed to take Sunday off and stay out of stores and just spend time with their families and friends outdoors or pursuing something more cultural I think it would greatly increase joy and the quality of life. In just 3.5 weeks here, I’m already more joyous. I feel less stressed, have more patience, and feel very connected again with nature and more in touch with my own feelings and goals. I feel more creative than ever.
So what is my week like here? I work of course, but we have a farmers’ market on Wednesdays around the corner, on Thursdays there is another one we go to about 5 blocks away, and on Friday we always have our ‘date night’ and we go for ice cream or something small but meaningful. The ice cream is heaven here and it makes the American stuff taste like chemicals mixed with raw sugar. With the exception of Ben & Jerry’s, I cannot find any other brand of American ice cream here. Which tells me something about Ben & Jerry’s — obviously they have a superior quality product to be allowed in this country because Germans are quite particular about their dairy products.
On Saturdays we visit the weekly flea market in the city center (last week was amazing, what a turn out of vendors!), and on Sundays we spend the day doing something relaxing but fun outdoors. Last Sunday we went to the local lake in the city and watched the sailboats, grabbed a cone of ice cream, and enjoyed walking around the lake under a blue, cloudless sky. On Monday, a typical week begins so we both work, but in addition to that I run errands as I’m trying to pull my apartment here together and on Tuesday we do pretty much the same as on Monday, except there is this truck that arrives in front of our house that sounds like a rooster calling. Yes, a rooster. What is inside? Fresh meat, milk, eggs, cheese, honey, veggies, and fruit from the countryside. So I usually run downstairs around 1pm to shop from the truck. I always know when it’s coming because it has a horn that sounds exactly like the world’s largest rooster cry. It’s a riot. Today I bought the freshest blackberries and honey from the rooster truck. :) They were delicious and fresh picked, so of course I will enjoy them in my cereal tomorrow.
So! These are a mere handful of some of the things that I’ve observed thus far in Germany. They may seem insignificant to you but they matter enough to me to share them today on my blog. I know this isn’t a design post, but I have to be myself and this means that occasionally I’ll share some things from my personal life that have special meaning to me. If I’ve bored you to tears, I’m sorry.
Now on with design, art, and all the things we come to decor8 for in the first place! Thanks for giving me a moment to share though, it felt nice to talk to you today. Feel free to share any of your expat experiences by commenting below. I’d love to hear about where you’ve lived and your experience overall there.