“how has living in germany changed your life?”

“It didn’t. It just made it better.” 

All obscure, 6-year-old, Houston-specific jokes aside, living in Germany has made my life better. But, although I haven’t converted to Lutheranism or started enjoying sauerkraut or exclusively drinking Apfelschorle, it has changed me, at least a little bit! Since I’m now about halfway through my stay in Dresden, I’ve decide to reflect a little bit on the things I’ve learned here and share what little German mannerisms, amusements, or mindsets I’ve acquired!

1. Kaffee trinken is a thing.

It was a great accomplishment in my eyes that I made it through four years of undergrad without acquiring a coffee habit/addiction. But since I’ve lived in Germany, I have begun enjoying the occasional cup of coffee. Kaffee trinken is the traditional German mid-afternoon relaxation time (similar to tea time in England, I guess), when friends meet or families gather to share a pot of coffee (or tea) and some cake/cookies. My host family invited me over for Kaffee trinken shortly before Christmas and were surprised when I requested coffee instead of tea, which is what I drank exclusively while I lived with them. I had, indeed, begun ordering the occasional cup of coffee at a café (normally a latte macchiato or Milchkaffee [is ‘milk coffee’ a thing in English? Not sure]) and maybe had begun to enjoy it. But at the Brauns, I immediately regretted requesting coffee instead of tea, because I still prefer the latter by far. I’ll drink coffee to change things up or if I’m particularly tired, but I’m still a tea girl at heart.

2. Deposits/rebates are simultaneously life’s smallest bonus and its peskiest annoyance.

I’ve talked before about the German Pfand deposit system, where you are charged a little more initially for a bottled beverage to create an incentive to recycle the bottle later. There are also deposit systems on lockers at the library and on shopping carts at the grocery store. I’ve talked about that before too, I know, but the point here is that these things aren’t TOTALLY annoying anymore. I always feel very proud of myself when I remember to hold onto a 1 or 2 Euro coin for use at the library or the store! But it is incredibly pesky during those (not very uncommon) times when I’ve spent all my change on chocolate and pastries, as I am wont to do.

3. I’ve become a cold weather snob.

But only kind of. It’s a little ironic that this year, even Texas (not to mention the rest of the US! Goodness gracious!) has experienced WAY more inclement winter weather than we have here in Germany. But it has been way colder here on a regular basis this winter than we Texans are used to, and I have successfully lowered my “cold threshold” to about freezing or a little bit under. Which is my weird way of conceptualizing the fact that I don’t register it being “really cold” (provided that I am properly dressed) until it gets to about 28 or 29. [One thing that has still not changed: thinking about temperature in Fahrenheit.]

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The 8-degree day, and my bright idea was to go sightseeing in Meissen

That being said, I did judge all you Texas people a little bit when you posted on Facebook complaining about freezing weather, especially because I knew full well that the previous week, and probably the next day, you were enjoying balmy temperatures in the 70s, while I was enjoying lows of 8 degrees at some point. And especially because during the time of the many UT “snow days,” we actually had legitimate snow here that I had to walk through to get to class. I do understand the whole “the south isn’t prepared for winter” thing, but still. Cool it on the Internet complaining, people.

4. I love public transit.

My [admittedly silly] goal is to be able to name the end points of all the tram lines in Dresden by the time I leave. So far, I’ve memorized the ones for the lines I use on a regular basis, which I guess is understandable and not all that impressive. [Line 8: Hellerau/Südvorstadt! Line 3: Coschütz/Wilder Mann! Line 11: Zschernitz/Bühlau! Line 9: Prohlis/Kaditz! I am a loser!]

You gotta know your bus/tram schedules!

You gotta know your bus/tram schedules!

Anyway, public transit is awesome because it means you don’t need a car, you can see more of the city in less time, and also it comes included with my student ID so I “don’t have to pay for it”!  However, I may buy a bike once it gets warmer because you can take the girl out of Freiburg but you can’t take the Freiburg out of the girl. [I am getting nerdier and nerdier as this post goes on, aren’t I?]

5. I have learned how to use the word “doch.” 

“Doch” is a word you hear a lot, but I had never really learned its meaning or how to use it appropriately because it is a little bit difficult to explain. But finally, I have learned it and now use it liberally, like any good German! It is basically an affirmative in response to a negative. Like, if someone expresses a negative thought, such as “There isn’t any more dessert, is there?” or “It won’t rain tomorrow,” or “Jennifer Lawrence has never won an Oscar,” you can say “Doch!” in response to indicate that the person you’re talking to is wrong. So basically it is my favorite word ever. We need something like it in English.

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how to be German

I just found this blog (and learned of the book that the author wrote as an expansion of the blog) and just had to share it! It’s called “How to be German in 20 steps,” and the book expands it to a total of 50 steps that, when undertaken, would prepare one for expat life in Germany. Some of the ones I’ve read so far are laughably accurate.

For instance: Step #1, put on your house shoes. Indeed, the first thing that my host dad told me upon entering my host family’s house the day I arrived, probably besides “Welcome!” or “Watch your step” was “Here are your house shoes.” Germans take their slippers super seriously. I don’t own any… I just wear socks… though actually I did buy a pair, but they were part of the unfortunate drugstore purchase that I left at the counter after paying.

Step #4: Get some insurances. Yes, this is the bane of every foreigner’s existence… the damned compulsory national insurance. ” If someone invented insurance insurance, an insurance against not having the right insurance, we’d all be treated to the sight of 80 million people dying of happiness.”

I have mixed feelings about Step #8, which deals with always obeying traffic signals at crosswalks… I do not always follow the rules, and neither do the many Germans around me, particularly at the one very tricky intersection near my apartment with a really long signal and times of the day when there are very few cars. Maybe it’s a Dresden thing.

I have had many Germans ask me how to say “Apfelschorle” in English, to which I reply… that Apfelschorle does not really exist anywhere except Germany, but when forced to describe it, I would probably say “carbonated apple juice”… But it is a fact, as #9 articulates, the Germans love their Apfelschorle and -schorle’s of every kind. “For more than a century Germans, smug with their discovery of fizzy water, all their abundant breweries producing fine beers and ales, they didn’t believe it could get any better. Then some bright spark tried adding a little apple juice to that fizzy water. Creating something equally refreshing, but 6 per cent more fun! It was a near riot.” Because nothing makes something more fun like percentages! 😉

#13, “Open a bottle of beer with anything but a bottle opener,” is absolutely accurate. We do own a bottle opener, which I freely and openly use, but I have seen Germans open beer bottles with zippers, pens, the edge of the table, and (yes) their teeth. Frightening.

I am slightly concerned with the author’s inability to count, as the article contains only 15 steps to becoming German, but my concern was relieved when I read a fight between two commenters about academic titles. Seems about right. 

 

german quirks

After a long afternoon of research and all that that entails (actually, worse than research: defining the scope of my project. Probably the most tiring mental activity out there), how about I give you guys a list of cultural observations about Germany and/or Germans?

First I must clarify that not all cultural stereotypes hold true, specifically those about Germans always wearing Lederhosen or Dirndls, which are the traditional dress in Bavaria, but that’s Bavaria… but let’s just say that some of our conceptions of Germans/German society are basically 100% true. Mostly having to do with German efficiency…

German things that are typically efficient, otherwise innovative, or seem to work somehow:

Buying tickets for public transit: This one boggled my dad’s mind when he first experienced it, and while it wasn’t quite so revolutionary or baffling for me, this is something that definitely separates me from most Germans. Unlike in England or many places in America, you don’t need to present a ticket to get on a bus or tram (or subway, mostly) in Germany. Instead, you buy a ticket, stamp the ticket in the little machine on the bus or tram to confirm the date and time of your trip, and then in the case that someone comes around to check, you can prove that you do, indeed, have a valid ticket. Which, for an American like me who is semi-proficient in statistics, means that the first instinct would be to just not buy one. But a German would never, ever, EVER dream of not buying a bus or tram ticket. In terms of honesty and integrity, it really is incredible. (However, since Oct 1 I haven’t had to worry about this, as my student ID doubles as a ticket. Since then, my statistical gamble has been totally disproven, as I’ve had my ticket “kontrolliert” at least 3 different times.)

Shopping carts: Until today, I was under the impression that you had to pay a euro to use a cart at the grocery store. However, upon closer inspection, I realized that it’s really just a deposit system! If you want to use a cart, you insert a euro coin into the chain apparatus that locks the carts to each other, which releases the first cart. Then the euro hangs out in the apparatus on your cart until you return it, at which point you get your coin back. It’s the kind of thing that, when an American first hears about it, sounds overly strict and kind of nutty, but then slowly begins to make sense. The lockers at the library operate on a similar deposit system, but I feel like that’s something that would maybe happen in the US, so it’s not as shocking.

Pfand system: Speaking of deposits, the Pfand system is the German incentive to recycle. When you buy a drink that comes in a plastic bottle, most times you pay 25 or 50 cents extra for the “Pfand.” Then, when you’re done with the bottle, you can return it to one of the many special machines, normally in grocery or convenience stores, that then reimburse you the Pfand money. I know that Pfand money isn’t REALLY extra money that you get for recycling, but it is kind of cool to start out with a big bag of bottles and end up with a few extra euro.

German things that are totally inefficient, inconvenient, or just don’t work:

Lack of WiFi: I really can’t complain about this TOO much because at least there is WiFi (or as the Germans would call it, WLAN) on campus and in my apartment, the two places where I am 89% of the time. But being in England for a few days and at least being able to duck into Starbucks for some free WiFi made me a wee bit jealous. Apparently some arrangement with music companies in Germany specifically has restricted public internet access more than in other places…?

Different paperwork/accounts/passwords, etc. for EVERYTHING!: For instance, at my American university, we had one ID card that served as an ID card, payment method for dining halls, library card, and bus pass. We had one username/password set for everything having to do with the university. Here, I have an ID card/transport ticket, separate card for the Mensa/dining hall, and a separate library card, and I somehow need to keep track of separate usernames and passwords for my student e-mail, online course portals, and library account. Something tells me there is a more efficient way to do this, Germany!

This seems to extend beyond student life, from what I’ve observed. For instance, in the US if you’re an organ donor, it just says so on your driver’s license, but here if you’re an organ donor, you need to carry a separate card. This seems to go against the streamlined approach that Germans love, vis the above Pfand/grocery cart systems… if you want to make it easy for organ donors to be identified, you better make sure they always have that ID card with them! So you’d think the best way to do that would be to combine the organ donor ID with an ID card that they would have to take everywhere, anyway….

I’m rambling. I’m sure there are way more examples of little operational differences between Germany and the US, but these are the ones I’ve run into lately and/or often! I wish you a very efficient day!