Culture Shock: Five Things That Suck About Living in Germany

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“Thanks for the pic, Hans! Now where can I get me one of them giant beers?” — Photo Credit: Bruce Tuten (https://www.flickr.com/photos/savannahgrandfather/) — Image subject to CC Attribution 2.0 Generic License

Let me begin by saying life in Germany is awesome. I love it here! I have, however, learned a thing or two about the realities of life abroad. What follows is a list of discoveries, oddities and annoyances revealed in my first months as an expat American living in Hannover, Germany:

  1. The common American advice, “Don’t worry about the language barrier in Germany; everybody speaks English,” is not helpful. Everybody speaks a little English in Hannover, and they are terribly self-conscious about using it. There’s no getting around the fact that you really should learn the German language if you’re going to stay here. That said, younger Germans are more likely to speak English, and I’ve met several who are fluent. However, if they aren’t fluent, and you desperately need to locate the nearest restroom, you’ll soon find yourself gesticulating wildly as you try not to make pickles in your pants.
  2. There are pharmacies on every goddamn block. Seriously. They’re called “Apotheken,” and they are everywhere in this city. You can go to the nearest Apotheke and get your prescription filled. You can also purchase a wide variety of over-the-counter medications which do absolutely nothing. It goes like this: you must convince the pharmacist you have a cold and then intimately describe your most disgusting symptoms, after which time, if they believe you, they hand you a box of herbal tea. “Thank you Sir! I was going to drown my symptoms in a near-lethal dose of NyQuil, but this lemon-flavored tea should prove just as effective!”
  3. Germans are impatient. They have zero tolerance for delays, lines or traffic of any kind. They operate at top speed, which is why, in the cashier line at the grocery store, you better pay for your items and get the hell out of the way, because Dieter von Shufflestein is right on your ass. The first time I tried to put my change away before taking my groceries from the counter, my items were suddenly overrun with those belonging to the person behind me. His pickled herring and canned hotdogs were all up in my situation, and he didn’t even care a bit. I wanted so desperately to turn to him and scream, “Bitch, I am going to throw your nasty shit all over the floor if you do not get off my Kool-Aid!”
  4. Craft beers and dark beers have yet to really catch on in Germany. I’m from Portland, Oregon, so I’m accustomed to an amazing variety of beer, but over here, I mostly see pilsner and hefeweizen. I’m not complaining, mind you; the pilsner here is rather strong, and my wife can always tell when I have, as she puts it, “a pilsner-buzz” on. Oh, and liquor is super cheap here. Like, $7 for a fifth of rum, type cheap. I mean, hell, that’s not just cheap, that’s cheap as balls.
  5. Recycling is a monumental pain in the ass. (I’m only speaking of apartment living with this one, and specifically, apartment living in the city of Hannover.) Glass can only be returned in these round tanks on the sidewalk, which look like giant metal boobies. And just like real boobies, they’re nowhere to be found when you need them. Recycling makes absolutely no sense to me here. You have to put your organic compost, or “Bio” garbage into plastic bags — yes, plastic bags — and take them down to the dumpster. Random items (like cotton swabs, tissue paper and tampons) go into clear plastic bags and are taken to an entirely different dumpster. Regular paper goes into blue plastic bags, while metal and plastic go into yellow bags; both of which are picked up from the street once per week… by different companies. Oh, and if you buy a bottle of water at a certain grocery store, and you want to recycle it and get your deposit back, you have to take it back to that exact same grocery store. So, with all of these convoluted rules and the counterproductive use of plastic in the recycling process, I kind of want to make a German flag out of rubber tires and hairspray bottles in the middle of a busy street and set that shit on fire.

 

If you’d like to read more of our Things That Suck About Living in Germany lists, check out our previous posts:
Five Things That Suck About Living in Germany
Five (More) Things That Suck About Living in Germany
Even More Things That Suck About Living in Germany

 

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68 responses to “Culture Shock: Five Things That Suck About Living in Germany

  1. ha ha hilarious!! i want more!!!

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    • This writer sounds like the typical Ugly American. I lived there three years although I must say that I believe that when you live in Rome do as the Romans, therefore I struggled through my German because I felt it was the polite thing to do. This guy acts like the Hispanics in our country. No, you in their country, learn the language. I did however find many people who spoke English very well. So what is the problem with the Pharmacies, we have them on every corner also and to get good cold medicine we have to show ID and sign forms. Thanks to Meth addicts. Love German beer, makes American beer taste like PEE. Don’t know what he means by impatient. I loved driving fast on the Autobahn. I also don’t understand the part about paying fast in stores, never had that problem. This guy has issues. Finally, I don’t know where he lived in the states but we all have to recycle. The guy is an UGLY AMERICAN.

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      • Not at all, my dear, but thank you for reading and commenting. Please come back and read often!

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      • Don't be a Cunny twit

        The #2 most widely spoken language in the US is spanish so they know the language maybe you should learn it and if your German then the authors claims are validated. You certainly made yourself seem like a cunt. A prickly pretentious pseudo intelligent cunt. Instead of abusing yourself to the sound you your false pride and unfounded superiority maybe realize that no two peoples experiences are the same

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      • “this guy acts like the hispanics in OUR country”. I’m sorry if you don’t speak cherokee or navajo or ANY of the many diverse languages that were spoken before your English then do yourself a favor and shut up.

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  2. As a German, it’s amusing how I can easily identify myself with these five things, but never think of them. Germans are very impatient, also zero tolerance for being late (I’m always early to everything!) is frewuently found amongst my fellow Germans. It’s funny though how you have a hard time coping with this, since this once was completely normal to me until I moved to Sweden. Swedes tend to take everthing very easily and are ‘slow’ compared to Germans – “taking it easy” seems to be the general life motto or something. Education in English, however, is obviously not as good as it’s supposed to be… Germans are noticeably very, very bad in English. Though I have to say that I am quite fond of the German recycling system, since it is very environmentally friendly (except the bio garbage in a plastic bag, but maybe we should encourage using composts.) in dividing garbage into different categories… Quite the ramble on my part, I apologise. You’ll get used to it though, and it all has advantages. Germans being bad in English may force you to improve your German. ;)

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  3. I hope you’re enjoying Christmas in Deutschland!

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  4. Hi,

    I think you will get used to Dieter von Shufflestein and the recycling bit. As for dark beer, go to a Getränkemarkt and you will find other sorts of beer (Alt-, Schwarz-, etc). As for the Apotheken, just bring back the 5-gallon drums of NyQuil you can get at Costco or Sam’s Club when you go back to the States. Vick changed the drugs in the stuff anyway, so it doesn’t work as well for the (Ami) cold or flu.

    I think the Automaten at grocery stores are very practical, and no, you don’t always need to go to the same store to return the bottles, at least not with the water. I can bring Real water bottles to Lidl and return them just fine.

    Hang in there, it gets better. After your integration course your issue #1 will go away, though you will always need to go #1 and #2 at some point ;-)

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  5. You are really hilarious :). You haven’t mentioned that the pharmacies have night hours where you can drop off a prescription after going to the ER or Emergency Doctors Office. I don’t think that Pharmacies in the 24/hr Drugstores are open 24/7 as well.

    Yes you are right, recycling can be a pain. ;) But as far as I remember you can drop off any recycling bottle that the store sells – even if you bought it somewhere else …

    Frohe Weihnachten!
    ~Anja~

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  6. Oh I can assure you there are more than 5 things that suck about living in Germany. Kind of the reason why I am not living there anymore. However, recycling in my opinion would actually be a reason to stay there. I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it soon, seeing that you are evidently of at least average intelligence.
    As to the pharmacies, I think because we don’t have them inside our supermarkets it is kind of difficult to find one when you need one. So we have a lot of them to increase the chance of encountering one randomly.

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  7. Greetings and Merry Christmas from Australia. You absolutely cracked me up. Germans are kind hospitable people, who value truth and honour and are gifted with a technical and highly disciplined mind. These qualities shine brilliantly in the fields of science and engineering. However in terms of communication and relationship issues, let us say that it’s challenging in every degree. I’m saying this because my fiance is German, and I’m of Australian-European heritage. They can be quite set in their ways and go from polite to extremely rude as if flicking on a light switch, and then not understand if you’re offended, even though they’d never tolerate the same comments if applied to themselves. You just have to laugh otherwise you’ll just cry. This post made me laugh because it’s so true.

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  8. What happens if you put something in the wrong bin?

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  9. I have line anxiety whenever I would visit the local Rewe in Mainz when I visited my gf. I always had my cash ready, change in hand, but then I realized I should really be packing up my groceries.

    Viel Glueck with the reality checks! It’s good to have an outlet for the little things & find a commonality. :-)

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  10. They are all really good points, I have contemplated often about the Apotheke problem for a while. Real medicine that is over the counter in the States is totally nonexistent here in Germany. You really need to be dying for the house doctor to really prescribe it as well, I mean really, if I was suffering from a bad bout of runny butt syndrome, close to amoebic dysentery, they will prescribe coal pills… really? All I needed to do was munch on some Kingsford briquettes and it would be gone? Commercial Idea, “I no longer suffer from explosive bowel syndrome thanks to Kingsford charcoal, not to mention the great steaks I can grill with them as well!!!”

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  11. Amen, brutha.

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  12. I’m so laughing about #3! You have to get your shit in order. I’m a little impatient sometimes. It must be the German in me. And, that recycling bit. How does anyone accomplish this with it being so complicated. Whoa!! There are so many rules!

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  13. observations 1-3 are priceless and so true! and it is nice to have the classics and if you haven’t (i’m sure you have) you must try a dark hefeweizen- they are fantastic! recycling- well it was not that strict in wiesbaden (or i was doing it wrong the entire time!!)….

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    • Thank you for the tip on the beer!

      And yeah, I think the recycling thing is just here in Hannover, and mostly because The Wife and I live in an apartment. Recycling is probably much more rational elsewhere in the country. :)

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      • “Recycling is probably much more rational elsewhere in the country”: nein, ist es nicht – es ist genau so, wie du es beschreibst ;)
        also fun if you life near these metal boobies ’cause they often get emptied at 6:30 am or so…
        there is a beer called Köstritzer Schwarzbier which is a black lager similar to stout or porter – you might like it.
        NyQuil and DayQuil are also available here as “MediNait” and “DayMed” without prescription, although i don’t think those are better than a “Kamillen-Tee” and a schnapps and long sleep :)

        Grüße aus Bonn,
        Sebastian

        PS: Sehr interessanter Blog! Weiter so

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      • Thank you Sebastian! Great tips! I will definitely look into them!

        Which part of Germany are you from?

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      • Aufgewachsen bin ich im Ruhrgebiet und lebe jetzt in Bonn – the former capital. it’s a lovely city at the river rhine in the very south of North Rhine-Westphalia and it’s worth a visit. if you’re interested in german history I recommend you to come and see the “Haus der Geschichte” (http://www.hdg.de/bonn/ausstellungen/dauerausstellung/).

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      • Thank you Sebastian! Will do!

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  14. I have only just discovered your blog so I’m catching up on all your awesome entries! The bit with the recycling made me laugh. I am German and live in the UK where they only just started separating things like paper and bottles etc. When I moved to the UK it was my secret joy to be able to just throw everything into one bin. I loved it. No more having 11 different bins in my kitchen as I had in Germany. Don’t get me wrong, I think recycling is important. But I’m more than happy to pay someone else to do it for me.

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    • Great to hear from you Franziska! Thank you for finding us and checking out our posts. We’ll check out your blog as well.

      Haw! Not recycling in the UK was your secret joy. I love that.

      Please come back and visit us often! And if you’d ever like to write a guest post for us, just let us know!

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  15. Meine Frau ist auch Deutsch, und jetzt wohne ich im Berlin seit Juni 2012. Hier spricht man sehr viele Englisch! Aber … ok, enough of that. I’m American too, from New York. For English you have to move up north – in Berlin I hear English everywhere I go and I can’t say two words in German without the other person replying to me in English – and I’ve been a fulltime student in the Volkshochschule for six months now! Concerning English everyone does laugh, and says how “down south” nobody speaks English though :/

    And as far as the Bio Garbage being put out in plastic bags – you’re supposed to use the biodegradable bags! If you put it out in normal bags they have to trash the entire lot :) Uh, I mean :(

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    • Hi Chris! Thanks for the message! It’s great to hear from another Expat married to a wonderful German. And thanks for the advice!

      I see you’re from MeetUp. I can’t find many groups for Hannover. Just some super small, super specialized ones.

      How did you find our blog, by the way?

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  16. We have the same sadness at the lack if good beer!! The stuff here doesn’t even compare. Though, since we’re on an army post, we sometimes get some rogue in. I’ll let you know if it happens. You guys can come down! Haha

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    • I’ve been missing my Dead Guy Ale! I even bought a Rogue hat to bring with me over here… but it’s too small for my giant brain. It squeezes it and gives me a headache. :)

      Please do let us know! So cool you’re from Portland…

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  17. Pingback: Culture Shock 14: Even More Things That Suck About Living in Germany | Oh God, My Wife Is German.

  18. Hilarious and funny as hell.. I am having a ball (or maybe two or three) reading your blog.. I’m German… if you are into dark ale, come over to Düsseldorf and try some of the local beer brands… I am pretty much sure, you’ll love it…
    Best regards and good luck
    Andreas

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  19. Please get the hell out of our county, if you have issues! You’re a guest and a rude one at that!

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  20. Errr nope recycling is every where the same in Germany lol. After all those years of living in England and then came back to Germany I was truly overwhelmed by all those recycling stuff. Since I am an very untypical German I just did not do it. And until now I still dont do it. In my eyes it is a all a silly idea, so far police has not caught me LOL

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  21. I had to laugh out loud at your post. But maybe you need to come down south to Bavaria. I live in a very small town but our local REWE must carry at least 50 different types of beer including different kind of Schwarzbier and Bockbier! I never heard anyone say they don’t like the beer over here. lol And that type of recycling would drive me crazy too. We have a papertrashcan, we separate plastic and glass and the rest goes in the regular trash. And no one ever says anything. I am german but I do still feel very stressed being in a german grocery store trying to put my items in the bag as fast as possible. How nice it is in the states where they have baggers do that for you. :)

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  22. Well, when living in Germany it might be a good idea to actually learn at least rudimentary German … Then there are those things called ‘Drogerie’ (= drug store). (Don’t really need a pharmacy for an aspirin, do you ?) Yes, Germans are impatient – comes with being quite organized and not appreciating spending free time in one line or another. There is a ‘purity law’ for beer in effect, so when the craft and dark beer meet the standard …
    And recycling is a very small price to pay to protect a bit of environment for the ones that come after us.
    I can understand however that these things might seriously annoy an American

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  23. Lol… You’re funny. You want a good, and a variety of beer? Go to Bavaria! Don’t look for beer in wine country :)

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  24. Craft beer is slowly catching on in Berlin – just a bit! I recently found out about two locally-brewed IPAs, and one of them is on tap at a bar that has now become my favorite bar in town just for that reason. When I ordered it the second time I was there, the bartender said “One worst-beer-in-Berlin, coming right up.’ My response: ‘You don’t like it? MORE FOR ME.’

    Being from Seattle, though, I can relate to your Heimweh for craft brews. Every time I visit the PNW, I drink as much IPA (and porter, and farmhouse ale, and cream stout, and and and) as my poor little liver can handle.

    Love your blog! Every bit is true. Oh and I used to live just outside of Hannover. Definitely miss that part of the country… but Berlin is waaaaay awesome so it’s OK.

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  25. Apotheke on every corner, but you cannot buy an aspirin at the airport after 5p or the weekend (or oddly any other place and time when you just have a headache), because it requires a licensed pharmacist, who works the regular German schedule of 30 hours a week, to get one!

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  26. Pingback: Expat Sadness and Depression Survival Kit: 10 Tips to Thrive | Sunny Sanguinity

  27. Pingback: Sick: A Foreign Concept in A Foreign Land | Sunny Sanguinity

  28. LIndaB, I come from a country in Western Europe and agree with the author… does that make me an ugly European? ;-)

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  29. P.S.: That said, recycling is now mandatory in my native city as well, and is perhaps even stricter than here in Kaiserslautern (in Germany, for example, one can dispose of an unlimited amount of non-recyclable residual waste, while in my hometown households only receive a limited number of residual-waste bags per year). I must say that, after an initial rebellious phase, I now enjoy recycling because it makes me feel less guilty about throwing away such an incredible amount of polluting plastic packaging! However, I still have a major beef with Kaiserslautern’s Sperrmüll pick-up system (I have a small basement, and the city only picks up bulk trash twice a year). By the way, I studied in Sweden, and I agree with Obliviate-always above. :-)

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  30. At least the booze is cheap! That’s why I have to make my trips to Portland since Washington State went private and has 20.5% sales tax on the hard stuff and $6.60 liter tax….ooopsss…sorry, this is a post about me complaining it is a post about you complaining…”You Ugly American”. A good post nevertheless.

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  31. Mm…perhaps I won’t retire to Germany after all!!!

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  32. I absolutely love your post! I feel I’m a lil more informed for our move to Germany in the next couple of weeks (thank you USAF) I’m pretty stoked but properly not prepared for the culture shock coming from Japan to Germany. Tho I can completely relate to #4, I’m a native Oregonian (portland as well) living in Japan for the last 4 years and good luck getting a decent beer other than sapporo and kirin in Japan, don’t get me wrong its good beer but ehh compared to micro brews from OR like McMenamins, oh how I miss thee. I have found my arrogant bastard and mocha porter imported from Oregon at the local liquor store but I pay shit ton of money for 1 bottle, its about $8 if I want a taste of home. I’ve been going without for quite sometime now.

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  33. Agree with you! Epic point-of view

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  34. Hey. Not reading through all of the comments above and someone has probably already said this, but you can buy biodegradable plastic bags to put your Biomüll into, and then you can just throw it away together with the bag and the whole thing will just rot. It’s a special kind of plastic made from some kind of organic polymer that can be decomposed easily by bacteria etc. Can’t get any more German than that, ha!

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  35. monica di nardo

    Please lighten up people with your comments about Ugly American, having issues and getting out of the country! This post is a SATIRE. Being of German background I can identify with it and find it very funny, even though I never lived in Germany (except for the half year when I was six). The author of this post writes very well and fills me in on life in Germany today.

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  36. Hey there,
    Sorry to read you could not find a decent brewery in Hannover.
    There are quite a few around and they cater to nearly every taste. A former colleague of mine recommended the Brauhaus Ernst August.

    As a native Bavarian I would recommend moving down south in order to forget that such a vile concoction like Pilsener ever has come from a brewing copper ;-)

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  37. Pingback: InterNations: An American Expat Answers Questions About Living in Germany | Oh God, My Wife Is German.

  38. Just because you don’t like it there doesn’t mean the country is bad. So quit whining and shut the fuck up! You can always go back to where you came from.

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  39. I’ve read through a few of your blogs, and boy does it make me miss home. Was born in Germany and raised there until I was 8. Spent many of summers there during school, but work and family has kept me in the States since I’ve graduated. I couldn’t help but laugh about the recycling. When meine Oma first explained it to me (since it hadn’t started while I lived there) I just stood there like a deer in headlights, scratching my head. I miss a good, authentic hefeweizen, and could even deal with a nice Pils. As a German, I’m just as impatient, hate lines (Wal-Mart makes me want to kick puppies) and despise being late. And believe me when I tell you that English is truly one of the hardest languages to learn, and the fact they teach Oxford English in German schools doesn’t help one bit when talking to an American. Thank goodness I had an American dad that brought the language around a little easier. Great posts by the way. Very refreshing to remember those things. Thank you for that.

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  40. Hi there,

    Nice post and witty blog!
    I just find it hard to believe that you cannot find decent beer in Germany… Do you also have problems finding luxury cars? ;)
    I mean seriously, this country is known for its extensive beer culture.
    You should be able to find stouts and ales. look for Schwarzbier and Altbier.

    As for those highly constructive comments from some vile Germans here. The author is entitled to an opinion. And you seem to fail seeing the humour in his posts.

    And by the way, recycling is a good thing. As annoying as it gets, it really is a little price to pay in order to try to provide a better environment for our children.

    All the best!

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  41. Oh god, the lemon flavored tea! I hated that stuff! I couldn’t even look at a lemon for years afterwards without feeling nauseous. There was a cough syrup I remember liking that tasted kind of like pine trees… sound familiar to anyone?

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