Category Archives: Culture Shock

My experiences living in Germany and reacting to the new language and culture.

American Expat in Germany Experiences Colossal Misunderstanding at the Dentist’s Office


“Wait, what’s happening? I just came here to pick up my dry cleaning!” — Photo by Zdenko Zivkovic (

Let me begin by saying I’m still pissed about this incident. Over the past few weeks, I’ve waited for my anger to solidify into something useful and constructive — you know, like humor — but I still want to coldcock somebody so hard they wake up in the middle of next week. So please, forgive me if the tone of this post is slightly more aggressive than usual.

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Our story begins in early January of 2014, when I walked into our dentist’s office to make an appointment to get my teeth cleaned. I’d been to this office several times before, and always relied upon the dentist himself to speak English with me. This time around, however, I was taking a B1 German integration class, which is kind of like saying your German language skills are “intermediate, but you still suck.” Nevertheless, I felt I should have been able to make a simple appointment entirely in German. Here is what was said, if you were to translate everything directly into English:

ME: *Striding confidently up to the reception desk* “Good day to you. I would gladly like to make my teeth scrubbed clean.”

RECEPTIONIST: *A chubby woman with terrible hair and a deviated septum* “Okay. Would you like to have a professional examination with the dentist, or have a professional teeth cleaning?”

ME: *Looking stunned and confused, having only recognized the words ‘dentist’ and ‘teeth’* “Uhhh, it does me sorrow, but I have not correctly understood. I am currently, at this very moment, learning German. Can you that please, slowly repeat?”

*She repeats exactly what she said, at the exact same speed*

ME: “…Yes.”

RECEPTIONIST: “So which one would you like? Do you want to see the dentist for a professional examination?”

ME: “Yes.”

RECEPTIONIST: “Okay, are you available next week at 11:00 am?”

ME: “Yes.” *Pausing uncomfortably, wondering if it had truly been a full year since my last official checkup with the dentist himself, rather than just a 6-month cleaning* “Excuse me please. Is it normally done for me to see the dentist? I want only to make my teeth scrubbed clean.”

RECEPTIONIST: “Yes. It is normal.”

ME: *Thinking to myself, ‘How many ways can one screw up a simple teeth cleaning? Everything’s fine. You’re golden.’* “Very good. Until then. Have a nice day.”

RECEPTIONIST: “Likewise. Goodbye.”


“Sharp objects in my mouth? Poor communication skills? What could go wrong?” — Photo by jonny goldstein (

Now, at this juncture, I would like to clarify the fact that this woman made absolutely no attempt to understand the broken German I was using. I feel I made my intentions clear, but the receptionist was far more concerned with me using the correct technical words than she was with coming to any real understanding. She spoke quickly, did not elaborate or attempt to clarify the terminology used, and did so with a thinly veiled air of condescension. To this day, I hate her guts and hope she sits on a dental drill.

Anyway, I showed up for my appointment the following week — all bright-eyed and full of hope — and was led to the examination room. The dentist came in, glanced inside my mouth and said in passable English, “You grind your teeth. We need to make a night guard for you.”

Before I knew what was happening, the dentist disappeared and some assistant with a cold sore was jamming my pie hole full of pink goo. Apparently it was the material for casting a mold of my teeth, as it quickly solidified and was then removed. I was left to spit out the remaining pieces stuck between my gums into the wash basin beside me.

ASSISTANT: *In German* “Okay. All finished.”

ME: “Wait, what? But I would gladly have my teeth scrubbed… okay. I believe we have a misunderstanding.”

*The assistant went and got the dentist, who returned to the room to find me, a visibly irritated American male, perched on the examination chair like a coiled spring.*

ME: *In English* “Hi Doc. Listen, I don’t know what is going on. I came here today to have my teeth cleaned, and suddenly I’m being fit for a night guard I don’t even want — which insurance may or may not cover, because I have no idea how much it costs — and my teeth are very definitely not being cleaned.”

*The assistant ran in and out of the room a couple times to give the dentist the information on costs and insurance associated with the night guard. Apparently they are €275 euros and ‘probably’ covered.*

DENTIST: “The night guard is necessary. Without it, you will destroy your teeth.”

ME: “We’ve talked about this. I use cheap night guards from the States. They cost $15 and I just use a new one every couple of months. I’ve used night guards from the dentist before — they’re overpriced and they break just as fast as the cheap ones.”

DENTIST: “Well, if you like, we can send a letter to your insurance to see if it would be covered before you pay for it…”

ME: “Doc, I don’t want your night guard at all. Like, not even a little bit. And I don’t want to pay for that pink goo either.”

DENTIST: *Obviously surprised and uncomfortable* “Okay. We will only charge you for the examination and we will get someone in here to clean your teeth right now.”

ME: “Thank you.”


“This is me: a HIGHLY agitated manchild.” — Photo by Bill Ward (

Now, I don’t typically get angry with healthcare professionals. It takes just the right sequence of events to piss me off — like condescension and linguistic misunderstandings followed by a poor night’s sleep — before I show any real anger. But when I do, I’ve been told it’s pretty scary.

So with great haste, the dentist sent someone in to clean my teeth, and guess who it was? The receptionist who made this jacked up appointment in the first place. She proceeded to explain to me — in rapid German, and with her hands perched on her knees like one would when speaking to a child — that the misunderstanding was my fault because I hadn’t used the correct word for ‘professional tooth cleaning.’ (It’s Zahnreinigung, by the way. I guess they failed to cover that in my German class for completely retarded immigrants.)

So this tubby bitch proceeds to clean my teeth about as well as a monkey with a screwdriver. She barely touched them, skipped over a few entirely and never once used any water. My mouth was so dry my lips started to split, and I was left to swallow all the blood, tooth paste and fluoride left over. She even left a piece of dental floss (as I would discover later at home) stuck between my lower front teeth. The whole time she worked, she talked to me in lightspeed German, punctuating each sentence with a smirk, asking, “Do you understand?” I could ignore her personality flaws, but holy shit, I have never experienced a teeth cleaning with so little enthusiasm and basic proficiency in all my life. I would have had cleaner teeth if I took a nosedive into an empty concrete pool. My teeth would have been cleaner if I tied a blindfold around my head, pounded a 5th of tequila and stabbed at my gums with an ice pick. “Look honey! I’m a dentist! Herp-a-derp-derp-derp!”

So this repellant little goblin, hands me some dental floss and a couple miniature tubes of toothpaste and sends me on my way. I walked down the hall, jerked my coat off the hanger and made for the door. If this had been a sequence in a cartoon, you would have seen flames shooting out of my ears. Just as I was about to push the door open, I heard an entirely different receptionist woman calling to me — one who was not privy to all which had transpired.

NEW RECEPTIONIST: *Speaking in German* “Sir? Would you like us to go ahead and get that night guard ordered for you?”

ME: “No. Never. Goodbye.”

In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t given that poor woman such an intense death stare, followed by the harshest goodbye of her life, but I couldn’t help it; I was in a fugue state and unaccountable for my actions.

I now realize this entire experience at the dentist was mostly my fault, as I am an American with inadequate German skills living in Germany. My speaking proficiency should be better and I am working diligently to improve it. However, there is no excuse for being a dickhole to someone who is trying to learn your language. I believe that dizzy hooker who made the appointment for me did so knowing I was unsure what I was agreeing to; she just wanted to teach me a little lesson on proper German vocabulary. This is why I have purchased a set of fake hillbilly teeth, so the next time I walk past the dentist office, I can point at her and scream, “YOU DID THIS TO ME! NOW NO ONE WILL EVER LOVE ME AGAIN!”

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American Expat in Germany Experiences His First ‘Green Cabbage Walk’ (Grünkohlwanderung)

Bregenwurst Grünkohlwanderung potatos kartofeln

At the end of an arduous journey through the snow, who WOULDN’T want to see this steaming pile of horror?

Winters in Germany last a long time, and by long, I mean like half the year. They are cold, windy and darker than your worst nightmare. As a result, there are lots of fun social traditions during the winter months to keep people happy and less inclined to go down on the business end of a shotgun. In Niedersachsen, as I’ve recently learned, there is an old tradition known as ‘Grünkohlwanderung;’ large groups of people taking long walks through snow-covered forests with frequent stops to take shots of liquor and play extraordinarily humiliating games. At the end of the walk, everyone gathers in a restaurant to eat green cabbage (kale) and fatty sausage, hence the name Grünkohlwanderung, AKA:”Green Cabbage Walk.”

Recently, one of our German friends had a birthday. To help celebrate, we joined 20 other people and went on a Grünkohlwanderung through the Eilenriede forest in Hannover, Germany. We knew we were in good company because there were two wooden wagons chock-full of beer, liquor and party favors. To start things off, all the men had to stand to one side, dangle a tea bag from their teeth and swing it to see who could toss theirs the farthest. I thought I was pretty clever dousing my tea bag with beer on the sly beforehand — you know, to give it more weight — but it landed like 2 yards in front of my feet anyway. That earned a few laughs and absolutely no respect from the Germans, so I spiked my beer and pounded it with great haste.

We walked and talked, and everyone had a great time. I even got to meet a couple who brought their baby along with them. My favorite part of that particular conversation was when the mom readjusted the baby’s blankets and — without missing a beat — freed-up one hand by sliding her beer in the milk bottle-holder of the stroller. The gesture was so fluid it was like watching poetry in motion.

Thank Christ I didn’t have to participate in the next game we played: the birthday girl made two teams compete against each other in a whistling competition — while chewing on mouthfuls of dry white bread — and the rest of us had to guess the songs they were attempting to whistle. You should have seen the bread crumbs fly. It was spectacular. I have no idea which songs they were whistling, because most of them were traditional German drinking ditties, but I definitely heard some Lady Gaga in there.

We kept walking and drinking until I discovered one of the people in our group was a medical student. I went to great lengths to convince him Germans are taller on average than Americans. I even tried to get scientific about it:

ME: “Look! Look at those two handsome bastards in front of us. They’re like 7 feet tall!”

DOCTOR: “Those are my cousins. They are exceptionally tall.”

ME: “No dude, all of you guys are tall. In America, I’m the average.” (Note, I am 5′ 10,” standing up straight, with shoes on and tall thoughts in my mind.)

DOCTOR: “You think so, huh?”

ME: “I know so. I think it has to do with the climate. You guys need more surface area to absorb sunlight because the weather in Germany sucks.”

DOCTOR: *Laughing* “It probably has to do with diet…”

ME: “Damn. I hadn’t thought of that.”

*A squeaky voice chimed in behind me, and I turned around to see the shortest German woman in the entire world.*

SUPER SHORT GIRL: “Not everyone in Germany is tall. Look at me.”

ME: “Nobody asked you, Short Round!

Finally, we arrived at the restaurant, and I gotta tell you: kale, sausage and skinned potatoes may look like hell, but after a long, cold walk and copious amounts of alcohol, they taste amazing.

grog whiskey water hot drink medieval germany modern funnyCheck it out! That’s real German grog right there! The drink of vikings! (Somehow, I always imagined grog would be a mixture of moonshine and beer, but apparently it’s just hot water, whiskey and lemon juice. Whatever. I still felt like a berserker when I ordered it.)

Grünkohlwanderung potatos kartofelnThat’s my wife fixing up a couple of plates for us. I will never understand why Germans don’t like to eat potatoes with the skins on. That’s where all the vitamins are! (Or so my mother always taught me.)

Bregenwurst Grünkohlwanderung potatos kartofelnAnd there you have it — the Grünkohl meal. I have seriously desired this food every night since I first had it, but if I ate it all the time, I would be typing this blog post from a hospital bed with clogged arteries and a pacemaker in my chest. “Nurse! My bedpan is full! Also, this hospital grog tastes like steaming pee pee.”

The Wise Guys 2013 Antidepressant Tour – As Experienced by An American Expat and His German Wife

The Wise Guys a cappella group Germany Good Vibrations Tour Gottingen Antidepressant Tour 2013

“If these guys are supposed to replace my antidepressant medication for the evening, their act better involve hurling bottles of single malt Scotch into the crowd.”

The Wise Guys are an a cappella group from the early 1990s, originally from Cologne, Germany. If you are an American, you might have heard their hit single, “Jetzt ist Sommer” (Now It’s Summer).

As a Christmas gift, my German brother-in-law bought us tickets to see the Wise Guys in Göttingen for their Antidepressivum Tour 2013. (Here’s the official promo video. It’s actually pretty cool):

It’s a cappella with iPhones! That’s just adorable.

So we went to Göttingen and saw the show, and now that I’ve been to a Wise Guys concert, I would like to make a few remarks about the experience:

  1. It took place in a seemingly abandoned warehouse. After arriving in Göttingen, we walked into the venue and found ourselves in what appeared to be the basement from Fight Club, only much, much bigger. There were exposed I-beams in the ceiling, a cement floor, and lots of industrial-looking chains hanging all over the place. (The only things missing were pools of dried blood and a greased-up Brad Pitt.) My brother-in-law explained the building used to be a factory for making automobile components which, in turn, explained why it was so goddamn cold in there.
  2. The smoke machines were working overtime. I can appreciate the dramatic effect smoke machines bring to a concert just as much as the next guy, but the Germans running this show took it to the next level. I could hardly see my wife walking in front of me through the haze of fog juice. I don’t know what they were pumping through those machines, but it smelled of mineral oil and felt like tepid cotton candy sifting through my lungs.
  3. Recording videos was ‘verboten.’ As the show began, we were informed picture taking was allowed, but recording video was not. Now, I am an American, which means I was born to break the rules. (You know those old “Piracy, it’s a crime.” videos they used to play before feature films to discourage downloading pirated films? My answer was always, “Actually, Sir, I would steal a handbag.”) Anyway, as I was filming my 10th video clip of the Wise Guys, a flashlight from behind suddenly lit up my iPhone like it was on fire. A security guard had caught me. He tapped me on the shoulder, gave me an adorably reproachful look and waved his finger as if to say, “You stop that now, you naughty little American schoolboy.” I nodded, flashing my pearly whites, and resigned myself to recording videos down low, between the seats, where the Fuzz couldn’t catch me no mo.’
  4. For Germans, a cappella music really is an antidepressant! The crowd went nuts for the Wise Guys! They were swaying from side to side, singing along and standing up and clapping. It was awesome. Everyone knew the lyrics (except for me) and they really seemed to be having a great time. Not one frown in the place, which is exceptionally rare for such a large gathering of German people. There was a palpable vibe of happiness in the air. I enjoyed being a part of it, despite the fact that I was inoculated at birth against the effects of cheesy a cappella bands.
The Wise Guys a cappella group Germany Good Vibrations Tour Gottingen Antidepressant Tour 2013 Live in Concert

“Don’t try and make me smile, you nerds. Ronald McDonald couldn’t pull it off and neither can you.”

After the show, The Wife and I walked to Bahnhof Göttingen and waited for the train to take us back to Hannover. I thought it would be a brilliant idea if we had beer for the ride home, so we went inside the nearest Burger King for a couple pints. (Oh yes, you can order beer just about anywhere in this beautiful country.) And as my wife was ordering from the woman behind the cash register, I reached over her shoulder in a sudden, stroke-like jerk of impulse, pointed to the big sign overhead and yelled, “–And that! We’ll take that giant bastard too.”

Burger King XXL Burger - Der Big King Deutschland Germany Gottingen

The result: Two beers and ‘Der Big King XXL.’

I don’t know what came over me. I hadn’t eaten fast food in over a year and a half, so I must have been overwhelmed by that gigantic golden burger looming above me like the glory of the Sun. And in that picture above, my wife is holding only the remaining half of the burger. It was bigger than her head, and so greasy and wonderful it absolutely destroyed our digestive tracts. We were both rippin’ ass the whole way home, and I’m not just talking about innocent little toots here and there; we were dropping bombs on that train. So noxious they burned our little pink balloon knots.

If you’d like to learn more about the Wise Guys, check out their website at, and if you’d like to learn more about Der Big King XXL from Burger King, check out the website at

Would you like to experience another (fascinating) German event with us? Check out our video from the 2013 Hannover Oktoberfest.

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Expat Focus: An American Answers Questions About Living as an Expat in Germany

Expat Focus Logo- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

Expat Experience Q&A with
Oh God, My Wife Is German.

Interview conducted by Expat Focus
December, 2013

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Who are you?
I am an American expat from Portland, Oregon, now living in Hannover, Germany. I am a freelance graphic designer and copywriter, and an avid blogger of all things humorous (though I most often take aim at subjects like Germany, expat life, culture shock and my beautiful — and unintentionally hilarious — German wife.)

Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I moved to Germany in September of 2012 in order to be with my wife. If she’d been from England, I would have moved to England. Had she come from Italy, I would have moved to Italy. Had she been from Siberia, I would have said, “Sorry honey, but I’m sure there’s a very nice guy for you in Siberia. Probably the quiet type, because he’s frozen to death.”

What challenges did you face during the move?
My wife and I lived together in Portland before we moved to Germany, and in that last year, we were both working full-time jobs, planning our destination wedding, arranging for my wife’s future career in Hannover, and worrying about how I was going to continue my own career in Germany without speaking the language. It was probably the most stressful year of our lives thus far, and we dealt with it by eating cake, pizza and drinking copious amounts of beer. (My wife looked amazing in our wedding pictures. I looked like a bloated veal calf.)

How did you find somewhere to live? (e.g. how did you locate a suitable property? what was the buying/renting process like?)
Our location was determined by my wife’s job; she’s a Gymnasium teacher (and a fantastic one at that), and she landed a job at a school in Hannover. Finding an apartment in any German city can be stressful, and we were prepared to hire a broker if necessary. Luckily, we knew a friend of a friend in Hannover, so we were able to figure out the kind of neighborhood we wanted and what we could afford. But finding an apartment is rarely a pleasant experience, and no matter the country, moving sucks.

Are there many other expats in your area?
Yes, there are actually quite a few expats in Hannover. There is even an expat group called Hannover4EnglishSpeakers, which meets up a few times each month for drinks, sporting activities and to watch movies in English. (I think they even have a group for expat parents, so their little English-speaking trolls can roll around in the mud together and give each other the flu.) There are expat groups like this in every major city in Germany, and they can be very useful for things like making friends, getting recommendations for doctors and dentists, buying and selling furniture, and complaining about how the German language uses gender-based articles. (Seriously. Every noun is either a ‘he,’ ‘she’ or an ‘it.’ (And all added together, between the 4 cases, Germans use a total of 16 definite articles. Sixteen.)

What is your relationship like with the locals?
I work at home in front of the computer all day, which makes me both a geek and a shut-in. And like the rest of my pale-skinned brethren, I only leave my coffin when the bloodlust takes me and I am forced to venture out into the night to feed. Just kidding. We have a lot of friends, and I’m also taking a German language class, so we mingle with the locals quite a bit. (Though never with drunken soccer fans. Those guys are scary.)

What do you like about life where you are?
Germany feels safe. I like the pace of life here. And Hannover is similar to Portland in that it feels like a big, little city. Or a little, big city. However you say that. Also, as an expat, you’re always challenged. The people, the culture, the godforsaken and unnecessarily difficult language — everything is new. You’re like a perpetual student, so there’s no time for boredom or plateau. You gotta get up every day and launch yourself into that alien landscape like an astronaut about to pee in his space suit.

What do you dislike about your expat life?
Having two families on either side of the globe. You’re always bouncing between them for the holidays, and one side always misses you while the other gets to bask in the radiant splendor of your company.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
Customer service. In America, strangers are sickeningly sweet to you, especially in places of business or over the phone. Sure, the person being nice to your face might actually loathe you right down to the very marrow in your bones, but at least they ensure a smooth, professional transaction. Not in Germany. Oh no, here, customer service falls into two main categories: standoffish and downright abusive. Naturally there are exceptions to this rule, but even my wife agrees, saying, “Americans are like peaches and Germans are like coconuts. Americans are sweet on the outside but hard on the inside, and Germans are hard on the outside but sweet on the inside.” (While I try not to take offense at the notion of having a foreign object at my center that is stone-like and unfeeling, I think she makes a fine point.)

What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
Traditional German food is heavy, fatty and served with beer. I love it! I am gleefully eating and drinking my way toward my first heart attack.

Photo by Reiner Kraft (

Photo by Reiner Kraft (

What are your plans for the future?
I plan to ace my B2 level German language exam, which will certify me to work as a graphic designer for a German agency. I will then leave my home office and rejoin the lemmings on their great but inevitable plunge into the quagmire of despair that is working life. I jest, but I will miss making a living in my underwear. (Wait, that made me sound like a stripper, didn’t it.)

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Learn the language of the county in which you plan to live. I feel so passionate about this, I must repeat myself:

For the love of all that is holy. For the love of God and Jesus H. Christ on rice, learn the language of the foreign country in which you plan to live. Every single word you learn, written or spoken, will make your life easier. Be glad you are starting now, rather than later. Feel angry you weren’t born a native speaker, but be grateful you can learn to become fluent. Learn as much of the language as you can before you get there. Keep on learning while you’re there. If you return to your home country, keep on learning it anyway. Throw yourself into that language like a fat kid at the deep end of the pool.

I took classes, bought books and software programs, practiced with my wife and taught myself as much German as I possibly could before I moved here. This added up to exactly 1.5 years of language training, and I still depended upon my wife to translate any interaction more complex than, “Would you like another beer, Sir?” Answer: “HELL yes.”

If I could download the entire German language into my brain like in The Matrix, but it would cost my entire life’s savings, I would do it. I would do it right now. If I had to pay my entire life savings and then kick a puppy too, I would hand over the cash and punt that little doggie like a football.

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How to Convince Your Neighbors You Are A Thief and An Alcoholic (In One Simple Gesture)

Jelzin Vodka Bottle

Step 1: Cradle the bottle like a precious baby. Love it. Give it a name. Pay it an allowance. Children are the future.

On a Friday night not too long ago, I decided to make mixed drinks for myself and my lovely German wife. I call these drinks ‘Maschsee Mai Tais.’ They consist of a few ounces of rotgut vodka, an equal amount of bitter lemon mixer, a splash of tropical vitamin juice and a whole mess of fish-shaped ice cubes. (Funny ice cubes are the most important part, because smiles are in short supply after you’ve pickled your liver.)

fish shaped ice cubes in rubber tray

This ice cube tray is the one thing I have ever willingly purchased from IKEA.

Funny German Drink Mix Recipe - The Maschsee Mai Tai

I present to you, “The Maschsee Mai Tai.”

Without a single thought, I left our apartment and went to our local grocery store. There, I grabbed a bottle of vodka (or ‘Tears of the Russians,’ as I like to call it), went to the check out counter and paid for it. I took one step outside the store and realized I’d forgotten my grocery bag; I had absolutely no way of carrying or concealing my new purchase. Oh sure, I could have strolled home with a 5th of hooch clenched in my fist, but I find something unsettling about the people around me knowing exactly what I intend to do with my Friday night. “What are you all staring at? This is for cooking — I’m making a spicy vodka sauce over angel hair pasta. YOU’RE NOT BETTER THAN ME!”

Now, I was wearing a stretchy blue pullover at the time, so I glanced down at myself and that’s when genius struck: I jammed the bottle up my sleeve, cradling the base in my hand, and stuffed my hands in my pockets. Like an illusion of perspective painted by the Renaissance masters, the bottle was entirely concealed, and I finally had validation for those 4 years I spent in art school.

Below is a recreation of the subterfuge. Click one of the images to begin the slideshow.

I made it all the way back to our apartment building, but I encountered a problem I had not anticipated: one of the people who live in our building — a tiny Polish woman — had forgotten her keys and was waiting out front to be let inside. She recognized me and asked if I could open the door for her.

Now, my keys were in the right pocket of my pullover, sitting directly beneath the bottle in my hand. Trying to reach them with my left hand would have been physically impossible (though hilarious to witness). I panicked and looked at the woman for a moment, then proceeded to withdraw the bottle from my sleeve like an almighty bastard sword. Like King Arthur pulling Excalibur from the stone. Everything seemed to move in slow motion: the woman’s eyes dropping down to the emerging bottle; her pupils dilating as she realized what she was seeing; followed by the ambiguous smile and world-weary nod of a woman who has just decided I hid this bottle up my sleeve because I stole it.

vodka bottle in germany

Step 4: Unveil your shame, take the ridicule and start mixing drinks until you remember nothing.

I transferred the bottle to my other hand, raised the keys and unlocked the door. The woman mumbled some words of gratitude, but I did not hear them; I was already halfway up the staircase with my baseball cap pulled low over my eyes, shouting for the entire building to hear:


Click here to learn more about the term “Culture Shock.”

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10 Easy Steps to Become the Worst God Damned German Language Teacher on the Planet

diverse classroom gradeschool 6th graders

“Put your hands down, idiots. I don’t even care.” — Photo by (

I am an American expat living in Germany. I have taken a few German classes — including an intensive A1 German integration course — so I have experienced several different types of language teachers. I’ve had phenomenal ones and average ones. Wonderfully gifted teachers and disenchanted wash-ups. Inspiring educators and mind-numbing hacks who have no business standing in front of a classroom. Today, I would like to speak directly to all of the German teachers out there who fall into this last category.

Dear Shitbird,

Would you like to make sure your students are confused and drooling by the end of every class? Do you want to ensure the next wave of expatriates join the workforce as mumbling illiterates? Have you ever wanted to smash somebody’s attempts to learn your mother tongue just to watch their linguistic hopes wither and die like an orchid watered exclusively with table salt and battery acid?

Well, you’re in luck! With an amalgamation of all my shitty German teachers in mind, I’ve constructed the list below to help guide ambitious young educators on the path to becoming the absolute worst teachers on the face of this spinning blue ball we call Earth.

  1. Take absolutely NO joy in your work. Oh ho ho! Don’t get too excited if front of your class. If your students suspect you might actually be enjoying the learning process, you’re sure to lose their respect. Remember: These people are animals. Open displays of energy or enthusiasm will be rewarded with teeth gnashing and poo flinging.
  2. Speak super fast all the time. You gotta keep those students on their toes! And you definitely want to make sure to speak at light speed when a student asks a question. After all, if your answer doesn’t inflict greater confusion than the uppity little shit had before, you just aren’t doing your job.
  3. Never use complete sentences. When introducing a new concept or set of linguistic rules, just point wildly and write single words on the blackboard. Shaking your head or nodding in silence are also effective teaching methods of communication. Who has time to explain things thoroughly? And besides, your students can’t possibly understand you anyway; these dim bulbs come from other countries. Filthy countries.
  4. Encourage shouting matches. How else are you going to find out who the best student is? The loudest, most obnoxious son of a bitch in class is obviously the most gifted, and deserves to be rewarded with all of your attention. Quiet students are weak; they should be left behind as food for the larger animals.
  5. Never take turns speaking. Asking students to actually try and speak the language in an orderly fashion will destroy any chance you have of creative a shouting match (see step #4). If you give each student equal attention, you might accidentally figure out who needs extra help with the language, and nobody likes a downer.
  6. Avoid games at all costs. If you’ve been thinking about incorporating games or activities into your lessons, stop right there: Nothing engages students like asking them to get off their dead asses and do something fun. Your students should have that blank, thousand-yard stare at all times. If you notice the light coming back on in their eyes, you may be giving them false hope, and that’s just irresponsible.
  7. Repetition serves no purpose. If your students don’t get a lesson the first time around, fuck ‘em. Obviously they weren’t paying attention. Saying the same things over and over again is boring — especially for you, the teacher — and anybody who asks you to repeat yourself probably rides the short bus to class anyway.
  8. Make sure your students have side conversations. If some of your students are talking loudly to each other while you or one of your students is speaking, you’ve struck gold! Clearly your class is advanced enough not to require an orderly environment. Besides, you’re a teacher, not a police officer. These knuckle-dragging mongoloids can govern themselves.
  9. Never use tables or charts. Organized information may feel like an effective means of education, but trust me, writing all over the blackboard without regard to context or continuity is how minds are truly molded. If a student needs the clarity of neatly arranged rows and diagrams, they probably never wore a helmet to football practice.
  10. The book should be a better teacher than you are. A lot of time and money went into the text book you use for your classes. Don’t waste it by trying to improve the formula, embrace it! If you need a cup of coffee or a smoke break, just tell your students to turn to page 168 and walk your ass right out of the classroom. Students love that, and it sure as hell beats actually speaking to the slack-jawed mouth breathers, am I right?

By utilizing these 10 simple steps, I promise you will stunt your student’s educational growth and salt the very earth from whence it sprang. You will preserve the German language — or any subject matter you choose to teach — and keep it well out of reach of the unwashed hordes. And this isn’t just your job we’re talking about, it’s a way of life; you should go home after class every day, stare deep into the bathroom mirror and smile with perfect certainty, because you are definitely looking at an asshole.

If you’d like to read about my experience with truly wonderful German teachers, click here.

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Culture Shock 17: The Horrible, Awful, Purely-Evil German Neighbors Downstairs

Funny Old Couple Waiting for Death / God

They may look harmless, but they will not hesitate to drop your puppy down the garbage chute. — Image courtesy of Martin Smith (

The Wife and I live in an apartment building in Hannover, Germany. Our building has 10 units, and the walls are paper thin. We can hear everything our neighbors do — from the units above, below and to the sides — and we have some interesting neighbors.

We’ve got the young married couple upstairs, who get into these crazy fights every 2 weeks, involving apathetic, “you have to stop doing this,” type comments from the husband, and a lot of manic screaming and throwing of breakable household goods from the wife (followed by equally loud and frightening bouts of makeup sex). Then there’s the nice Russian family across the hall, who are actually great neighbors and do a magnificent job of ignoring us when we’re out on our balcony. We even have a unit full of college students on the first floor, who party until all hours of the night and can’t seem to figure out which day of the week to put their garbage out on the sidewalk for pick-up. (Seriously, you idiots, the garbage truck comes Thursday morning, so when Wednesday evening rolls around, put the beer bottle down, step over the Swedish exchange student with alcohol poisoning and throw out that plastic bag full of empty cigarette packs and curiously stained gym socks.)

funny drunk kid passed out

“Dude, is Viktor still breathing?” — Image courtesy of shrtstck | (

Now, I don’t particularly like living near college students or newlywed couples grappling with mental illness; they’re all nice enough, I suppose, but terribly inconsiderate as neighbors. They genuinely don’t care about anyone around them. However, I would take an entire apartment building full of these crazy, sweaty meatbags over the terrible, old, evil, antichrist neighbors living directly beneath us.

I call them Emphysema Dieter and the Crimson Hellcow. They’re these twisted shut-ins who’ve lived in our building for — I shit you not — 40 years.  Dieter looks like a dried-out tobacco leaf. Hellcow looks like a chubby little troll with flaming red ‘I’ve-given-up’ old lady hair. They smoke all day long. Their putrid stench wafts directly up through the vent in our bathroom and up over our balcony. When they open their door, the entire staircase reeks of filth. It’s like they’ve lived here so long their apartment has become a kind of nicotine hive; its tobacco roots having grown so long and woven so deeply into the architecture they’ll have to tear the whole building down after the two cancer maggots inside finally pupate and fly away.

They both have remarkably bad smoker’s coughs. Emphysema Dieter, in particular. When he’s out on their porch hacking up a little bit of wonderful, I seriously gag and throw up a little in my mouth. He’s so old and decrepit he can barely walk. I almost feel bad for him, but then I hear him coughing up that morning lungbutter and I think to myself, “Yeah… when you die, I’m gonna go out, find your grave and then I’m just gonna piss all over it.”

Wrinkled old man in a nice Sunday suit

“Hey, you’re not smoking! Let me light another one for you… don’t wanna keep the Reaper waiting!” — Image courtesy of SpaceShoe (

Now, Emphysema Dieter and the Crimson Hellcow aren’t just disgusting, they’re also mean. When they babysit their granddaughter, we can hear them berating her for crying. I can’t understand all the German words, but my wife tells me they’re yelling things like, “Oh, you’re gonna cry now? Good! Go ahead, you big baby!” Which, of course, only makes the child cry harder. I think this is how Dieter and the Hellcow reproduce; not through normal, human copulation, but by subjecting young souls to a constant diet of ridicule.

They’re also mean to people outside the family. They lean out their window and glare at people in the street below. They yell at anyone who parks a car in front of the building — even if it’s absolutely necessary because the people are moving in — and even if it’s only for a few seconds. Now, when someone parks a car out front, it affects Dieter and the Hellcow not at all. Like, not even a little bit. I suspect they yell at people not out of respect for building rules or traffic protocol, but because they cannot stand the sight of happiness in others. Smiling makes them nauseous. Laughter burns their ears. When they see two lovers kiss in the shimmering light of a beautiful spring morning, they soothe themselves by microwaving a gerbil.

scary old woman with a headache

“Stop it. Your smile is giving me a migraine.” — Image courtesy of outcast104 (

Since these two creatures rarely venture outside, I am forced to assume they sustain themselves by sucking the breath from stray cats and gnawing marrow from the bones of orphan children. However, I’ve seen the Crimson Hellcow in the staircase a few times, and she always uses the opportunity to say something vicious to me in German. Luckily, I can’t understand a word out of her mouth and she can’t speak English, so our dialogues go like this:

ME: *Walking down the stairs* “Oh great, it’s you.”

THE CRIMSON HELLCOW: “Hurry up, can’t you see I’m standing here?”

ME: “I don’t care. I don’t care. Whatever.”

THE CRIMSON HELLCOW: “What are you, deaf? You impudent little shit…”

ME: *With a smile and a wave* “Break a hip, you miserable hag!”

Come to think of it, I’m not even sure Emphysema Dieter and the Crimson Hellcow are married; they have different last names on their door and mailbox. Maybe they’re brother and sister. Maybe I’ve finally found Hansel and Gretel, only instead of pushing the evil witch into the oven in order to escape being eaten, they pushed her in because they thought it was funny. Then they ate the candy house, smoked all the candy canes and moved to Hannover in hopes of finding a sassy American expat to devour. Oh God, they can smell the freedom on my skin. They want to crack open my bones and suck out the marrow of liberty. I bet my loins taste just like bald eagle.

Steak and potatoe dinner at a diner

And justice. My spare ribs taste like justice. — Image courtesy of Whiplus (

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Culture Shock 16: The Absolute Best (and Weirdest) German Integration Class I Ever Had

Glam Transvestite Makeup Glam Eyeshadow

“Welcome to German class, everyone. Now, let’s get STRANGE.” — Image courtesy of Courtney Rhodes (

I am taking an intensive A1 German integration course here in Hannover, Germany. This means 3 days per week, 4 hours per day, I go to a giant, unairconditioned building to try and absorb the German language into my tiny little dinosaur brain.

My classmates come from all over the world: Russia, Kosovo, Latvia, Afghanistan, Syria, Ghana, Sudan and The Ivory Coast. Not only am I the only American in class, but I am the only English-speaker (except for the teacher). This surprised me; I thought for sure there would be a handful of English-speakers in attendance. Also, I expected at least 1 Turkish student, because Turks are, apparently, the largest ethnic minority in Germany.

None of my expectations were met, especially the morning when our regular teacher took a vacation and we were introduced for the very first time to our substitute teacher. What followed was a paradigm shift I shan’t soon forget, for it brought about the greatest and strangest German class I’ve experienced to date.

Crazy surreal dream about cats

“Seriously, you guys. Is it April Fool’s Day or something?” — Image courtesy of ilovebutter (

Now, I want you to imagine a day in late July. I’m sitting in the classroom with the rest of the students waiting for our teacher to arrive. The windows are open and an oscillating fan is running because it’s hot. Hot as balls. Suddenly, a very loud, very flowery voice absolutely murders the morning silence: “Guten MORGEN!” cries the voice, startling me so badly I drop my iPhone. I look over my shoulder to see a giant woman dressed all in pink with a smile so big it borders on creepy. She’s wearing a pink headdress with coke-bottle glasses, iridescent eyeshadow, pink lipstick and blood-red lipliner. And though I know this is not politically correct and I am ashamed to admit it, my first thought was, Muslim Tranny.

We soon learn this woman was born and raised in Germany, but converted to Islam many years ago. We also learn she is pure, concentrated vigor. She is loud, she is passionate, and she is psyched, man. Her energy is infectious. “You have two children?” she asks one of the students in very loud, very clear German, “AMAZING!” she exclaims. Turning to another, “And you come from Afghanistan? WONDERFUL!” Pretty soon, the entire class is smiling and sitting up straight; no longer are we the international gaggle of slouching bastards we were the day before. This is a whole new class entirely.

Muslim Woman in Pink Headress (Hijab)

“…I said, ARE YOU READY YOU ROCK?!” — Image courtesy of thefixer (

The class moves along like a big, pink, freight train, and the teacher begins asking us about our hobbies. When it’s my turn, I say something in German like, “In my feminine free time, I very much enjoy the reading and the writing.” We go around the room this way until a woman from Syria admits she enjoys singing. The teacher asks her to demonstrate. Then implores her to demonstrate. And all of a sudden, this dude-lookin’ teacher has some Syrian chick singing a Muslim song in the corner and two dudes from Africa bobbing their heads up and down against their textbooks in prayer, and I’m all like, “What in the sweet holy FUCK is going on today?? Did my wife wake up this morning in a vindictive mood and decide to dose my morning tea with mescaline? Because, honey, if you did — that’s cool and all — but I’d prefer you wait until the weekend to send me down the rabbit hole.”

funny guy stoned

“HOLD ON. I’M TRIPPING BALLS.” — Image courtesy of Robert Anthony Provost (

And get this — our substitute teacher was so moved by the song she even started crying. Maybe the woman from Syria decided to bust out the Islamic Call to Prayer or something. I really don’t know. But regarding the spontaneous prayer stuff I saw from Mr. Ghana and Mr. Ivory Coast over there, I have exactly two questions:

Did these two presumably Muslim guys from Africa feel so moved by the beauty of the music they lapsed into some kind of religious fervor? Or does their religion literally require them to pray every time they hear that particular song no matter how inappropriate the circumstances? Because either way, that shit makes me nervous.

Now, I gotta say, that song she sang was beautiful. Stunning, really. Everyone applauded and cried out things like “Wunderschön!” and “Wunderbar!” — none louder than myself. Afterward, when the moment of zeal had passed and everyone put their respective gods away, we enjoyed what was easily the best German class I ever had. This substitute teacher was a real stickler for grammar and pronunciation, and she didn’t let anything slide. She made each of us take turns speaking and writing in an orderly fashion, ridiculed us for leaning too heavily upon the language translation apps on our smart phones, voiced her sympathy regarding the complicated system of gender-based articles and cases in the German language, then absolutely piled on the homework for next class. We all learned something new, especially me, and we enjoyed the learning process itself. This teacher really seemed to care. It felt as though we were being engaged by this really intense (and potentially manic) human being who was absolutely thrilled with the opportunity to teach German to a class full of smelly immigrants like myself.

There was only one thing I truly did not like about this class, and that was knowing the teacher was only a substitute, so she would not be teaching us again tomorrow.

apple for teacher

What do you give your favorite teacher in Germany? Bratwurst or something? Maybe a nice warm beer? — Image courtesy of Robert S. Donovan (

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Culture Shock 15: The Batshit Insane Ways in Which Germans Tell Time (And Why I Hate Them For It)

crazy confusing clocks

“What time is it? Time to give up.” — Image courtesy of Richie Diesterheft

As you probably know, I am an American expatriate living with my German wife in Hannover, Germany. I am enrolled in an A1-level intensive German language and integration course, and you know what we just started learning the other day? How to read clocks and communicate time. How do Germans tell time, you ask? I have no idea. Apparently, they use unbreakable cryptography while dropping fistfulls of acid.

Here’s the deal — in America, we typically use the 12-hour clock to relate time. (Americans who use the 24-hour clock are either, A: In the United States Military, or B: Trying to act tough because they have little wieners.) When speaking to one another, Americans discuss time in terms of 12-hour cycles, specifying a.m. and p.m. for Ante Meridian and Post Meridian. This is why we say things like, “That filthy bum was drunk at 8:00am!” and “…but so was I, so I sat down next to him and we partied until the cops made us leave at like 6:00am the next day. Those dicks.”

Predictably, Germans use a more complicated and entirely counterintuitive system for relating time to one another. They use either the 12-hour clock or the 24-hour clock in conversation (it’s not always the 12-hour clock, no matter what your German teacher tells you), so you never know which one you’ll get. Also, they use a totally backwards, Caligula-insane way for expressing half hours. They say “halb,” meaning “half,” but it does not mean 30 minutes past the hour; it means literally half of the hour before. So, taken all together, when someone says the time is “halb drei,” they do not mean the time is 3:30pm — they mean it’s 2:30pm (or 14:30, if they want to make damn sure you walk away confused).

headache funny kid with sword through head

“Just tell me the time, man. Don’t church it up.” — Image courtesy of Wapster (

The German language uses words like “vor,” “nach” “kurz” and “viertel,” much like the English words for “before,” “after,” “shortly” and “quarter,” respectively. So, with the 24-hour clock and pre-half hour in mind, let’s take a few examples and translate them directly from German into English:

“zehn vor halb drei” = “ten before half three” (2:20pm)
“zehn nach halb fünf” = “ten after half five” (4:40pm)
“zehn nach halb vier” = “ten after half four” (3:40pm) …which is also…
“zwanzig vor vier” = “twenty before four” (3:40pm)
“kurz vor halb sechzehn” = “just before half sixteen” (between 3:26pm and 3:29pm, but not more than 5 minutes before the half hour)*

So, in my tiny little walnut brain, I have to translate these German words and numbers into English, convert everything from the 24-hour clock into the 12-hour clock, then decipher the monkeyshit-tossing logic behind the German half hour.

funny depressed monkey

Pictured: American tourist in Germany immediately after asking for the time. — Image courtesy of Beatnik Photos (

Now, I agree the 24-hour clock makes more sense than the 12-hour clock in terms of logistics and scheduling. What does not make sense, however — in English or German — is speaking about time in relative terms, what with all the “half before” and “quarter after” tomfuckery going on. So, when it comes to speaking informally about time — between two thinking, breathing human beings — I have developed a beautifully simple solution which will solve the problem worldwide: just say the exact time, to the minute, every time.

Just say the numbers, man! No tricks. Everyone gets along fine. There won’t be any fights before snack-time because everyone knows it starts at exactly 10:35. DING DING! Milk and cookies for everyone.

*To be fair, a German probably wouldn’t say this to someone on the street unless they were being a total dick.

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Culture Shock 14: Even More Things That Suck About Living in Germany

angela merkel get back to work sign

The vacation is over. — Photo by Duncan Hull (

As usual, I must begin by saying life in Germany is awesome and living here absolutely rules. I have, however, learned a thing or two about the harsh realities of life in this fine country. What follows is yet another list of discoveries, oddities and annoyances revealed as an expat American living in Hannover, Germany:

  1. No one cares that I’m American. When I first arrived in Germany, I thought I would stand out as a foreigner, like, obviously. I assumed my aura was a blinding fireworks display of stars and stripes.
    'MERICA patriotism funny american flag outfit

    “I’M HERE, GERMANY — LET’S GET THIS PARTY STARTED.” — Photo by Joseph Novak (

    I thought I would be special here, and not just when I opened my yap and made with the Yankee talk, but also by my look, my clothes — hell, just the sweet nectar of freedom seeping from my pores — would be enough to out me as an American. I thought it would be so obvious I prepared myself for the inevitable barrage of love, hate and general fascination by refreshing my knowledge of American history and politics prior to my departure. I was counting on being challenged to conversational duels about politics, you see. “…actually, Herr Schniedersachsen, there are three branches of the American government. Guffaw, guffaw, *snort*” But it was around the third day after my arrival when reality took hold; I am American, goddammit, and these Germans just don’t give shit. For a few weeks after this revelation, I went out of my way to wear baseball caps and sneakers — flashing my perfectly straight, brilliantly white American teeth at everyone — just to score some kind of recognition. Nope. Nobody noticed, and nobody cared. Even when my nationality specifically came up in conversation, it had all the social clout of table salt.

  2. The squirrels are red and they have horns. Seriously, the squirrels here in Niedersachsen are red — like, bricks, rust and crayons all mashed together and trying to be adorable — red. Oh, and they have tufts of hair growing from the tips of their ears like little devil horns. Have you seen these little freaks? My wife thinks they’re cute. I think they look like flaming weasels.
    red squirrel in german

    “She said, ‘Hey, wanna talk?’ and I’m like, ‘Yo, what up, I’m all ears like Spock.” — Photo by Tony Hisgett (

    One even invaded our home during the summer of 2012; the kitchen door was open to let a refreshing breeze through (because German homes don’t have air conditioning, even though air conditioning is clearly a requirement for godly living — it says so in the Bible) and this clawed ginger comes hopping right on in like he owns the joint. I screamed and shagged-ass out of the room as my wife shooed him away. But before he left, his soulless, beady little eyes darted across every drawer and cupboard, and I just knew he would have stolen my precious walnuts. That’s right — I said it — I’ll punish a German squirrel for a crime he hasn’t committed… because criminal behavior is in his DNA.

  3. Germans aren’t real big on Jaywalking. Germans are known for their love of order. Of structure. Of all things systematic. Now, I’m not a real big fan of sweeping generalizations, so please understand the gravity of this statement when I go ahead and say, yes, Germans love rules. They love their rules, and they hate to break them. Even the silly ones, like those regarding traffic signals for pedestrians.
    couple crossing street on red light in germany don't walk sign

    “We’re not from around here!” — Photo by Niels Heidenreich (

    Would you like to know how often I find myself at a crosswalk, standing amongst a gaggle of Germans who refuse to cross the street for no reason other than the signal telling them not to? Every day. Oh sure, I’ve seen a German or two cross on a red — it was probably the most exciting moment of their lives — but jaywalking is far from standard procedure here. And you’d think a people so concerned with speed and efficiency would be all about it, but they aren’t, and it’s because the power of rules wins over all other behavior patterns — even haste. I, on the other hand, am American; I am accustomed to a fiercely shyster society in which everyone tries to get away with as much fuckery as possible. So when I encounter a ‘don’t walk’ signal in Germany, I pull a Cartman and say, “Screw you guys, I’m going home.” Now, I’m not crazy — I look left and right first (mostly to check for cops) — but when I see a bunch of Euro-nerds afraid to cross the street, I just gotta put on my cowboy hat and show ‘em how it’s done.

  4. Germans don’t think in terms of compass points. Germany is an old country. Like, old as balls. Back when German cities were built, they obviously didn’t take automobiles into consideration; they made the streets just wide enough to accommodate filthy peasants and jerks on horseback. As a result, most German cities are laid out like connect-the-dot games played by someone having a seizure.
    munich map germany metro

    “Take your next right and then just give the hell up.” — Photo by Mike (

    The streets are all crazy, starting out of nowhere and ending just as abruptly. And if you ask a German for directions, you’ll likely get a series of empty street names and bizarre turns for an answer. Nevermind magnetic north or the constellations — they have no power here — north, south, east and west have nothing to do with navigating streets in Germany. “The post office? Yes. You must go straight ahead and then turn right at the batshit crazy intersection. After that, go left, right, and then straight ahead until you hit Poland.”

  5. Sitting with strangers means saying ‘Hello,’ ‘Goodbye’ and absolutely nothing else.
    Anytime Germans are forced to converge in a small space, they will greet each other with surprising politeness, and then just sit there in silence. Like, for hours. Have you ever gone to the doctor in Germany? When I’m sitting in the waiting room at my doctor’s office, sick people will shuffle in, cough, sneeze and say, “Hallo” or “Guten Tag,” and not a word more. And then, when someone is mercifully called up, they will say “Tchüs” and disappear forever. I am accustomed to huge waiting rooms in the States, like oceans full of sick people, where saying, “Good morning!” to everyone would be considered charmingly naive… or a surefire sign of emotional instability (“Well, I guess we know why that guy is here…”).

    private train car funny creepy guy

    “Dude, we’ve been sitting together for 8 hours. Let’s just share the juice box.” — Photo by Bonita de Boer (

    Have you ever ridden a train in Germany? Even if you take a train from Hamburg to the Bavarian Alps — an 8 hour ride on the IC train — you will hear exactly 2 words from your cabin mates during the journey: “Hello” and “Goodbye.” And don’t even think about making eye contact with a German stranger; it’s like riding beside a homunculus, but if you actually try and relate to this silent golem, the spell will be broken and it will explode, showering you in magic, liverwurst and finely crafted automobile components.

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

Click here to learn more about the term “Culture Shock.”

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