Category Archives: Culture Shock

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

Discovering Konya, Turkey: The Top 10 Preconceived Notions Dislodged from My American Brain

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Welcome to Konya: City of Tulips, Tourism and Tea (Oh my God, so much tea…)

My wife is German and I am American. We live in Hannover, Germany, and though I’ve learned a lot about Germany over the past couple years, I know virtually nothing about other countries — especially those to the East. I hate flying and I’m a bit of a misanthrope, so in the Spring of 2015, when my wife informed me we would be taking a 1-week trip to Konya, Turkey, my mind was assaulted by a dazzling slideshow of Middle Eastern stereotypes, misconceptions and false expectations — all of which contributed to a borderline panic attack followed by persistent numbing of the testicles.

Before our trip, I could not have found Turkey on a map, and my only real experiences with Turkish people had been here in Germany. (All of which were positive — and that’s a damn good thing — because at 5% of the population, Turks comprise the largest ethnic minority in the country.) Therefore, I am ashamed to admit this — and will deny it vehemently should the subject arise in mixed company — but here is the sum totality of what I expected to find when I arrived in Turkey:

  1. Sand
  2. Heat
  3. Overpopulation
  4. Women wearing veils on their heads
  5. Men calling me an infidel and attacking me with flaming scimitars

In terms of sand, heat and overpopulation, well, that was just my childlike brain transposing Turkey for Egypt — a version of Egypt based entirely upon Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. I did see women wearing hijab (veils covering their hair), but obviously I was not attacked by anyone, and not once was I called an infidel. My wife and I have since returned from our trip and I am now sitting in the safety of my home office blogging about it while I should be working, but my pre-trip ignorance went well beyond this initial, fearful, knee-jerk reaction. What follows is a list of the top 10 assumptions I’d made about Konya — and Turkey as a whole — and the resulting knowledge I probably should have had in the first place:

1.) Turkey is in the middle east, right?

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“Yeah. No. Sort of. I don’t know.” — Image Credit: The Emirr (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:The_Emirr) — Subject to CC 3.0 Unported Copyright.

The definition of the term “Middle East” varies wildly depending upon who you ask, but one thing is absolutely, 100% certain: it scares the merry hell out of a lot of Americans. For many, the Middle East is a blanket term for any Muslim country residing to the southeast of western Europe. (You know, where things start to get weird.) But until World War II, Turkey and its neighbors along the Mediterranean were known as the “Near East.”

Since traveling from Germany to Turkey and back, I am of the opinion Turkey is more like a bridge between Europe and the Middle East; a Middle East-Lite, if you will. The flight time from Hannover to Istanbul is only 3 hours, and Turkey and Germany have been flirting with each other since the Ottoman Empire. Hell, Turkey has been negotiating to join the European Union since 2005, so, if anything, I was a little disappointed by how “Middle Eastern” Turkey wasn’t.

2.) Turkish Airlines sucks, I bet.

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“I saw the pilot doing his preflight inspection, but maybe I should go ahead and have a look too…”

As I’ve said before, I hate flying. To me, one airline is no different than the next: just a pleasant logo slapped up side a dick-shaped coffin. But I figured Turkish Airlines would suck just a little harder than the rest. I didn’t even have a good reason why; just straight-up judgement — no facts.

You know how, when you see that MADE IN GERMANY stamp on a certain product, you kind of think to yourself, “Well, those Germans probably know what they’re doing…” yet when you see MADE IN CHINA, you just assume it’s a toxic piece of shit? It was kind of like that, only I really didn’t even know Turkish Airlines existed before this trip, so in my mind, it had neither a positive nor a negative reputation — I just wrote the whole company off because I literally knew nothing about it.

Oh, and as it turns out, Turkish Airlines was ranked 5th among the top 100 airlines in the world in 2014. Jesus Christ, they beat the hell out of my beloved Lufthansa (ranked 10th), and KLM was way down there in 32nd place. And as for the airlines of my homeland? Sheeeeeeit: Delta was 49th and American Airlines came in at 89th place. Last place was some company called Kulula, operating out of South Africa. (Let’s all agree not to fly that one.)

3.) Turkey is totally, like, Muslim, isn’t it?

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Look at that pointy tower, just stabbing at the sky all day long…

Again, I’m still not really sure about this one. Islam is the largest religion in Turkey, with well over 95% of the population registered as Muslim, but since 1924, the country has been secular and does not recognize any official religion. Of course, all public schools — from elementary to high school — hold mandatory religion classes teaching Islam, so… I guess so.

All I know is, in Konya, I saw a lot of mosques. Those pointy sons of bitches where just everywhere, and each one staggered its call to prayer by a couple minutes so as not to barrage worshippers all at the same time. The effect upon foreigners like me, however, was like being encircled by bullhorns, each one taking a turn blasting my eardrums out my anus.

In retrospect, I think it just seemed like there was a mosque on every block because we specifically visited a bunch of mosques. That, and their pointy towers — or minarets — can be seen from really far away, so they appeared to surround us. As for the Muslim call to prayer, well, in Konya it was actually only 6 times per day. (But still, it was played over loudspeakers, and I hate loud noises, so that shit was truly annoying.)

4.) Muslims in Turkey are super extreme, right? Just like in those other scary countries?

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“I see you there, you little religious fanatic…”

I can only speak for the city of Konya on this one, and judging by the dozen or so friends we made there, I can safely say no, no one seemed radical or even particularly conservative regarding their faith. A couple of our friends would just slink off once or twice a day for a couple minutes, then rejoin the group. I seriously thought they were using the bathroom or taking a smoke break or something. They were like prayer ninjas. One of our best friends said she didn’t even bother with mosques; she just prayed at home — once in the morning and once in the evening.

But you know what I liked best about the way I saw Islam being practiced there? It was subtle. Yes, the calls to prayer were obnoxious, but the people were super chill about their religious beliefs. They didn’t even talk about religion unless I asked some stupid question, like:

073-tile-mosaic-allahME: “Hey, what’s with that wacky symbol I keep seeing on all the mosques?”

TURKISH FRIEND: “From right to left, it reads, ‘Allah.’

ME: “Yep. Shoulda seen that one coming.”

5.) Aren’t women totally subjugated in Turkey?

This is a tough one. It would seem the rights of women are far more respected in Turkey than in countries like India, but two things still gave me pause:

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“I love you honey, but this thing on my head itches like a bitch.” — Image Credit: HENG FU MING (https://www.flickr.com/photos/58362996@N04/) — Subject to CC 2.0 Generic Copyright

Many women still wear the hijab, or traditional headscarves.
Muslim women wear hijab for lots of reasons, and not all of them are religious. Sometimes it’s just tradition or the style of a particular area. What I don’t like is when women are required to wear them — especially not when it’s done for the sake of men. If a guy wants his wife to hide some aspect her beauty, I immediately suspect that dude of having a little wiener.

Interestingly, head coverings were banned in Turkish universities, libraries, public buildings and government buildings until late 2013. The ban has since been lifted, yet roughly half of Turkish women still cover their heads for religious or cultural reasons. In the big cities, like Istanbul and Ankara, most women actually don’t cover their heads at all. In Konya, for every woman I saw wearing the hijab, there was one standing right next to her who did not. Either way, it seemed like there was no pressure to wear one, and women were free to dress however they liked. (Hell, they could have gone completely topless, if anyone had been interested in my opinion.)

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Women are separated from men during worship.
The idea behind separating women from men inside of mosques has to do with distraction during prayer. Diversions, especially those of a potentially sexual nature, are thought to hinder both men and women, and distance them from Allah. This results in a tradition where the men pray up front, and the women pray while hidden behind a wall.

I respect the religious traditions of all people, so long as they don’t include hurting anyone, but this one still bugs me a little. It figuratively and literally places women in a position of secondary importance — at least to my American sensibilities — and I know for damn sure my German wife wouldn’t stand for it:

ME: “Honey, I don’t feel close enough to God when I can see you in my peripheral vision. Please go behind that wall with the rest of the ladies.”

THE WIFE: “Good idea. You’re gonna need to pray really hard for a new wife.”

6.) What’s with all the Whirling Dervishes in Konya?

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“Oh, I get it. They’re just really creepy clones.”

The Whirling Dervishes — more accurately known as the Mevlevi Order — were outlawed in 1925 by the Turkish Republic, and survive today as a nonpolitical organization for cultural history. The twirling performances of the Mevlevi have since become a big tourist draw, especially in Istanbul and Konya.

The Mevlevi believe in performing their dhikr (Islamic devotional acts) in the form of a twirling dance known as the Sama. This dance represents a spiritual ascent through the mind and through love, literally turning toward truth as the follower abandons his ego and arrives at the “Perfect.” Apparently, the dancer then returns from his spiritual journey as one who has attained a higher level of perfection and is able to love and be of better service to creation as a whole. (We Americans achieve this exact same state by rubbing one out to internet porn and reaching for a cold beer.)

I’ll be real honest with you; except for these statues in the Mevlana Museum, we didn’t see a single Whirling Dervish while we were there. Why, you might ask? Because in Konya, they only perform on Saturdays — exactly the day we arrived in and departed from Turkey.

Next time, you dizzy dancers. Next time…

7.) What are those weird rock formations? Anthills or something?

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“Come closer, foreigners, for the Termite Queen demands sacrifice.”

This would be Göreme National Park, home of the Rock Sites of Cappadocia. The Cappadocians (later known as the Cappadocian Greeks) actually lived inside these caves before the time of Herodotus, so we’re talking in the 400s BC here. Early Christian frescoes decorate the insides, and I’m sure archeologists find them very interesting, but I gotta say… if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all. That said, it’s easy to forget there was a time when being Christian meant somebody was probably trying to kill you.

Cappadocia contains several underground cities, like the Kaymaklı Underground City, which was used as a hiding place before it was chill to be Christian. You’ll find all kinds of very creative traps inside, like large round stones to block doors and holes in the ceiling through which defenders could drop spears upon invading armies. (Like a child’s drawing of just the coolest dungeon ever.)

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The crazy mountains, hills and “fairy chimneys” of Cappadocia were formed when volcanic eruptions blanketed the area with lava. Wind and water eroded everything except the isolated pinnacles you see today, many of which look exactly like giant horse dongs.

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8.) Isn’t alcohol illegal there? Great. This trip is gonna suck.

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“Here’s your last beer for a week, Sir.”

The consumption of alcohol is prohibited within the Islamic faith, but to my surprise, I learned alcohol isn’t actually illegal in Turkey. However, according to one of our Turkish friends, it is a huge pain in the ass to find. Supposedly there are a few stores and restaurants which sell it, and apparently you can arrange to have alcohol at special events, but I sure as hell didn’t see any hooch in Konya.

And you know what? It wasn’t necessary. We had an awesome time. But having never visited an effectively dry city before, I noticed two interesting phenomena:

  1. Omnipresent Smoking
  2. Polite Conversation
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“Forget cancer and emphysema — these things will break your joystick.”

Holy Christ do they smoke a lot of cigarettes in Konya. Especially the younger men. Never before have I seen so many packs of swarthy youths — all dressed to the nines — standing around chain smoking cigarettes. Just strutting around, gabbing endlessly, hoping to catch some young woman’s eye. They’re like strutting peacocks with absolutely nothing better to do on a Saturday night than suck coffin nails and look dashing.

As for polite conversation, this was something I noticed only after going out to dinner in Konya a few times; we met up with our friends, walked into the restaurant sober, and walked out of the restaurant sober — our bellies full and our heads clear. This meant everybody stayed nice and polite. No risky jokes. No swearing. In an odd way, sober conversation feels a little less honest than one had over a few drinks, because everyone has their impulses under control. People are little less themselves. On the other hand, sober conversation is generally of greater value, because people’s thoughts aren’t overly emphatic. There’s nuance and insight to be gleaned. So maybe, just maybe, a little bit of inhibition is a good thing.

Then again, beer rules, so here’s to you, Konya. Prost!

9.) Do they really drink that much tea in Turkey?

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“One more glass and I’m definitely gonna hurl.”

YES. Oh my God yes. In Konya, we drank a lot of çay (pronounced Chai), which is a black tea, though it appears dark red when served in traditional Turkish glasses. It’s also served with cubes of beet sugar and a tiny spoon. (I heard it was a compliment in Konya to loudly clink your spoon inside the glass as you stir it, so I made sure to clink the holy hell out of mine.)

I saw people drinking tea at all hours of the day, but especially after lunch and dinner. In fact, if you order one glass of tea, you’re pretty much obligated to drink 3 or 4, because they’re gonna keep parading the stuff out until you do. And if you’re like me — a nonsmoker with no access to alcohol and precious little to contribute to any given conversation — there’s really nothing else to do, so you’re gonna keep right on drinking those little cups of tea until you barf.

I kept asking people if there was actually any caffeine in the tea, and the answer seemed to vary from person to person. What I gathered, by the end of our trip, was that what we were drinking contained no true caffeine, but rather natural and/or herbal stimulants of some sort. Of course, this was concluded through a massive language barrier, so for all I know, we could have been drinking hot goat piss.

10.) Do they have real toilets in Konya?

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“Nevermind. I’ll just hold it for the next 7 days.”

It depends upon your definition of “toilet,” but if you mean the sitting down, flushing kind, the answer to this one is: sometimes. I saw a lot of stalls like the one in this picture — squat toilets — where you perch yourself over a simple hole in the floor, drop your stink nuggets, then use the pitcher and faucet to rinse your shame away. I also saw stalls with holes like this one, but with running water and a flushing mechanism. And of course I saw a few Western-style flush toilets too. It depends where you are. Posh restaurants in the middle of downtown Konya are more likely to have Western-style toilets, but little villages on the outskirts of town? Oh, you’re squatting. And if there’s no toilet paper, just pray there’s running water to use when you’re done, because you’ll be using your left hand to clean your sweet little cinnamon ring.

I think my wife used a squat toilet exactly one time in Konya, and only to go pee. Still, she was not at all happy about it when she came out of the bathroom. She was even less happy after regaling me with her experience, only to have me shrug my shoulders and say, “Hey, when in Rome…”

Now, you may be asking yourself if I used a squat toilet while we were in Konya, and the answer is, no; my bowels have the ability to power down like a cowardly robot when confronted by unfamiliar surroundings. But the second I got back to our hotel room? Oh my God. Fireworks.

Summary

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“Would I like another glass of tea? Oh, no thank y–aaaaand you’re giving it to me anyway.”

I can’t speak for any other cities in Turkey, but I do know one thing for sure: Konya rules. You should definitely visit this place. It’s beautiful. We had a fantastic time, saw amazing sights and learned a lot, like how to do Konya’s traditional spoon dance, and the fact that we really like ayran — the national Turkish beverage consisting of cold yogurt, water and salt. (The yogurt is pretty gamey, and it might even make you gag the first time it hits your tonsils, but you’ll learn to love it like a porn star.)

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“Here comes the money shot.”

Of most importance, however, are the Turkish friends we made. My wife and I can tell already some of them will be lifelong friends. Now, I know there are exceptions to every rule, and jerks can be found in every country of the planet, but I’m gonna go ahead and make a sweeping generalization anyway: There’s just something inherently warm, friendly and inviting about Turkish people. They’re nice as hell, and for some inexplicable reason, they love Germans. And that’s really the way to my heart: Be nice to my wife, and you’ve got me as a friend for life.

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Thank you, Konya. We love you.

 


If you would like to read another post regarding our international travels, check this one out: German-American Couple Visits the North Sea, Denmark and a Whole Hell of a Lot of Sheep

Culture Shock in Germany: An American Expat Is Horrified by His Discovery of German ‘Schreber Gardens’

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“And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod…” — Photo Credit: Patrik Tschudin (https://www.flickr.com/photos/patsch/) — Subject to CC 2.0 Generic Copyright.

Dear Germany,

I have a confession to make.

When I first arrived at the Hannover airport back in 2012, my wife met me at the security gate, we picked up my luggage and boarded the S5 train on our way toward our new home. About a mile or two outside the city, I saw a vast wasteland of the most depressing houses on earth; tiny little shacks — too small even to hold a car — complete with miniature windows, flagpoles, chain-link fences, yards and gardens.

“My God,” I whispered to my wife, barely containing the tear which threatened to spill from my eye, “those poor, poor people…”

I marveled at the thought of living in such a confined space. Would the toilet be right next to your head as you slept at night? What about running water? A kitchen? Heat during winter? Holy Christ, are people raising children in those things?

I was disgusted by the idea a city like Hannover could thrive within spitting distance of such wretched slums. What sort of mayor allows a cesspool of humanity like this to decay in his own back yard? A sick one, that’s who. And then I took a closer look at these little nightmare shanties, all huddled together for warmth like derelicts around a burning car tire…

“You know, for a bunch of filthy untouchables, these Germans bums sure decorate the shit out of their huts.”

And it was true: Each little house was manicured with tender, loving care. Like dollhouses for God’s sullied children. They were freshly painted, complete with trim and decorations on the front door. They even had tiny chimneys and gutters. The yards were immaculate and the gardens were actually growing real, live, fruits and vegetables. I even saw a miniature trellis supporting a beautiful red climbing rose… like a single wish of hope in an otherwise hellish quagmire of despair.

“These are the best hobos ever!” I declared loudly, not only for my wife, but for the rest of the train car to hear as well.

“Those are Schreber gardens,” said my wife. “We call them ‘Schrebergärten.’ People who live in the city rent them so they can garden on the weekends. When I was a kid, I used to have sleepovers with my friend in her family’s Schreber garden.”

She was right. Apparently, the “Schreber Movement” started in Leipzig, Germany, in 1864. European industrialization in the 19th century brought tons of people into German cities, and most of them were very poor. As a way to improve their lives and put more food on the table, they used these little plots of land outside the city to garden, work outside in the fresh air and have a place for their children to play. These days, Schreber gardens are more of a hobby than a necessity, and though I’m sure there are some young people who continue to enjoy them, all I’ve seen are super old people with their hands in the dirt and their asses to the sky.

And so, Dear Germany, I must apologize; I am sorry for assuming so many of your citizens were living in abject squalor. I just didn’t know! I mean, I own a house in the States and I hate yard work — I couldn’t imagine paying someone for the chance to weed my own vegetable garden. That’s just crazy talk. But you go ahead and do your thing, Germany.

Do it real good.

 


 

If you would like to read another post regarding my adjustment to life in a new country, check this one out: American Expat Receives Terrifying Haircut at Turkish Hairdresser in Germany

Tips from an American Expat: Everyday Products You’ll Miss after Moving to Germany

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Survey conducted by Dan, blogger and owner of Live Work Travel USA. He’s my opposite — a German expat living in America — like my evil mirror image from a parallel universe. Or am I the evil one? (Clearly one of us has to be destroyed.) But first, Dan asked me…


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“Welcome to America.” — Photo Credit: Ruth Hartnup (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ruthanddave/) — Image subject to CC 2.0 Generic license

What food items do you miss most from America?

Mexican Food
Now, I realize I just named a type of food that comes from an entirely different country than my own, but hell — Mexico is right there. We’re like passive-aggressive neighbors; all smiling and waving to each other from across the street, then talking massive amounts of shit as soon as we close the front door. “Oh. My. God. Gladys, did you hear what Mexico did today? That slut.” So, I don’t miss that, but I do miss burritos. Big, sloppy, disgusting burritos the size of a newborn baby. Hell yes. And real guacamole. And tortilla chips that aren’t powdered with artificial flavoring, like some weird, evil German’s idea of what nachos should taste like. (Hint: nachos should taste like salt, not Satan’s jockstrap.)

Real Hot Sauce
Tapatio. Sriracha. Dave’s Insanity Sauce. Blair’s After Death Sauce. Mad Dog 44 Magnum Pepper Extract. (Why are these names so violent?) Now, most of these anus-burners can be ordered online, but not all of them. Real hot sauce is hard to find in Germany. Oh sure, they’ve got Tabasco in almost every store, but I said hot sauce, not red vinegar for complete pantywaists. My wife suggested I look in some local Indian and Asian food stores, and she was right! I found my precious Sriracha sauce. Problem is, the bottles are tiny, so they’re the same price if I ordered the big daddies and paid for the shipping, but still! Victory, I say!

Out of Season Fruits and Vegetables
I understand all of the reasons why eating locally-grown, seasonal fruits and vegetables is a good idea. It’s good for the economy. Good for the environment. Good for your Mom (zing!). But I’m American; we simply cannot understand the idea of not getting whatever we want, whenever the hell we want it. “Mangos in December. Strawberries in January. No, I have no idea where they’re coming from. What’s the problem, hippy?” So I guess I don’t really care about any one fruit or vegetable in particular; what I care about is that I’m being forced into becoming a better person. When it comes to self improvement, I want it to be according to my schedule — ideally while on a comfy psychiatrist’s couch or readily available in pill form.

Real Ketchup and Mayonnaise
When you order French fries here in Germany, you will typically be asked whether or not you would like them to be, “red and white.” This means half your fries will be drowned in mayonnaise, and the other half in ketchup. Since every American on earth knows dipping your French fries in mayonnaise is black magic communist devil worship (with herpes), I’ll skip over the concept itself. But dude, there is something deeply, terribly wrong with German mayonnaise. It tastes sweet, like Miracle Whip. I hate it, so I basically just avoid anything in this country that has a chance of filling my mouth with thick, white, porno goo. And then there’s the ketchup. Now, I’ve seen Heinz ketchup in the grocery store, but that’s not what you’ll get on the “red” side of your fries — you’re gonna get a weird, thin mutation of ketchup which tastes, inexplicably, like salsa. It’s like the retarded younger brother of ketchup, and nobody knows who the father is.

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“What… what in God’s name is THAT?” — Photo Credit: mike germany (https://www.flickr.com/photos/bestgermanfood/) — Image subject to CC 2.0 Generic license

Which German foods do you like, that you wish you could get in America?

Real Liverwurst
Lots of Americans think they know what real liverwurst tastes like, but they don’t. And they hate it. This is because major supermarket chains in the States sell pink, mass-produced paste called liverwurst, but it tastes like salty foreskin. It wasn’t until I moved to Germany that I saw the full spectrum of liverwurst — every brand, flavor and texture — like a horrifying pâté rainbow in the sky. Yet even after sampling the real deal, I still wasn’t sure about it. My gag reflex remained on high alert: “Hey boy, what do you think you’re trying to sneak past us here? Didn’t we already talk about this back when you were 12 years old, when you smeared this shit on a cracker at that Christmas party? You spit it out into a napkin right in front of the host. Guess this is one lesson we’re gonna have to teach you twice.” What I’m saying is, it took me about 6 months to really make friends with liverwurst, but after I did, I loved it. I also enjoy the fact that so much of it is made from young pig and veal livers, because their youthful energy reinvigorates my own liver and repairs all the damage I’ve done over the years.

Weißwurst
You know Weißwurst: those white sausages served in a steaming ceramic bowl with a lid on top? They’re short, thick and perfectly smooth — like zombie dicks. I think they do sell them in some German restaurants in the States, but I’d never really noticed them before. Now I love these things! I don’t even cut the peel off, like I’ve seen the Germans do; I leave it on because I like the way it pops in my mouth. It reminds me I’m eating an animal which has literally been stuffed up its own ass, and that just seems so right.

Schinkengriller
Okay, now these sausages are the long, thin, dark red ones you see at German festivals. And since I apparently can’t stop talking about dicks today, I’m gonna go ahead and say they look like really long dog dicks. Like a full yard of the proudest Doberman ever. And there’s something saltier and tastier about Schinkengriller than the other sausages. They’re my favorite. I just don’t understand the tiny rolls and slices of white bread they’re served with. If you’re gonna jam your meat into a piece of bread, at least use a hotdog bun or something long enough to make the whole thing feel welcome.

Maß
And of course, in America, I wish I could more easily find 1-liter glasses of beer for sale. Hell, with the exception of local festivals and events, there are only a few pubs here in Hannover that sell them at all. This is probably due to the fact that Maß beers are really more of a Bavarian thing. (And Bavarians regard the rest of Germany the way Texans regard the other 49 states of America — with a playful sense of entitlement masking the fuck off attitude underneath.)

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“He must work out.” — Photo Credit: Alex-501 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/60705975@N08/) — Image subject to CC 2.0 Generic license

Other than food, what products do you miss from America, that you wish you could get here in Germany?

Cheap Clothing
Seriously. Buying clothes in Germany is a painfully expensive ordeal. Especially when it comes to jeans. You can go to some ethically dubious chain and find yourself some cheap blue jeans, but there’s a decent chance some sweatshop child will have sewn a message into the tag: MEN’S JEANS, SIZE: LARGE, MACHINE WASH GENTLE, OH MY GOD PLEASE GET US OUT OF HERE.

Stain Sticks
Stain sticks and sprays are laundry products you can apply to stains immediately after they occur, and then sit on your lazy ass for up to a week before doing the laundry. Stains come right out. Maybe they do sell them here in Germany — or something like them — but I can’t find them anywhere. One time, I spilled red wine on my blue thermal sweatshirt, so my wife applied laundry detergent directly to the stain. Just got the spot wet and rubbed that shit right on in there. Ran it through the washing machine and BOOM; my sweatshirt was covered in these massive, hideous white blotches — like I’d just lost a fistfight with a bottle of chlorine.

Standard Shower heads
Not handheld shower heads. I’ve talked about this before — how Germans love their handheld shower heads — but they’re not for me; I want the hot water to rain down on my head and shoulders like I’m standing beneath a waterfall. It’s soothing. Holding on to the source of the water keeps you from relaxing, and it’s not like the water won’t eventually reach your anus. Jesus. You don’t have to blast the poor thing with a jet of water like you’re suppressing a riot.

Standard Toilets
To be honest, most of the toilets in Germany seem to be standard, as opposed to low-flow. I haven’t encountered too many low-flow toilets here, but when I did, it sucked miserably. Your stinking loaf drops onto a dry shelf, where it remains until you flush. Then it streaks its way into a tiny cup of water before (hopefully) disappearing. You might be surprised just how effective a generous pool of water can be at stifling the true potency of your stink nuggets. Chances are, if you’re American, you’ve been taking standard toilets for granted your entire life. I sure as hell did.

Nighttime Mouth Guards (dental guards for sleeping)
Seriously, why can’t I buy these things in Germany? I clench my jaw at night so hard I am literally cracking my own teeth. Every dentist who has ever looked into my mouth has said, “Wow, your teeth are so straight… and you’ve really never had braces? But jeez, what’s with the nighttime grinding? Here, let me fit you for a €300 euro dental guard — one which your insurance may or may not cover — I have no idea…” And then I get to explain I use $10 dollar night guards from the States, and then the dentist acts like he or she has absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. (Oh, but they do, those sons of bitches.)

Over-the-Counter Medicine
NyQuil, DayQuil, Advil (Ibuprofen), Tylenol (Acetaminophen), Zicam, Excedrin, Claritin, Dimetapp, Neosporin (topical antibacterial) — you know, the basics. You can buy some of these things in Germany, but you’ll have to make an extra trip to the pharmacy (Apotheke) to do it. Oh, and you’ll have to speak to a pharmacist about them too, describing all of your disgusting symptoms in detail before they’ll hand over the goods. “Hi, I have a runny nose. Yes, snot is coming out of it. No, the snot is not brown or yellow. What? Did you just ask if my snot is thick? Look, can I just please have the nasal spray so I can breathe again, god damn you?”

Prescription Drugs
Germany and America have different regulations for prescription-strength medicines, so you can’t always find the drug you need here. This sucks pretty hard for expats like me. I’m American. I’m accustomed to blasting what ails me with the chemical equivalent of a howitzer. If I’ve got a headache, I don’t want to just get rid of it; I want to smash it out of my skull with a hammer. if I can’t sleep, I won’t politely ask insomnia to leave me alone for the night; I’ll stab that bitch right in the windpipe. And when seasonal allergies come around, I’m not going to gently usher them out the door; I’m going to give them two rounds to the chest and sprinkle cocaine on their bodies for the cops to find.

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“Too many shoes. Getting nervous.” — Photo Credit: Travis Sanders (https://www.flickr.com/photos/travis_sanders/) — Image subject to CC 2.0 Generic license

Are there any German products you wish you could get in America?

House Shoes
Oh sure, we’ve got shoes we choose to wear indoors. They’re called slippers. What I mean are the kind of dedicated footwear every German owns — super comfy, donned the moment you set foot in your home — and typically stored in an orderly fashion in the entryway. I don’t mean like at a party hosted by some asshole who makes you take your shoes off and throw them in a haphazard pile in the corner so you can worry about them being lost or stolen all night long. I’m talking about house shoes; they make you feel at home, peaceful and relaxed, because they’re yours. Kind of like that scene in Full Metal Jacket: “These are my German house shoes! There are many like them, but these ones are mine!”

Scratchy Towels
Thin, scratchy towels are the norm here in Germany. This may sound like a negative, but it isn’t; I used to hate scratchy towels, but have come to love how easily they wick the water from your body. Hell, they downright suck the water off, and they exfoliate your skin at the same time. Like sandpaper that’s juuuust soft enough not to scratch off your fun bits.

Dynamo Lights
Dynamos are lights for your bike which run off the power generated by the rotation of your tires. I’d never seen one before moving to Germany, and I was immediately impressed. Who wants to slap a pair of batteries into a plastic case and then replace them every couple months? I love the idea of generating my own light — like Gandalf saving everyone’s ass at the end of The Two Towers: “At dawn, look to the East!”

Tilt and Turn Windows
These things are yet another example of genius German engineering; a tilt and turn window can tilt inward at the top or open inward completely from the side. Germans invented them, and they rule. (Which is why the rest of the European countries totally ripped off the design.) In America, most everybody has windows the slide up or to the side, and I don’t know about you, but I am constantly breaking these things. Also, I am the clumsiest man alive.

Predial Numbers
I don’t know how they work, but in Germany, you can call America for less than a cent per minute using something called ‘predial’ numbers. They’re usually just 5 or 6 digits dialed before the country code, but only certain service providers allow them. Also, the caller has to be using a land line. But still, awesome! Predial numbers — in addition to Skype, WhatsApp, Instant Messenger, email, letters and postcards — were vital during the time my wife and I were in a long distance relationship. We talked every single day, for an hour during my lunch break Monday through Friday, and then 4-5 hours on Saturdays and Sundays. Christ. Just thinking about all those months of heartache makes me want to cry all over again. I’m crying right now, in fact. Like a little bitch.

Effective Public Transportation
U-Bahn, S-Bahn, Bus, Fernbus, Metronom, Regionalbahn, IC, ICE — just about every German city provides access to all of these options. In the States, only a handful of cities even have a subway, and at this moment I’m having trouble remembering any of them except New York. NYC is lousy with subway trains, but I come from Portland, Oregon; we have the bus and a light rail train called The MAX (Metropolitan Area Express). Oh sure, you can hop on a train up to Seattle or something, but it sucks. Takes forever. We need high-speed trains, man!

Summary:

Until I received this survey from Dan, I never really thought much about foods or products I missed from the States. And I definitely hadn’t thought about things from Germany I might miss back home. I just didn’t care. What can you do about it anyway? Forgo clean undies by stuffing your suitcase full of hot sauce and prescription drugs? Shit, I’d rather get caught smuggling dildos.

The availability of American foods and products in Germany is actually quite impressive. In fact, I have to award Germany 4 out of 5 Merkel Diamonds for its effort:

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But the truth is, if you want to live in a foreign country, you have to adapt. That’s what every good expat does. In fact, the only thing I truly miss from home is the luxury of not having a language barrier. I miss my ability to handle minor tasks and solve problems without applying a bunch of time and effort. I am terribly lazy, you see, so I have to preserve what small amount of vital energy I have left. If I don’t, my wife will find me passed out on the floor because I tried to read a German baking recipe. “Salz, Zucker… that’s ‘salt’ and ‘sugar,’ probably… oh my God, what is Schlagsahne? Some kind of cream, right? Hitting cream? Aw Jesus…” BOOM! — I’m on the floor.

Thank you, Dan, for asking me these questions and prompting this blog post. And thank you, Reader, for reading it. If you’d like to see another one, check out: InterNations: An American Expat Answers Questions About Living in Germany


Thinking of moving to the US? Ever wondered what life is like for expats on the other side of the pond? For information on life as a German expat in the United States, visit Dan’s site:

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