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

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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 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/reiner/)

Photo by Reiner Kraft (http://www.flickr.com/photos/reiner/)

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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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 http://www.flickr.com/photos/puroticorico/

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 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/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 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/dharmabum1964/)

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.

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

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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 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/dullhunk/)

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 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/josephleenovak/)

    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 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/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 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/schoschie/)

    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 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mccaffry/)

    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 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/bonitalabanane/)

    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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Culture Shock 9: American Man Refuses to Operate Bathroom Turnstile in Germany

european bathroom pay turnstile

“Your only job is to hinder my relief.” — Photo by Tony Fischer Photography (http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonythemisfit/)

I would like to begin this post by saying bathroom turnstiles are bullshit. Installing a coin-operated barrier between a urinal and a dozen full bladders is just asking for trouble.

So back on December 8th of 2012, The Wife and I went to Oldenburg in northern Germany to visit her friend. We shall call this friend Killjoy McBittertits. Killjoy wasn’t in a particularly festive mood that night, but she did manage to show us around the Oldenburg Christmas market. We strolled around, checked out the booths and drank copious amounts of Glühwein and Feuerzangenbowle. (I also had a flask of whiskey in my jacket pocket, and I was in no way shy about using it to spike the sweet holy Jesus out of our drinks.)

For reasons I still do not understand, Killjoy McBittertits wanted to leave the Christmas market and go inside a shopping mall. (Apparently this mall is a pretty big deal in Oldenburg because it has three floors. I know, right? Three whole floors… that’s insane.) Anyway, after wandering around for what seemed like forever, we stopped at a bento place and ate expensive noodles. Now, I was pretty drunk by this point — I’d say I was operating at a steady Level 7 on a scale of 1-to-Ted Kennedy — and I had to piss.

I excused myself from the table and walk/ran to the nearest escalator. It took me much longer than it rightfully should have, but I finally saw a sign for the restroom. My bladder was about to rupture, so I was basically sprinting toward the men’s room when I was stopped by a coin-operated turnstile. And guess who had no Euro coins in his pocket whatsoever? This guy.*

I stopped and considered my options for a moment: There was a family of four immediately to my left. An elderly woman to my right. Two teenage girls behind me and a dude who looked exactly like one of those pasty fruitcakes from Chariots of Fire across from of me. There was one security camera pointed at me and one security guard pacing around inside the men’s room. Obviously the camera was powerless to stop me, and the guard kept walking in a circular loop, causing him to pass behind a wall and lose his line of sight on the turnstile. I thought to myself, This is all about timing. It’s just a video game. Wait for the rope swing, grab it and jump over the lava pit. You can do this. You have to do this, because if you don’t, you’re going to make puddles in your pants.

funny man running to bathroom

He’s running because he has to drop a deuce. — Photo by John Wright (http://www.flickr.com/photos/dryfish/)

I took two strides forward and planted my foot on the joint of the turnstile, right where the rotating bars met the metal wall, and tried to James Bond my way over the top. (I vividly recall one of the teenage girls gasping in surprise.) This operation should have gone smoothly. It should have been glorious. Instead, my giant snow boot crashed into the bar like a piston — like I was angry at it — and all of the bars started to rotate away from me. My leg straightened out and slid over the top bar — bunching up my jeans mid-calf and exposing the white sock underneath — and brought my genitals right up against the metal.

Abort! Abort! cried my entire body. Abort mission; we were given false intel. This is a suicide mission. I retracted my leg and, in a flash of brilliance, decided to duck under the bar instead. I slid beneath the turnstile, nodded to the oblivious security guard and stepped up to the nearest urinal. Half of my brain was thinking, God damn you James Bond, while the other half was thinking, That would have been hilarious if I’d hit my head on the way under.

*In retrospect, I suppose I could have asked one of the innocent German bystanders for change.

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Culture Shock 7: An American Expatriate Answers Questions About Living in Germany

Beer on the Maschsee
Oh God, My Wife Is German is an ostentatious and wildly sarcastic blog highlighting the misadventures and near total communication breakdowns occurring between an expat American husband and his German wife as they adjust to life in Hannover, Germany.

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Interview conducted by The Expat Hub
January, 2013

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Where are you originally from?
I’m from the United States. Portland, Oregon, specifically. This makes me a ‘Portlander,’ though I wish with all my heart we were called Portlandians. Or Portlandites. Or Portlandafarians.

In which country and city are you living now?
I am living in Hannover, Germany, which actually feels a bit like Portland. Probably because it’s a big city with a small town vibe and it has a lot of green spaces. Parks and such. Also because I live in constant fear of being run over by skinny people on bikes.

Market Church, Hannover, Germany

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I’ve lived in Hannover since September 1st of 2012. I plan on staying until my wife informs me we’re leaving — the same way she informs me it’s time to do the dishes. Or pay the rent. Or take a shower.

On a side note, The Wife and I needed to have our American wedding certificate translated by a certified professional before we could receive our German wedding certificate. Without a German wedding certificate, I would not have been allowed to stay in Germany. The folks over at Polilingua offer professional German translation for legal documents, websites, business meetings and everything else. Get a free quote and tell ‘em Oh God, My Wife Is German sent ya! (Because that’s sure to lend you an air of respectability.)

Why did you move?
I moved to Germany in order to be with my wife. She’s hilarious, even when she doesn’t mean to be. For the past few years, I’ve been keeping track of all the funny things she says, especially when they involve German words or expressions translated directly into English. We like to call these quotes “Denglish,” or “Deutsch-English.” Here’s an example:

On December 27th, 2012, The Wife and I were preparing for a visit from one of our close friends from Portland. After we finished cleaning our apartment, it was my task to go to Netto for some extra groceries. I put on my coat and headed for the door, saying, “I’m buying eggs. Should I also buy a 6-pack of mineral water?” to which my wife replied:

“That would be, of course, two flies with one slap.”

Fried and mayonnaise with currywurst at Oktoberfest in Germany

What do you enjoy most about living here?
The thing I enjoy most about living in Germany is the fact that I’m always learning new things. Literally everything is new to me here — the language, the culture, the people — so I’m never bored. I’m forced into a perpetual student role, which keeps me engaged and curious. For example, I often find myself wondering why Germans seem to be in such a hurry all the time. What’s the rush? If you take too long in the checkout line at the grocery store, I promise some jerk behind you will sigh audibly, as if you are intentionally destroying his afternoon. If you are running to catch a subway train that has been stopped for longer than 10 seconds — even if the conductor clearly sees your efforts to reach it in time — you will still find the doors closing right in your face. If you find yourself in a car full of Germans (God forbid) and you hit a traffic jam, you can expect them to flip out about it like a bunch of geese fighting over a bag full of smashed bread crumbs.

What has been the hardest aspect of your expat experience so far?
By far, the absolute hardest part of my experience as an expat has been my inability to understand spoken German. I can walk up to German people, sling a few words around, make general statements and ask obvious questions, but I’m totally lost the second they respond. Here’s an interaction I had with a Rossmann drugstore clerk last week, if you were to translate everything directly into English:

ME: “Please excuse me dearly. I look for toothpaste here in this store. In your store, formally speaking.”

CLERK: “Pardon?”

ME: “I would gladly have toothpaste.”

CLERK: “Oh. Go to aisle four. It’s right there past the cosmetics, on your left.”

ME: “My God you talk fast. I am right now, at this very moment, learning German.”

CLERK: “No problem. Aisle four. Right there, where I am pointing.”

ME: “I get the ‘four’ part, but please, just for me, slowly speak.”

CLERK: “Aisle… four.”

ME: (Blinking twice, looking scared and confused) “Absolutely. Thank you. Thank you so hard.” (I then wandered off in the general direction he’d indicated, staggering through the drugstore like an American tourist with blunt force head trauma.)

Hannover Christmas Market in Germany

What advice would you offer to anyone following in your footsteps?
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 depend upon my wife to translate any interaction more complex than, “Would you like another beer, Sir?” “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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Culture Shock 6: Five (More) Things That Suck About Living in Germany

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

  1. Shameful public artwork is everywhere. It seems like every corner is home to a bronze sculpture featuring a pair of naked Germans, heads hanging in shame, mumbling to one another, “God we suck.” Yes, I understand the travesties of the world wars. I totally get the need to remember, to learn and to honor the dead, but I’d like to take at least one leisurely stroll around town without feeling like I just took a shower in dog poop and shame sprinkles.
  2. Soccer fans are scary. There are few things I enjoy less than being surrounded by drunken soccer fans, hooting and hollering as they stumble through the train station after the big game. Hell, any game. I’m not convinced the fans I’m seeing even go to the games; I think some of these guys just put on their team jerseys and scarves and go watch whichever team happens to be playing on TV at their favorite watering hole. And there’s something about a big German man wearing a scarf striped with his local team’s colors, swaying as he walks toward me with an empty beer bottle about to tumble from his fingers, which I find — on an instinctual level — absolutely terrifying.
  3. Germans are downers. This may have something to do with point #1, but a great many of the Germans I’ve encountered are depressing as hell. Nothing is ever awesome. Even if something is mostly awesome, like having a job as a wealthy, internationally respected beer taster, the average German will focus on the one part of that job which blows, and feel the need to tell me all about it. “Yes, I have a good job as a beer taster, but there is only one electric car charger at the brewery; it is indicative of a larger problem within our educational system and our government as a whole, and demonstrates the fact that our entire country is about to implode in a morbidly depressing vacuum of apocalypse.” I mean, sure, Germans have been through some crazy ups and downs throughout history, so maybe even now they’re afraid to get their hopes up, but Jesus; let’s turn those frowns upside down, Deutschland! Look, you have dirndls and beer all around you! Dirndls and beer, God damn you.
  4. Everybody is tall as hell. I’m sure someone out there can explain the correlation between height and colder climates, but all I know is here in Germany, I’m like Frodo Baggins in the land of the Silvan Elves. I’m about 5′ 10″ (or 5′ 11″ — when I’m totally lying), and I always thought my height was pretty average. Not here. In Lower Saxony, I’m surrounded by these elongated, angelic beings with wonderfully straight hair and wings sewn of Jack Wolfskin polyurethane.
  5. Even in Germany, there are assholes. Of course I am aware there are jerks in every country, but I’d hoped Germany would be different. Yes, this was my own cultural bias, but I didn’t want to let it go. Not even at the immigration office (Ausländerbehörde), full of snorting pencil pushers, who calmly lost my residence application and then told me not to worry about it. Or that sad little beer tent at Oktoberfest, where the waitress shut down my attempts to order in German, advising me, “Just speak English, it is the language of business.” Or those drunken soccer fans on Georgstraße, who passed my wife and I, asking, “Is this your boyfriend? No? He’s your husband? Are you sure?” But finally, reluctantly, I had to admit there are a few jackpipes in my beloved Germany. Luckily, for each one I meet, there seem to be 10 warm and wonderful Germans just waiting to brighten my day here in Deutschland.

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Culture Shock 5: Five Things That Suck About Living in Germany

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

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

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Denglish 76: My German Wife Appreciates Complimentary Swag

Back in early 2012, one of my bosses took a trip to Disneyland with his family. When he returned, he gave each employee a giant coffee mug painted in the likeness of a Disney character. He had Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, the Chesire Cat from Alice in Wonderland and Goofy from every Disney cartoon requiring a functionally retarded dog to fall down and say “Ah-hyuck!”

I, however, received Mike Wazowski from Monsters, Inc. I loved it! The giant eyeball was just my kind of creepy, and I liked its sickly shade of green. I liked it so much, in fact, I took it home so I could show it to my wife. “Isn’t this cool?” I exclaimed. “Look at the giant eye and sharp teeth! It’s the perfect mug for me, don’t you think?” To which she replied…

THE WIFE: “I like for-free shit.”

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Denglish 75: My German Wife Explains Urinary Hormone Levels

You already know my wife and I are disgusting. It should come as no surprise we have precious few boundaries where the bathroom is concerned. In general, we won’t walk in on each other when the door is closed. However, last winter, my wife was in the bathroom and the door was slightly ajar. I needed to pluck a nose hair in a big hurry or something, so I busted right on in and went to work. My wife was clearly peeing, as she is wont to do, and I noticed how strongly it stank.

ME: “Your pee smells so strongly.”

THE WIFE: “That’s because the female body has so much Ostesterone.”

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Culture Shock 3: American Man Experiences Blind Rage Using Shower in Germany

Shower stall in a bathroom in Hannover, Germany

“Look, Mr. Shower, you don’t like me and I don’t like you. Let’s just play nice in front of The Wife, okay?”

Let me begin by saying I love our apartment here in Hannover, Germany. I love it! My wife did a spectacular job finding us the perfect living space in the perfect neighborhood. I’ve been living here since September and I have no complaints whatsoever. No complaints, that is, except one: the shower.

German bathroom ventilation

Neither one of these holes are into ‘fresh’ air.

There is no fan in our bathroom. You see that window in the picture above? It doesn’t open. See that fan-looking hole on the right? That’s not a fan; it’s a simple duct connected to each apartment in our building from the ground floor all the way up to the top. It is the reason we catch whiffs of cigarette smoke drifting into our apartment from time to time. (I suspect it comes from those old, sour-faced cancer-donkeys living beneath us.)

Without proper ventilation, our bathroom fogs up something fierce whenever one of us takes a shower. To compensate, The Wife and I plug an oscillating fan into the wall and set it precariously on top of the medicine cabinet. It doesn’t do much for the condensation on the mirror, but it does a fantastic job of reminding me I will someday be electrocuted as I scrub my pink parts.

I suspect this design stems from the Iron Maiden.

Not only is our shower stall tiny, but it has no shower curtain; only the cold, unforgiving sliding glass walls you see in the picture above. Before arriving in Germany, I never realized how much space I really need in order to cleanse my American body. I mean, I knock my elbows into everything. The sliding walls, tiles, mirror, bottle racks, shower handle… I’m like the Tasmanian Devil in there.

And there is this one special moment — it happens during every shower — when my vision goes red and I experience a perfect, poetic sort of blind rage. It’s after I have managed to smash my extremities into every single object around me. After I have dropped my razor for the third time, bent over to retrieve it and knocked a bottle rack from the wall with my forehead, sending my wife’s girly hair products clattering to the floor. It’s right when I am standing back up, about to take a deep breath and count to ten… when I bonk the back of my head against the hot water controller.

Instantly, scalding hot water sears my flesh and sends me up to Rage Level: Bill O’Reilly (Warning, video contains awesome swearing). That’s when I slap the lever back toward cold, which hoses me down with an arctic blast so cold my plums shrivel up and let me know they won’t be making another appearance until spring.

German shower stall

German Shower: 1, American Body: 0

There is one good thing about German showers, however; the shower heads are mounted on handles. I haven’t seen too many showers with handles in the States — mostly in fancy hotel rooms — but Germans love ‘em. And I am forced to admit it is quite nice to direct the flow of water wherever I want it, even though the rest of the shower makes me so angry I could flip off a box of kittens.

But let’s not kid ourselves here; shower handles are unnecessary. The only reason Germans like shower handles is because they let you spray warm water directly on your cinnamon ring.

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

For another great article complaining about German showers, check out The Adventures of Heidi Hefeweizen.

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