I recently finished reading Bill Bryson’s engaging book, “I’m a Stranger Here Myself.” The tales of his adjusting back to U.S. life after 20 years abroad in England prompted my own memories of returning to America after life in Germany. I feel I must respond to his musings with some of my own. America is a wonderful place to live and has its distinct advantages; Germany is also quite lovely and offers amenities I will always cherish. Jumping into one culture after 14 years in an opposite culture has its points of hilarity, confusion, and insanity. A few observations about the abundance of America and the wonders of Germany:
1. Free refills and icy drinks never get old. Thank you, America.
2. The cereal aisle remains a fascinating spot. I grew up with four flavors from Aldi in Herzogenaurach. Wal-mart carries at least 75 assorted cereals. Sometimes my husband catches me wandering this aisle. It’s why I like to grocery shop alone. I can stare at these wonders without someone pulling at my shirt. Don’t even mention the baking aisle. I could get lost in there for days.
3. Coffee in Germany tastes better. It’s bolder, richer, fuller. Plus, employees get an allotted coffee break into their day, usually an hour. My boss wasn’t too impressed with my suggestion we implement this practice into my job. I mean, who couldn’t benefit from a little caffeine with a pastry on the side? Oh, and my apologies go to Starbuck’s: while I spend a ridiculous amount of cash on their lattes, it still doesn’t meet the expectations of “eine Tasse Kaffee.”
4. Pastries. Much better in Germany—on the flaky, buttery side. However, donuts reign in the U.S. One is hard pressed to find a good donut in Germany. I’m in love with donuts, simply because they were a scarcity in my childhood. Yes, I was deprived.
5. The crosswalk system in the U.S. is sadly lacking. I think it’s because the average pedestrian doesn’t use the walk, nor does the average driver respect the pedestrian in the walk. So we cross streets wherever we wish as free Americans. In Germany, one does not do this. You cross at the walk, stop at the red hand, and go only at the green. This is a much prefered method, in my opinion, for navigating streets safely. I don’t know, maybe I’m being too restrictive.
6. Farm fresh. I miss the eggs from our farmer friend in a nearby village. No injections, no antiboitics, no mistreatment. Just farmers caring for their animals and letting us enjoy the benefits. Fortunately, for me, I live in a part of Colorado where Farmer’s Markets are prevalent, so I can get fresh foods for my family. Plus our milk is delivered from a local dairy. Still, the eggs—I do miss the eggs. Until you’ve tasted a fresh egg from a happy chicken, you haven’t lived.
7. Ever since I joined the working class in the United States, I’ve had two jobs. One in the public eye, and one the privacy of my home doing freelance work. This is very foreign to a German. They go to school, choose either a career or more college, and basically stay in the same field their entire lives. Once a baker, always a baker. There is a beautiful consistency to this, an assurance for a young adult who is trying to sort out life. You choose your path in life around 5th grade….then you stick with it. However, I never could explain the joy that comes from having a hobby that’s also a job to any of my German friends. It just didn’t compute. Neither did the fact that my brother could be a pilot and a music minister. The flexibility of the American life breathes fresh air into a stale life. Next year, I may decide to change careers. I’ve already worked in food, retail, and law. Perhaps zoology should be next on my career list.
8. In Germany, cashiers at grocery stores have cushy chairs. Having worked in retail in the U.S., I believe this should be on the law books. In fact, I may lobby for it.
9. However, customer service is non existent in grocery stores in Germany. Upon occasion, you may have a cheery salesperson, but mostly they are frowning. Your groceries fall off the edge of the counter becase you haven’t bagged them quickly enough. The person behind you presses against your shoulder, urging you to pay and leave. You feel hot tears rise in your eyes because you’ve forgotten the correct amount of change. You duck your head, grab your squashed tomatoes, and slither away. Hopefully, you haven’t forgotten any items from the floor, but if you did, you know it’s not worth the anguish of returning to retrieve them.
10. Holidays. America offers food and festivities and the occastional day off work. The culture also presses you to overspend on gifts no one wants or needs, eat too much food, and return to work irritated by the unease of the holiday. Germany, more specifically Baveria where I lived, boasts also of great food and drinks for the holidays. It also encourages resting and enjoying your home. Most stores aren’t open on holidays and close early the day prior. Some holidays include an extra day, like Easter and Christmas. Bonus time to spend doing nothing. Let’s implement that into our culture. Surely no one can argue with more days off work and more paid vacation time. I’ll run this pass my boss too.
Frankly, I’ve decided that I should build a second home in Germany. Spend half a year there, and half a year here. The day that I become independently weathly and can fly first class every time, and there is a time warp created where I don’t have to worry about jet lag, will be the day I can enjoy both cultures simultanously. Until then, in the words of Walt Whitman, “I can hear America singing, the varied carols I hear…”
*Author’s Note: By no means is this a compete commentary on the differences of Germany versus America. This is simply the observations of the author who spent a considerable amount of time overseas and is now living in the U.S. I appreciate both cultures and am happy to have lived in both countries.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s about time for a Kaffee….and I believe I use the crosswalk.