Living in Germany: Reflections on the first year

Hallo, bonjour, hello!

reflections on the first year living in germany

Between adjusting to working full time, living in Germany, and taking German classes I haven’t had time to keep up this blog. I decided to take some time to take care of my health and on top of that, I was feeling some creative burnout. It’s crazy to think I’ve been living in Germany officially for a year and a few months. 

I will blog more often and work on it becoming more of my routine. I’m also going to look at expanding my blog from travel to what the category they call “lifestyle”. Including topics along the lines of music, art, feminism, and eco-friendly/sustainable fashion.

I would love to hear your thoughts below in the comments. I’ll also be dividing up destination related blogs on Scotland based into different categories (Edinburg, Glasgow, side trips, and food & drink) as well as Switzerland (Lucerne and Zurich).

Living in Germany, alternative title: Hauschule and Bretzel or from Fake Germany (Frankenmuth, MI) to ‘real’ Germany

reflections on the first year living in germany
Reflections on the first year living in Germany

So I’m late on posting this but as of the end of April, I’ve been in Germany for a full year. I can’t believe how fast this year has gone by in the best way. By the end of September, I will have been abroad for two years total. This is about 1.3 years in Germany and 9 months in France. Germany definitely feels like home now and along the way, I’ve picked up some habits and internalized things I once thought were strange without even noticing.

I now don’t blink seeing people drink beer on the train at 8 am or eating a large soft pretzel for breakfast. I expect to be given “Hauschule” or house shoes when entering a friend’s flat and separate my recycling religiously. Even when I visited the states in December I tried to bring reusable bags wherever I went.

Even though Germany and France are close in distance I’ve definitely noticed differences between the two. Although there may be some little cultural things I’ll never understand I can get around just fine in either country. The true beauty of living abroad is the fact that you never are done learning about the country you’re living in.

Cash only

While in France this is prevalent as well most places do take cards now. In Germany, you’ll find yourself going to the ATM a lot more often a lot of places are still cash only. Ironically enough, I find that France usually has a lot more ATMs and banks available.

Recycling

In France, they definitely recycle more than in the US but Germany is on a whole other level. German grocery stores have bottle return and you get 25 cents back which is quite a lot compared to 5 cents in Michigan. When it comes to glass you don’t return it to one receptacle in the street but it’s separated into three: green, white, and brown.

At your apartment or house the cardboard/paper goes in the blue bin, plastic containers go in yellow bags, and all other trash goes in black and biodegradable goes in brown…have you got all that? This seems like a lot but it’s really not too bad. I find I’m more conscious of what I’m throwing out and motivated to recycle more.

Transportation

reflections on the first year living in germany
Frankfurt am Main

Deutsche Bahn (National German train company) is perpetually late because it always leaves late the majority of the time. It seems I always find myself sprinting to the next connection. In the case that something got messed up because of a late train you have to look up how you’re getting to your destination. In many cases, the DB phone app is more useful than the workers. Most of the time they won’t tell you when you’re getting to the next stop.

French trains (SNCF) while yes there were strikes recently almost always leaves on time. I don’t think I’ve ever had a delay of 10+ minutes. German trains are the epitome of stress so take the most direct route you can and never take the very last train. I’d also recommend buying a flexible ticket so it doesn’t matter which train you take just read the fine print. If you train is an hour or more late you can ask for a partial refund. If you’re ever stressed out if the customer service desk if open you can go there and they’ll figure out a route to get you home.

Food and drink

The difference in food was probably the very first thing I noticed. Even though I was living close to the German border the grocery stores in both countries are so different. Bakeries have tons of cake and while everything is good it’s less flaky and a little heavier. It’s normal in Alsace to have bretzels (pretzels) all the time but it’s so much more common as a breakfast food or snack here. There are so many different kinds of “wurst” that can serve as a meal, a side dish or a snack. The cheese aisle of the Grocery store is also very different. However, it’s not impossible to find my French favorites here.

People are seen buying and drinking beer at any time of the day. Whereas maybe you could have an aperitif with lunch in France generally this is reserved for the evening. In Germany on trains in the early morning, I’ve heard many a clinking of beer bottles. If you’re doubting it’s too early in the day for a “bier” look around you at whichever restaurant you’re at and you’re never alone.

Also be aware of how insanely fast the cashiers will ring up your items at any grocery store. You really need to have your bag or basket ready to put everything in as fast as you can.

“Coldness”

German people have a reputation for being cold but really I see it as being more blunt than most people. Which I may interpret differently since I’m from the midwest and we like our personal space and keep to ourselves. The only thing is you can’t take it seriously if anyone says or does something you perceive as rude. For example, a German person on the street calls you out for something like jaywalking or talking too loud in a restaurant (both of which have happened to me). You shouldn’t let it ruin your day it doesn’t happen too often but it’s pretty normal. Some people say that the French are cold as well but I think this is only the case in big cities like Paris.

I think my experiences in France are pretty similar in this aspect. Generally, people keep to themselves and keep their distance more than in France. I’ve been catcalled a total of one time in Germany versus the culture of “drageurs” or cat callers in France who are pretty much everywhere. 

Greetings and language

You hug people in Germany which is a pretty big change from the infamous French cheek kisses called “la bise”. Hugging is reserved for friends and family and that’s pretty much the same as where I grew up. In France you do the “bise” when greeting and saying goodbye to everyone in that entire room. It’s not enough to wave and say “salut” or bye.

You would never want to hug a French person especially an acquaintance because it freaks them.  They see hugs as intimate. As an American I always kind of had to mentally prepare for the bise in the beginning. There have definitely been times when it was awkward. I also noticed that like saying “adieu” you rarely say Auf Wiedersehen. I’ve maybe had half a dozen people say that to me ever it’s extremely formal.

Also note: when cheersing in Germany you look each other in the eyes or you’ll risk bad luck for 7 years! You’ll want to say “Proust”.

Language: English vs. local language

In most parts of Germany you can get along fine with English. Although, this is unfortunate if you want to learn the language like me. Usually, if I’m somewhere I’ve never been before I apologize in German first and usually ask if they speak English. I do want to be polite and not just assume that everyone speaks it.

In France you really really need to know French especially if you’re not living in a large city. Even in the case of a city it definitely helps but it’s essential for small to mid-sized cities. It’s sometimes difficult because people may not always be able to understand you. They may even ask about your accent or nationality. 

Now I’m diligently working on basic German and making it through many everyday life interactions without having to use English. I may not get it up to my level of French but it’s my goal to be good at conversational German. The motivating factor is I know how much your quality of life improves when you know the language and you get to really take full advantage of living here.

For now, I’m trying to use as much of what I’ve learned in classes or picked up along the way. It’s quite surprising how far that can get you. I found that attempting my basic German I was understood almost always. When I came to France for the first time I had some struggles in the beginning despite 5 years of studying.

So in a way, German has been a lot easier to imitate. Although I do miss speaking French and being able to understand everyone 100%. On the other hand, learning an additional language was something I always wanted to do. Living in Germany has made this all possible!

**

xo Liz

Let’s be friends: Insta, Pinterest, Facebook

reflections on the first year living in germany
Reflections on the first year living in Germany

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.