We’ve been back in the states now for almost 6 weeks and I think that, while not completely back in the swing of things (we’ve only just recently gotten to our final destination and our new home), I think we’ve managed to settle back into the US. At least enough so that I feel like I can share what that adjustment was like and how keenly I noted the difference between the two countries.
First and foremost, I feel like I should note that I don’t necessarily think that either country is better than the other, though I do want to say that if we had the choice to go back to Europe I would in less than a single heartbeat. I think that there are benefits and losses to each, and it’s ok to acknowledge that of both countries. With that being said, I can say with fairly good certainty, that at its heart, there is really just one fundamental difference of life that every other difference can be attributed to: Way of Life.
In the United States, we place a lot of emphasis on THINGS and APPEARENCES. There isn’t anything wrong with this- well maybe there is, but that’s a topic for a whole other conversation- it’s simply how it is in our country. Think about it, a lot of our standard activities, a lot of our social media, revolves around some form of store or shopping. We often will just “stop over at the store” or do a “quick Target run”.
Everything is “bigger and better”, and we are constantly in a battle to have the newest, shiniest thing. Again, this is just how our society operates. Along with that, we have a rapidly rising sense of instant gratification. An “I need this, and I need it now” attitude that is then catered to by a late-night closing or even 24-hour shopping society (and this isn’t even stepping into Amazon or overnight delivery). You want to get the newest game? You can buy it at 12:01AM at your local super store on release day (pre Covid of course). We never have any concern of running out of something because well…we can just go out and get it, no matter day/time.
Finally, in the US, we are a country of “go, go, go”, getting in and out as fast as we can, on to the next thing before we have fully finished the first. It’s a never-ending cycle that permeates every second of our life. Our day runs through before we’ve even realized that the end of the day has come, and there are times when we can’t even recall what we’ve actually done. Think about your day…we go, go, go get everyone up in the morning to get to school/work. At work we go, go, go to get an endless list of tasks done. Often times we would take lunch at our desk, quickly nudging a bite or two of food in our mouth before we have to get back to it. Or maybe your lunch consists of a quick trip to the shops to pick up some things or to peruse the shelves. Then, the workday and school day ends and it’s go, go, go to various activities for the kids OR home to quickly whip up some food. Maybe your too busy for even that, grabbing a drive through or quick meal in between activities. If you go out to dinner, it’s go, go, go through dinner with barely enough time to enjoy your family/friends’ company before the bill arrives and it’s time to go. Go back to the house, maybe now you take a little bit of time for yourself or family, with a show or a book or something of that nature. By that point, we are all so exhausted that…well the day is over, and we are left wondering…what happened.
All of these little things tie into our basic way of life in the US. I’m not saying this is wrong, in fact there are some benefits to it, the ability to just run to the grocery store whenever, not have to worry about stores closing or anything like that, it’s just a different way of life to Europe.
This is not the case in Germany.
In Germany the number one emphasis is quality of life. The quality of your social experience. What you are doing, rather than what you have. The value is placed on who you are, how you spend your time, where you go, rather than anything else. It’s a society that thrives on the connection with people, everything from dining out to traveling to pumping gas is all about person-to-person connection. It’s not infrequent to go out to eat dinner and be at your table for 2-3 hours, for the wait staff to not bother you or you having to flag them down when you need something. There is no such thing as pay at the pump, you take a ticket into the gas station where you are greeted with fresh baked goodies (like a full bakery) and a wide variety of snacks and magazines to choose from before paying for gas. Every interaction comes with a smile and a conversation, rather than a brush off and rush out.
In the smaller towns/communities, you’ll find smaller neighborhood style grocery stores that stock fresh, in season, regionally produced fruit and veggies. When you are looking at meat departments, it’s all fresh (seriously fresh), locally sourced, and the common ground meat is a cow/pig combination. It’s so fresh, that often times in malls you can walk right to a butcher shop in the mall and select your cow meat that’s hanging in the back, clear glass view, cold area. It’s an experience for sure, but a great one to have. Basically, you can always expect to have locally sourced, fresh food options. Even the frozen sections tend to be somewhat local and fresh, rather than the processed options we are all used to in The States.
Another thing that is different is often times, German’s will buy less, but better quality. Sure, you have big box stores in every city, but you’ll often find many more boutiques with better offerings and more unique/cooler designs. This is because the Germans tend to value quality of quantity. They don’t need the next greatest thing because what they bought previous has lasted quite a long time already. Consumerism isn’t as much of a “thing” over there as it is here in The States.
Another difference is that life is largely lived outdoors. In Germany there is no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothes (seriously- this is very much a thing). On any given day, in any given weather, you will see people outside. They’ll be hiking, riding bikes, rowing, enjoying what the earth and nature has to offer. I don’t think that there has been a time where I haven’t seen people outside and being active. There are parks for kids everywhere, and these are sturdy, use in any weather jungle gyms. And when the weather turns even the slightest bit sunny, EVERYONE heads outside, from the youngest babies to the oldest citizens, you’ll find them soaking up that sunshine.
Finally, in Germany their work/life balance is vastly different. Maternity leave is much more a thing in Europe already than it is in The United States, but in Germany you have much more vacation time, longer lunches, and an overall healthier boundary between work and life. I feel like there are some things in this area in particular that The States can learn from. There aren’t nearly as many “workaholic” types of situations and there is annual paid vacation time and such. Much more than what is offered in The States.
More than anything else, I miss that the value is placed on your quality of life, rather than the quantity of your life.
A couple fun little differences for you to end this post on a happier note; there is no central air in the majority of the houses. That means no AC. Heat is by radiator system and throughout the year you have to open the windows several times a day for certain lengths of time to air out the house. I’ve already said it, but pay at the pump is not a thing there, you take a ticket (or remember your pump number) and head into the station to pay. Most places are cash heavy and do not take card (including those fun markets), so don’t leave the house without it! Most stores close by dinnertime (unless you’re in a bigger city) and, everything, short of churches and some restaurants, closes on Sunday. You have to plan to have everything you need before Saturday or you’ll be waiting till Monday. Since restaurants may in fact open on Sundays, they are typically closed on Monday or Monday and Tuesday. In terms of eating out at restaurants, Water costs money (there is no such thing as “tap” or “table” water, you will buy bottles if you ask for Wasser at a restaurant) and most of the water is actually sparkling- you have to be specific if you want flat water. In addition to water, more often than not, ordering alcohol will be the cheapest drink option.
Obviously the history of Germany (and of Europe) is much older and more vast than America, so you are able to see castles and towns that pre date the beginnings of our own country. Travel is also…different than it is stateside. Obviously you can country hop all throughout Europe (in a non Covid world), but there also different modes of getting to places (you can choose car, train, or plane).
I think that basically covers most of the differences I noted between Germany and America. Truth be told, it just boils down to way of life and if you’re open to how they live, then you can adjust really fast. If you have any questions, or anything to add, just let me know!