Unfiltered Mommy

An honest view of parenting in today's world

A Stranger in a Foreign Land

on July 21, 2015

One of the biggest adjustments I have had to make has been being a stranger in a foreign land. People tend to think that Germany is a lot like America, probably because it is an industrialized nation with a  high percentage of well-educated people. But I can tell you that despite the similarities, life here is quite different from in the States. Everything from the food to cultural norms are different. My husband has a hard time putting in to the words what he sees as different but today I am going to try to explain it, at least a little bit.

Personal Space: In the USA, we are very fond of our personal space. We like to have at least one foot of distance between us when we are standing in lines and when we go out to eat, we want our own table. Even if the table can seat 6 people and we are only 2, we are not fond of having “joiners”. In Germany, space is tight. The entire country is about as big as the State of Minnesota (according to my father). Many people live in flats and those who live in houses (like us) live in half of what is called a “Dopplehouse” or Duplex in the US. Other houses are 5 houses all in a row. This means that you have very little privacy and yes, the neighbors are listening! There is no 6 foot wall around your yard shielding you from curious eyes or 30 yards of space to buffer the everyday screams and shrills of toddlers struggling to get their way. Oh and they don’t care if you are standing in line patiently waiting your turn to pay, they will cut you off and when a new register opens, just because you are the next in line does not mean you will be served first. The people behind you will run over without giving any thought to the fact that you were actually in front of them.

The Food: The stereotypes of eating sausages and bread for every meal are true! When I first lived here in 2004, I had a hard time adjusting to eating coldcuts and cheese for breakfast. I have never been a big fan of breakfast, I don’t like cold cereal, didn’t eat eggs for about 10 years and from about age 8 until 18, I hated sandwiches as well. When I first went to my father-in-laws house and saw the amazing spread of conducts he had laid out for breakfast, I thought “huh?”. I pretty much just ate the delicious rolls with jelly and left the rest. I have adjusted somewhat now, although I still cannot even look at some of the meat that early in the morning. And yes, they can eat bratwurst here everyday for every meal. The amount of pork eaten on this country never ceases to amaze me. Growing up, I think my mom cooked pork once or twice a month. It was typically Shake-and-Bake Pork Chops which were very well done out of fear of undercooking. I grew up not liking pork but now that I have tried it cooked many ways and various cuts of meat, I am learning to like it. If you have never been to a German deli counter, it is pretty amazing. The amount of different cold-cuts or “wurst” they make here is incredible, and mostly, 90% pork! Crazy!

The other thing is the amount of sews and cake eaten here. Every where you go; a pizza place, a bank, all give your kids candy. They don;t ask, they just do it. Even the people cleaning the toilets at bars have candy for kids. Eating cake in the afternoon is also very common. “Kaffee und Kuchen” is typically around 3:30pm and you eat cake and drink coffee. It is nice but seriously, who needs all these sweets? I also my girls to have candy and sweets but sometimes I get really irritated when we go somewhere for dinner and suddenly my kids are screaming to eat a sucker instead of waiting of our dinner. Grrr!

Government Bureaucracy: This is probably one of the biggest differences I have found so far. The German government really is “Big Brother” watching over you. There are so many rules and endless amount of paperwork when immigrating here. First of all, every German resident has to be registered with the government. They have your current address on file. You must notify them every time you move, meaning you have to re-register in every city by going to the city office in person. We are fortunate enough to have a relocation expert working with us (provided by my husbands employer) to help us navigate all lot this. She has been amazing. Now that I am all registered and officially have my Visa to live here for 3 years, I am required to take an Integration Course which is 600 hours of German language courses as well as courses on the political parties and government structure and social programs available to me and my German children. At the first meeting with the government official, he explained all of this to me in German, very quickly and without making eye contact with me. He explained that I am required to take these classes because my immigrant status is linked to my children being German citizens and not because my husband is German. So in the event that our marriage does not last, our children and I are permitted to live in Germany so I need to know what my rights here are and what money etc… I am entitled too. Also, they have to make sure that I speak German. it is actually a pretty cool concept and I think that we should do this in the States. Imagine if all the people who immigrated to the US had to learn English and have some knowledge about how our government works… Oh yes, and these classes are paid for by the government!

Oh yes, and I also have to retake the driver’s license exams here, both theoretical and practical. Apparently having a driver’s license from California holds no weight here. The process is ridiculously long and complex. It took us about 3 weeks just to figure out which driving school to register with. The programs are not tailored to the individual needs and it is super expensive if you have to pay for all the classroom hours (which I do not need! Yay!). Yesterday we got that squared away, and on Sunday I spent all day at a First Aid class (which was a huge joke) and getting my vision test and picture taken. The amount of red tape here is ridiculous! I really do not understand how a culture that is known for being efficient, can still have such archaic ways. Nothing is done on computer here, it is all pen and paper with official stamps. Totally 80’s if you ask me.

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