My First Month Living in Germany
It’s been a little over one month since we packed our bags and moved to Germany. Looking back on our first week here seems like ages ago in a lot of ways. We've learned so much already, made a handful of mistakes, and embarrassed ourselves more times than I'd like to admit.
Our first week was especially difficult and humbling. For starters, when we tried to get a gym membership from the local "Easy Fitness", they kindly denied us and said that because we did not speak German, we would not be able to join. That was mine and Michael's first moment of "ethnocentric-ness". We angrily walked away from the gym and said, "In America that would never happen!", and the whole walk home consisted of us throwing ourselves a pity party and questioning if we'd be able to get anything done until we spoke the language.
The next day wasn't much better, I attempted to get a cellphone at T-Moible -- they're in America as well, so surely that'd be no problem, right? Wrong. They said I needed proof that I was "legally" in Germany and to provide my Residence Permit. When I went to obtain this Residence Permit, they told me that I would need to provide my Marriage License. After having my sweet mom fax my Marriage License, I brought it later in the week and they told me I would need a translator to translate my English Marriage License to German (which would cost money) and then come back once I did that.
On top of all that, the Local Foreign Office stated that it would be 3 months until our Visas would be approved. So, no phone, no gym membership, and we imagined many other things would be difficult without this document. Fortunately, we met the most helpful and kind people in our first few days, and once they heard about the gym membership issue, they were even more angry than we were and said it would be resolved immediately. Sure enough, the next day, the gym happily excepted us as members and said it was all a misunderstanding. All in the same week, I was able to get phone service from a local European provider without all of these documents and things were starting to look up!
"Never knew before what Eternity was made for. It is to give some of us the chance to learn German" - Mark Twain
Before moving, I definitely had preconceived notions. I did a lot of research on what life in Germany would be like, but of course you can only prepare so much. After 30+ days of life here, I can say it’s even better than I expected. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments I just want a taco. Or, I want to go to the store without someone laughing at my poorly spoken German phrases. Nonetheless, I have learned a lot and been extremely humbled in this first month. I imagine the rest of our time here will be a continuum of humility, learning, and growth. Today, I am sharing with you the biggest adjustments, hurdles we've overcome, and my observations of what life is like in the Lower Saxony of Germany.
Walking and Biking
Germans walk A LOT. Actually, I think Europeans in general walk a lot. Since we arrived, my Apple Health App has shown that my average steps in a day has doubled. On average, I walk 4-5 miles a day and some days as much as 9-10 miles. While living in the U.S.A., I might have run that for exercise, but I very rarely walked that for daily tasks like getting to work and running errands.
Most people own a bicycle and use it to commute. I remember during my first week I saw a 70+ year-old woman biking through the streets! Of course I was the only one staring at her in awe — it’s the norm here.
Although Michael and I are walking a lot more, we are also eating a lot more ice cream, so I am thinking they are simply canceling each other out. Either way, I’m not mad about it.
I am going to be honest on multiple levels...
First, when I think of Europeans, I think of tall, thin, majestic looking people. I had convinced myself something was in the European water, so when I moved abroad, I too might grow a bit taller and look majestic. Nope. Not at all. I am still 5'2" and my hair is just as frizzy. For people who eat so much bread, meat, and cheese, I don't know how they stay so much thinner than the average American. Also, I know I keep talking about ice-cream, but there is an "Ice Café" on each corner. And it is always packed. How do they do it? I still don't know. I walk and bike just as much as them and nothing has changed.
Second, German food hasn't "wooed" me. Except the bread -- it's amazing. I've noticed that the food is a bit bland for my liking, but it's not too shabby. Thankfully there are so many authentic Italian restaurants, so I have had some amazing pizza, ravioli, and lasagna. Also, Turkish food is quite popular here, especially in the bigger cities. We were introduced to "Döner" within our first week and were pretty impressed. It's not quite like getting Mexican food in the States, but it'll suffice.
Last, the Farmer's Markets are quite impressive, they happen 2x a week and are full of delicious meats, handmade pastas, fresh fruits and vegetables, and homemade bread (my German Tutor introduced me to the local Ciabatta bread and I am addicted). Also, grocery shopping is very economical compared to the States, and due to the difficulties and expense of throwing away things (see next paragraph), I buy a lot less!
Germany has made me the most resourceful and least wasteful I have ever been. We have three trashcans in our kitchen. Yes, three. Please keep in mind that our kitchen is not large. One is yellow, the other blue, and the next black. I won’t bore you with the details of which trashcan holds what, but I was given strict guidelines that you do not mix the trash and you must never put any glass in any of these containers — you have to go into the city or a market to recycle glass. The black bags cost 9 euro each, and you better believe I am very cautious of how often I fill up the black bags. Thus, I find myself eating leftovers that I would typically have thrown away, plus only buying groceries as needed. Within our first week, Michael and I both realized how wasteful, in comparison, we used to be. This has definitely been a great practice that makes us more aware of what we are buying and throwing away.
I read a quote before arriving that said something like, “Americans are like peaches — soft on outside, but hard on the inside. While Germans are like coconuts — hard on the outside and soft on the inside”. This is an extreme generalization -- I know, but in some cases I have noticed it to be true.
In general, when I go to the market and walk through the city, people walk with blinders on and never strike up conversation. While in America, I found that on a daily basis I was speaking with strangers about the weather, how many kids they had, and random small talk; but here I haven’t heard as much of this “chit-chat”. Granted, it could be the huge language barrier on my end, and I simply just don’t understand! However, people here mean what they say and say what they mean. For example, in The States I might run into someone and say “We should hang out!”, then a few weeks or months go by, and we’ve never made plans. While in Germany, if someone says “Come over for dinner soon!”, the next thing I know, I am getting a WhatsApp text stating the date and time for dinner. This has been so refreshing!
Overall, I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to experience a new culture, be humbled, and stretch myself. Germany has taught me to "slow down", get off my phone, and be patient. These are things that I would have never worked on without being forced to. There have been good days and bad days. We've been fortunate to have people welcome us with open arms and treat us like family. I knew that before moving abroad, I wouldn't be able to get by without someone showing me the ropes and holding my hand through a lot of challenges.
We've been beyond blessed to have people watch over us and do just that. I continue to stare blankly when German is spoken, and I still haven't mastered ordering dinner (however, I most definitely know how to order ice-cream), but I know with time and practice we will adapt more and more.
If you have the opportunity to move to a new place, I highly recommend it! Whether it's across the country or across the world, it's an amazing thing to meet new people, step out of your comfort zone and experience a different way of life.