Okay, so in my last article I talked about things I missed about the US while I lived abroad in Europe.
I tried to keep it light, and I also wanted to be honest. Living away from home can be exhausting, even if you’re in a nice place.
Well, now that I’m back in the States, I miss a lot of things about Germany too.
I worked in Stuttgart, but I lived in a town called Weil der Stadt about a half hour away. Our neighborhood bordered farms that grew and cultivated all kinds of crops and livestock: wheat, apples, honey, dairy cows, and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t even know the name of.
In the US, living by a farm isn’t necessarily a great thing because it’s not like you get to enjoy any of that private property except from the outside. But Germans put up nature trails around and even through farms. As long as you don’t disturb the crops, you can walk, jog, and ride your bike through rolling fields in the springtime and feel like you’re acting out a scene from The Sound of Music.
Then when I would come out on the other side of the farmland, I was in a nature preserve and I could continue my hike there.
Once in a while, we would hop in our truck and drive to the low mountains of the Black Forest, to hike near the Mummelsee. Crisp, cool air and thickets of pine trees. It was awesome.
You couldn’t ask for more beautiful scenery and fresher air.
2. Non-pushy salespeople and servers
You know how when you go to Best Buy or a cell phone place in the U.S., and as soon as you walk in, a salesman is in your face asking, “Can I help you with anything?”
It’s obnoxious, but you tolerate it because you know those guys work on commission.
Well, in Germany, when you walk into a store, you don’t get bombarded by salesmen. In fact, you have to seek out help if you need it. That’s not to say there aren’t pushy sales people over there. My neighbor told me stories about his run-ins with sleazy characters at a Volkswagen dealership. But you don’t have to worry about them at every store you go to.
Waiters and waitresses are the same way. They take your order, bring you your food and drinks, and leave you alone. They don’t just “drop the check off,” because it’s considered rude to try and hurry a diner out of the restaurant to free up a table. In fact, you have to ask for the check or you’ll be sitting there all day.
3. The food and drink
Yep, as I mentioned in the last article, I missed American food while living over there. But German food has its own virtues.
For example, the quality of food in the German supermarket is off the charts.
Bread? Amazing. Pork? Like nowhere else in the world. Milk, eggs, and cheese? Outstanding. Organic produce is relatively inexpensive, at least compared to prices in the states. Cokes are made with real sugar, not high fructose corn syrup, and you can taste the difference.
Basically, German supermarkets are a little like Whole Foods, but without the oppressive prices and the pretentious liberal arts majors working as baggers.And if you’re looking for takeout in Deutschland, the Doner Kebap (a Turkish import adapted for German tastes) is outstanding. Pro tip: At the Doner place, try the Yufka, which is like a Turkish burrito.
I also have to mention the beer. It is incredible. I won’t get into that too much, but if you want to know why it’s so good, just read about the Reinheitsgebot over at Wikipedia.
4. Old buildings
The US is a couple hundred years old. My house was built in 2013.
Now let’s compare this to my town in Germany, Weil der Stadt, which was formed in 1275. There were people in town whose families had lived in the same house since the 1600s. The astronomer Johannes Kepler grew up in Weil der Stadt, and the church he went to was still up, ringing its church bell every hour on the hour.
It’s amazing to walk through history as you go about your day-to-day activities. Even in bigger cities like Stuttgart and Munich, there are buildings that are hundreds of years old and are still in use.
Are there rude Germans? Yes, of course. There are rude people everywhere.
But most of the time, the people you interacted with maintained a sense of propriety, whether they wanted to or not. A woman working at a bakery might not smile at you and might not particularly like you, but she will greet you, she will give you your order, she will give you your correct change, she will thank you, and she will say bye. I figured that it was like people were doing this not to give you good service necessarily, but so as not to act in a way that reflected poorly on themselves.
Here’s an example. When we were leaving Germany and were in the airport, the security agent helped my wife with her jacket, spoke several languages, and was extremely courteous. When we landed in Atlanta, a group of TSA agents in the international terminal yelled and screamed at passengers for not following procedures, when the procedures were poorly communicated and most of the people were foreign travelers who clearly didn’t understand her.
The difference was night and day, and frankly jarring.
I love that in America I can be an ogre and uncouth and wear flip flops to a graduation dinner (all things I have been guilty of) but I can also appreciate how pleasant propriety makes life.
Surprised that I miss a language? This is a language blog, after all.
Yes, I miss German. I’m studying it now, but I miss having to use it to live parts of my life. You don’t realize how much you have to communicate until you go someplace that doesn’t speak your language by default. This is all the stuff you have to deal with on a daily basis:
- Street signs
- Cashiers and servers
- Utility documents and contracts
- Radio and TV
- Strangers talking to you
My friend John said something interesting one time. He had been really homesick for America and finally got to go home on vacation. But he said, “When I was coming back to Germany, I heard the flight attendants speaking Deutsch, and it was kind of nice. I felt happy that I was coming ‘home.'”
I had felt that exact same phenomenon myself. A place carves out a space in your mind just by virtue of your being in it. But the rhythms and tones of the language help it take root.
7. The People
Most of all, I miss the German people.
Some people were jerks, of course. And I like picking on some cultural peccadilloes that struck me as being odd. But I can say the same for any place, even my hometown.
I met so many great people there. Like my neighbor Rolf who helped me navigate a foreign land until my very last day there, when he let my family sit in his warm house after we had packed up our belongings. Or my kickboxing instructor who had immigrated from Italy and taught me how to parry and counter low roundhouse kicks, and who always offered me a cup of espresso after practice. Or the kids down at the playground who used me as an interpreter when they wanted to play with my son.
That’s probably why I really started to get into language learning again. Because living there reminded me that there are so many great people in the world, and I want to be able to talk to as many of them as I can.
And I don’t want something as surmountable as a language barrier to keep me from being able to.