A New German Routine
Ali compares her daily routine here in Freiburg with the one she left in Atlanta so many months ago before her round-the-world trip. I have been living in Germany for so long, that I just take for granted certain things. She notices a lot of things that I would just gloss over.
I think part of me has wanted to live in Europe ever since I first traveled here. I love how much history there is and how you can see buildings that have been around since before Columbus landed in the Americas. But living in a foreign country is different than traveling in one, and living here in Germany is certainly different than living at “home” back in the US. But what’s it really like?
What’s going on?
Sometimes I feel like I’m in a bubble here. My German isn’t nearly proficient enough for a real conversation, and I certainly can’t read the news in German. In Atlanta, I didn’t keep up with current events too much, but I’d always hear about things on the radio during my daily commute. Living here without a car means I don’t listen to the radio anymore. Not that I’d be able to understand the German anyway.
I don’t get my daily news bites, and I’m out of the loop on new music. I probably get more news now from the internet than I did when I lived in the US, but unless I seek out the news, I often miss things.
Grocery shopping is definitely a different experience here. In Atlanta I would drive a couple miles down the road to the huge grocery store and load food into my cart, which would then be bagged in plastic by a grocery store employee. Once I got home, it would probably take me 3 or 4 trips to get everything upstairs to my apartment.
Here Andy and I walk 3 blocks to a much smaller grocery store with backpacks. We start by putting our bottles (plastic and occasionally some glass ones) into the machine to get our deposits back, anywhere from 8 cents to 25 cents depending on the type of bottle. After paying for our food, we load everything back into the shopping cart and move out of the way so we can put it all into our backpacks. They have some plastic bags there, but you have to pay for them.
I also go to the market in the center of town about once a week to buy vegetables for salads. While there are farmers markets in Atlanta, I don’t know where any actually are, and it wouldn’t seem worth the extra effort to go find one.
Work vs. School
As a requirement of my resident visa, I have to take a German language course, so Monday through Friday I get up around 7:45 so I can make it to class by 9:00. When I was living in Atlanta, I had to get up around 7:00 to make it to work by 8:30, but the major difference is the commute. At my last job in Atlanta, I drove about 18 miles to work, which luckily only took about 25-30 minutes because I was going against the morning rush hour traffic. Here we don’t have a car, so I take the tram. When I’m not running late, I walk out the door at about 8:44 so I can make the 8:49 tram, and 8 minutes later I exit and walk for about a minute or so to the language school.
Instead of going to work for 8 hours a day, I go to the language school for a little over 3 hours a day. I’m not sure my brain could handle trying to learn German for longer than that each day. And I have homework every day now. I haven’t had to deal with homework since college, and I graduated May of 2002. While I’m so happy not to have to deal with the stress of my job in Atlanta, trying to learn a complicated language just brings a different type of stress. Which leads me to…
Greek German to me
The language is probably the most obvious difference. In the US, I never really had to worry about trying to understand what people were saying or about others understanding me. Even though I’ve picked up a few words of German, my language skills are still pretty basic. Every time I go to the store without Andy, I hope the cashier doesn’t stray from the normal conversation because then I get flustered and have to reveal the fact that I don’t speak German.
Because of the language problem, I find myself a lot less independent than I was in the US. If I need to make a doctor’s appointment or make a change with my cell phone plan, I need Andy to call or some with me. It’s strange and frustrating to suddenly have to rely on someone else to do such simple things.
But it can be entertaining to see things written in German that look funny in English. Here are a couple of my favorites:
Living in Germany is definitely a challenge. In many ways, I love living here. But I haven’t been here long, and I still deal with culture shock from time to time. Knowing it would be difficult to adjust to life in Germany wasn’t enough to actually prepare me for the reality of it, but I do know I can handle this. It gets easier as each week goes by, and I know I made the right choice.
Ali Garland is an American expat living in Germany, and she is married to the wonderful owner of Grounded Traveler. Her travel addiction led her to visit all 7 continents before her 30th birthday. She recently returned from a round the world trip and is now fumbling her way through life in Germany. She is currently searching for the perfect salsa recipe. Ali writes at Ali’s Adventures (Facebook) and Travel Made Simple (Facebook), and contributes to Ctrl-Alt-Travel with Andy. You can also find her on Twitter.
Living in Germany - Roundup - Grounded Traveler
August 6, 2012 @ 8:01 am
[…] A New German Routine My wife, Ali, is still adjusting to living in Germany with me. She writes about what her life looks like here as opposed to home. Bonus some hilarious German advertising (need a 12 year old mind an no command of the German language to appreciate. […]
August 6, 2012 @ 6:40 am
Oh this made me laugh. 🙂 I have spent a lot of time in Germany, but it was nearly always staying with a family rather than being touristy. The signs crack me up!! 🙂 We laughed hard at very similar ones. I remember staying with a German family for two weeks and only one spoke English. Whenever she was gone, wow, it was hard. It’s amazing how lonely you feel in a room full of people when you can’t communicate. 🙂
August 14, 2012 @ 5:54 pm
Thanks Krista! There are enough people here who speak at least some English that I can usually manage ok, but I know I need to learn more of the German in order to feel more comfortable here. I’m just past the 2 month mark with my class, about 5 more to go! I can’t imagine living somewhere with people who I couldn’t communicate with at all, sounds so stressful!
August 4, 2012 @ 8:58 am
Ah I SO love the mattress ad. Every single day some German sign amuses me and I want to tell everyone around me, but if I’m not with expats I’m like, “Yah, they won’t find this funny.” Adjustment takes quite a while….learning German, even longer. We can do it! 🙂
August 14, 2012 @ 5:51 pm
Thanks Kristi! The signs crack me up. I actually get excited now whenever a new mattress circular shows up because I’m kind of hoping for a bigger number! I know I’ll keep adjusting, I just wish it would go quicker!
fotoeins | Henry
August 4, 2012 @ 5:36 am
I’d always been self-conscious about using my poor handle of the German language. Our employer was kind enough to provide three to four hours of German-language instruction per week, and I tried to watch as much German television as I possibly could. It didn’t matter how good or poor the programs were; what was key to me was figuring out sentence structure, diction and rhythm, picking out words, and the context and situations where (scripted) conversations took place.
At the 18-month mark (which, not coincidentally, is the *average* time one needs to get used to living in a foreign country), I stopped caring what others thought, and I “barreled” ahead with using the language in as many situations as possible. I made mistakes, spoke, made some more mistakes, and spoke some more. And right about that time, I had to leave the country for a new job. :-/
Having said that, I’ve gone back to Germany as much as I’ve can to visit people there, and that’s helped some. But being away is making the German a little rusty, which is why I’m looking forward to going back for a few months this fall. It should make for some fun and interesting times.
Thanks for your post, Ali, and do stick with it – I think the rewards are worth the effort. 🙂
August 14, 2012 @ 5:49 pm
Thanks Henry! Sorry for the late reply. 18 months sounds like a long time, but it makes sense. The more I sit in that German class, the more I realize I need to learn to really make use of the language. It’s frustrating, but I’m hoping it starts to click one of these days. Thanks for the encouragement! If you end up in our area when you’re in Germany, get in touch!
fotoeins | Henry
August 14, 2012 @ 6:07 pm
18 months does sound like a long time, but I’d read in print (might have been “Culture Shock: Germany” ?) that the average settling time was between 12 and 24 months; I think a little bit of patience and perseverance will go a long way. I haven’t been to Freiburg since 2002, so it might be time to fix that. 🙂
By the way, in Heidelberg, a bunch of us wanted to live at specific locations to get one of the following addresses: Einsteinstrasse, Keplerstrasse (because we’re all science-types), or … Fahrtgasse. So many jokes, so little time …
Driving Easter Island - Day 1 | Ali's Adventures
August 2, 2012 @ 8:00 am
[…] out the guest post I did for Andy’s My Life in Germany Series: A New German Routine If you enjoyed this post, please consider liking the Facebook page or subscribing to Ali's […]
August 1, 2012 @ 4:17 am
Lovely photos, Ali! or should I say, some lovely, some hilarious:D One problem I have with spending extended periods of time in Sicily with my husband’s family, even though the island’s gorgeous and they are the sweetest people in the world, is that eventually I tire of the effort of always speaking and listening to Italian (& dialect) and find myself tuning out. I’m pretty addicted to my favorite bookstores here, as well! Germany really appeals, so I look forward to hearing more of your experiences. And seeing more of those funny pics!
August 2, 2012 @ 4:40 pm
Thanks Lesley! The 2 non-funny pictures are actually Andy’s, but I’ll take full credit for the funny language ones! I love the way Italian sounds, but I can definitely imagine how having to deal in a foreign language all the time can get frustrating even if you can speak it fluently.
August 1, 2012 @ 3:10 am
Greetings from Atlanta! Fittingly, I’m reading your post in your home town, Ali 🙂 it really sounds like your life has changed quite a bit. It’s always hard to make that big of a move, but what better reason is there than love 🙂 to ve honest, I don’t think I would have ever stayed this long in the U.S. without my boyfriend here. While it’s certainly not nice to gave to rely on someone for the most basic things, it really is nice to know that you can though.
August 2, 2012 @ 4:37 pm
I definitely agree, love was the best reason! It is great that I can rely on Andy to help me out, but I’m looking forward to being able to do some of these basic things for myself again. I hope you’re enjoying Atlanta, Sabrina!
Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista
July 31, 2012 @ 11:45 pm
I love this recount of life as an early expat! I’ve often felt that I should live in Europe too but that hasn’t worked out for me. I like that you have to take German for your visa. I can see how some of the differences would be fun and welcome but I’ve never thought about the loss of independence when you can’t make appointments for yourself! Interesting insights that will be very helpful to anyone considering this type of move.
August 2, 2012 @ 4:36 pm
Thanks Debbie! It’s weird, those little things I never thought of like needing help just to make an appointment. Knowing a few words of German helps, but 2 months of class haven’t gotten me far enough to have a conversation. We’ll see where I am at the end of the 7 month course!
July 31, 2012 @ 5:27 pm
Thanks for sharing Ali. This has been old hat for Andy so great learning about life in Germany from a new, fresh perspective with all the things you have to deal with. I think some of this would be an exciting, nice change from the states. However, some of it could be quite frustrating and lot to deal with.
August 2, 2012 @ 4:34 pm
Thanks Jeremy! It is still frustrating sometimes, although I am starting to appreciate some things here that I like better than living in the US. I just have to remember it’ll take time for me to be as comfortable and adjusted as Andy is.
July 31, 2012 @ 12:15 am
I really enjoyed reading this. It can be very interesting developing new routines in other countries. Getting used to a new grocery shopping routine was pretty enjoyable while I was living in Israel and later in Egypt. Like Germany they have small, often tiny, stores which I would walk to and would usually buy a little bit every day, although in Israel I would also do a larger weekly trip where I’d take my backpack along to put everything in. Both of these countries also have small fruit and vegetable markets which everyone shops at. In the US I’ve never bought fruits and veggies anywhere but the grocery store. As far as being in a bubble due to not being able to understand the language well, that’s a good way to put it. I lived with an Israeli friend in Israel for a while who didn’t speak much English, and I speak almost no Hebrew. It was fun and challening trying to figure out what was going on every day 🙂
July 31, 2012 @ 4:41 pm
Thanks Sabina! I can’t imagine living in Israel or Egypt, even more differences there. I kind of like packing up my groceries in a backpack, seems easier than taking multiple trips from the car, and we know just what we can carry.
July 30, 2012 @ 10:25 pm
When I first came to Germany (about 3.5 years ago… time flies!!) I was the same as you: not speaking a word of German and being quite dependent on others. I took classes (3 times a week for 6 months), but even after that I had an enormous language bareer, that stopped me from having a normal life. I left Germany to work in Slovakia for 1 year and surprisingly during my time there, (all of a sudden!) I started speaking German. It felt like all the pieces of information, that accumulated in my head over those 6 months, finally came together :-)) I am still not 100% fluent and my vocabulary is rather basic, but it makes a world of difference.
I am sure one morning you’ll wake up and start speaking too 🙂 A great moment to be looking forward to!
July 31, 2012 @ 4:43 pm
Thanks Masha! I’m sure the German will all just click one of these days, I just need to practice more. I’m about 2 months into my 7 month class right now, so it’s still tough, but I’ll get there eventually!