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.