What can’t you get in Germany, than you can in the US?
What exists in America that you can’t get in Germany?
This question of what exists in the States, but not in Germany is a popular search that lands on the blog. I have written about it in various forms, but I thought I would take a stab at answering the question directly.
Short Answer: Not much. Germany is a modern economy and has pretty much anything you can get in the US. In general, there is almost nothing that I cannot find in some form here that I had in the US. The issue comes when looking for specific things.
Thoughts about the question itself
I see this question over and over in my search terms and I am curious about the background, the Why. Are they looking for gifts to send to friends in Germany? Or are they coming here and want to know what to bring that they can’t get here? Are people looking to gloat somehow? Maybe market research?
I like to see good in people so I will assume it is one of the first two and answer based on that.
Same stuff, different price
While you can get most things, the biggest distinction is price and selection. Jeans for example, which are also ubiquitous here. If you happen to need Levi’s or some other high profile American brand, you will pay a lot more for it. I remember going to the outlet malls at home, so these kind of prices frighten me to see. If you can be happy with an unknown(to you) store brand, the prices are not so bad.
Another one we have noticed is Tylenol, which is called Paracetamol here. We remember getting a bottle of 200 pills for a couple of bucks at a drugstore over the counter at home. Here, you have to ask at the Apotheke and get a packet of 20 for 1Euro80 (a little over 2USD). So while it is definitely here and not at all worth “stocking up” on in the US before you come over, there is a price difference. Though I figure if you are popping them in quantities high enough to make a big difference on your budget, you might have other problems.
Contact-lens fluid is another example of price differences. In the US, the Target brand could be a few bucks. Here a bottle is over 10 euros, no matter where we check. Ali’s experience while traveling shows this to be more the norm than the exception, which the cheap stuff in the US being unusual in the world. So again, it definitely exists, but at a different price point.
If you think you can’t live without something, try to imagine how millions of people in your host country live without it.
If they don’t, you will find something that works.
If they can, so can you.
Selection is not as wide
Selection is just very different in German grocery stores. Space is more at a premium in the dense urban areas, so it is used differently than the sprawling stores at home which can stock everything. Take peanut butter for example, definitely available here. You get a choice of creamy and chunky in one brand. If you are lucky, you may see a second brand. Though on the flip side, there is an entire wall of different types of salami. There are even multiple different words for ham in German depending on what part of the pig it comes from.
Back to the jeans example, size selection is based on the European bodies, so don’t expect the XXXL’s to be as common. This is true of a lot of clothing and shoes. I am not at all a fashionister (umm is that even the right masculine form of fashionista, is there even one?), but styles definitely are different here too. So while “clothing and shoes” are more than available (seriously, new shoe stores seem to open up every few months here), you may not be able to find exactly what you could in the malls at home.
Coke exists. So does diet coke and coke zero. I have even seen vanilla and lemon, and I like the diet caffeine free stuff occasionally (caffeine and I do not get along well most days). We don’t seem to get any of the flavored coke zeros though. On the flip side, they have Mezzo Mix which is a mix of orange soda and cola. You don’t get that in the US!
As a last example of selection, Ali and I went looking for a new backpack at one point. We knew pretty much what we were looking for and could almost picture it on the wall at REI in Atlanta. Something just at the upper edge of the carry-on size, wide and deep enough for a laptop, backpack style straps, several pockets for smaller things and front-loading, not top loading. We went to 4 different stores and pretty much encountered all the same type of bag. In many cases, the same brands everywhere. This just seems to be what is on the market here, so people get used to it and buy it, keeping it “in style”. This seems to be a function of space and demand. The US has the space to attempt to fulfill a wider amount of demand, so the stores try to. Note that this example is in Freiburg, which is NOT the biggest town. If we had tried in Berlin or Munich, maybe it might have been different. If we had tried looking in a village though, our chances of finding much of anything would be slim.
Your favorite brands of things may or may not be available. And your favorite flavor of whatever, be it toothpaste or jelly may not be popular enough in Germany to appear. This is an extension of the selection point.
If you are able to be flexible and try things, you will find pretty much any need is fulfilled here. One of my favorite quotes from the preparation for study abroad talks was this. “If you think you can’t live without something and have to bring it, try to imagine how millions of similar people in your host country live without it. If they don’t, you will find something that works. If they do live without it, so can you.” It has stuck with me as good advice.
Are there differences?
Of course. Food being a very prime example that I have written about before. Tastes of food are different. Grape jelly doesn’t exist, nor do Jolly Ranchers. Cheddar cheese is hit or miss. The selection of soups is poor at best. On the flip side, salami is plentiful. In-season produce and bread is also easily found. Beer and wine, of course, is no problem. English books take a bit to find, but with online ordering from Amazon UK to Germany even that isn’t bad.
If you are coming for a study abroad, plunge yourself into the society and see how other people live. You will see far fewer differences at the base level beyond a different language on the packaging.
If you are coming as an expat for long term, similar advice actually. Figure out what you can and can’t live with not finding (able to untangle that?, good you are on your way to untangling German), then hunt around online for a few things and get family and friends to bring you others.
If you are looking for gifts for German friends. Electronics are bad due to the different plugs. DVDs and such are bad due to the region coding. Beyond that and any customs regulations, think of perhaps something really local to your home that someone even in the other parts of the US wouldn’t know about.
February 4, 2015 @ 6:36 am
I have been coming to Germany for over 30 yrs and now live here permanently. Perhaps the only item that I have never found, that I enjoy, is Grape Jelly! Of course they have AWESOME jellies and Jams,,, so there is no problem to find a replacement!
When my wife and I travel to the USA, we usually make a Walmart run the night before our flight. NOT that we are getting something that we can’t get in Germany, but simply for the price. (We don’t have any Walmarts in Germany!)
December 17, 2014 @ 6:50 am
I send things to my German friends sometimes. They request Lifesaver Gummies. This is also something you can get in the U.S., but not in Germany.
April 22, 2013 @ 4:16 pm
As you suspected, your blog turned up at the top of my search list for things/foods you can’t get in Germany. I am a German living in the US and planning a trip home. I was trying to think of something unique to bring my family and friends. After living here for 20 years it’s hard to evaluate what that might be, hence my search.
I was thinking about bringing stuff to make Rice Crispie Treats and Smores. I would imagine that while the ingredients for those things may be available, the treats made with them are probably not as common?
April 23, 2013 @ 5:06 pm
I get this question every so often. I don’t have really any general guidelines. It comes down to specific types of things and specific brands of things.
I have seen Rice Krispie treats in stories here, but the packaged ones, so if you made homemade ones that could be nice. We definitely get Rice Krispies at Rewe, so you probably just need the marshmallow cream for those.
S’mores are a really good idea. Chocolate is no problem and Marshmallows in whole form are common enough as well. What I still cannot find is Graham Crackers, so maybe those would be an idea.
You know your friends and family and their tastes. Think about what they might like specifically. I am sure they will appreciate anything you think to bring.
March 6, 2013 @ 2:10 am
im going to mail my old high school bf a surprise package, shes from pittsburgh, and has been in germany for over 20 years.
whats something I can safely mail ot her that she may be longing for
were 50, so anything retro like tea tree gum, or lifesavers or steelers stuff?
any thing she may get a kick out of that she may like? or baking needs? she once told me that you cannot get calamine lotion in germany.
March 7, 2013 @ 9:24 pm
I honestly have no idea. What we are missing is not likely to be the same as what your friend is missing.
I also don’t really know Pittsburgh.
Food usually is the thing that is local enough not to get imported to Germany. A friend was staying with us at Christmas and his mother sent cookies. It was awesome. German cookies are not really that sweet, and I missed the American style of unhealthiness.
I haven’t gone looking for calamine lotion, but there are pharmacies on every corner. I imagine there is something similar.
Try talking to your friend. As for “safely”, avoid expensive things that might end up with a customs charge.
March 7, 2013 @ 9:49 pm
is food able to be shipped safely to germany? I thought i would surprise her so i cannot ask.
thought i would simply get an assortment of snack size candy bars and cookies we liked as kids, some smuckers grape jelly samples we get at resturaunts here, and a few small tea light candles from yankee candle company. id get maple syrup, but thats in glass and quite heavy, may set off the alarms, id like my package to arrrive neatly wrapped in the pretty wrapping paper i want to use, not have the customs office tear it all up looking inside.
March 10, 2013 @ 9:28 am
I have gotten cookies and candies shipped to me no problem. I expect packaged stuff is less likely to cause problems than fresh fruit where they might be worried about bugs. I might even try to avoid glass. You never know how bashed around a package might be in transit and if the glass could break, that could be a mess (though a nice smelling one if it was maple syrup). You definitely can get it here too.
As for the neatly wrapped. Dunno. If they decide not to open it at all, it might be ok, but if they decide they need to look inside the wrapping will be opened. That is kind of just a risk you have to take.
Let me know how it all works out.
February 4, 2015 @ 6:44 am
Agree with the comment: A bag of assorited candy bars. We don’t have Hershys bars, or with Almonds or even Mr. Goodbars. Also the comment about Grape jelly and Maple surup! Tea candles are at every dollor store, but Special candles are a huge hot over here. Some of my friends ask for Beef jerky,, spicy ones as they are not overly spicy over here.
Not adding much,,, mainly wanted to confirm the other idea’s.
March 2, 2013 @ 9:52 pm
Choice is a matter of what is important in a particular country. I live in Bulgaria. While there may only be two types of peanut butter available, and none of those really that great, there are at least 50 different varieties of olives. Oh yes, we’re way beyond the choice between black and green that you see in the States. And the local feta cheese comes in a vast array of choices, something I always miss when I get to the States and have to make do with the poor quality and selection of feta available there.
March 7, 2013 @ 9:21 pm
Indeed. The choice available is driven on the local demands and supplies.
I’ve seen olive bars both in the US and in Germany, but not 50 kinds. Now a choice in Feta sounds really unique. Most expats have that issue when they try to go home, they miss things from their host country. It is part of what makes us unique. We miss things from both sides.
February 15, 2013 @ 9:12 am
this is a very interesting article – I haven’t been to America yet, so I can’t compare but one thing I don’t like is that when you try to buy something from amazon.com in Germany they always take you to .de and the german site ever offers the same stuff or for the same prices.
February 17, 2013 @ 12:23 am
There are shipping and customs things involved in not being able to buy direct from .com. I very often get stuff from co.uk without issues though. I have not really looked for food on Amazon, but maybe I will.
February 8, 2013 @ 8:59 pm
One thing about contact-lens fluid… What you find in german optician stores is usually top quality brands. It’s possible to get cheap no-brand contact-lens fluids in places like Müller. 250ml bottle could cost as cheap as 3€. I assume that a pack of 2 bottles of Alcon Opti-Free would cost around $20 in the US, just like here.
February 9, 2013 @ 10:02 pm
Glad you enjoyed it.
We will have to check out Mueller soon. Thanks for the tip.
Life Lessons of a Military Wife
February 5, 2013 @ 1:53 pm
Great article! Gonna share:-)
February 9, 2013 @ 9:57 pm
Thanks. Feel free to add comment and add anything I might have missed. I can well imagine that different areas of Germany are different in this way too.
February 4, 2013 @ 6:00 pm
That’s too bad about the electronics. You would think those would be pretty good gifts. I would be very disappointed with no grape jelly. Guess they can’t waste good grapes in Europe on something as silly as jelly 🙂
February 4, 2013 @ 9:40 pm
Yeah, that is about what we figure with the grapes. They are for wine or occasional table eating, not for any other form.
February 3, 2013 @ 8:48 pm
Most expats I work with lament the lack of good Mexican food places. I think you are right, though–you can get most stuff, but you will pay for it! As a teacher in the U.S., I was used to seeing school supplies (packs of loose-leaf notebook paper, crayons, etc.) going for quarters a piece in August, so seeing the price of those items here blew my mind. Three Euros for 8 crayons??? They were in a nice case, but still, it was too much!
February 4, 2013 @ 9:37 pm
Mexican is what Ali misses the most foodwise. I definitely could go for a tamale some days.
The school supplies thing is interesting. I don’t buy so much, but I like notebooks to scribble in. I have noticed that they are much more expensive than I am used to in the US.
January 21, 2013 @ 12:03 pm
You can’t get Sudafed here, or anything even remotely as effective. The closest I’ve seen is Sinupret, and it’s like a pale imitation of Sudafed.
February 2, 2013 @ 4:19 pm
Yeah, the drugs are different here. I actually like Sinupret. I very often have sinus issues. I find the Sinupret helps without the drugged out feeling of Sudafed.
January 21, 2013 @ 3:01 am
It seems like quite a curious question, from a European. Germany is one of the most efficent and develped counties in Europe. I love Rischart in Germany, massive cakes! 🙂
February 2, 2013 @ 4:18 pm
It comes down to specifics. What things/brands/sizes you can’t find in Germany that might be commonplace in the US. It isn’t about whether Germany is developed or not, but whether the comforts that expats seek are here.
I like cake, unfortunately the German cakes are not what I am used to from home. They are too solid and not fluffy or really even sweet enough.
February 5, 2013 @ 1:28 am
I really don’t think it’s got anything to do with Germany being developed either. I assume it is more a question of demand and if companies think they can sell it here in Germany. For example, I don’t know many Germans who eat peanut butter on a regular basis, hence, you don’t get many different brands.
Yet that doesn’t exactly explains why Coca-Cola started a huge campaign launching cherry coke back in the eighties, stopped selling it here in the nineties and relaunching it a few years ago.
On the other hand why do you get for example Fanta with pineapple flavor in France yet it has never been sold in Germany. Do we Germans like pineapple less than the French? Obviously, Coca-Cola thinks so.
And sometimes it just takes some time – sometimes a very long time – before some flavors or brands are sold here. I grew up in Kaiserslautern a city that had a lot of US army barracks. My father knew an American family and once in while they brought Froot Loops with them when they visited us which I loved and that could not be bought here for another 15 years.
Btw. It never occurred to me that you don’t have mezzo mix in the US.
@Andrew I really enjoy reading your blog.
February 9, 2013 @ 10:01 pm
Yeah, I expect it is a version of demand. Meh, Coke is a different one. They have a market share for coke basic and are always trying to expand that. They also have the marketing budget to fail, so it isnt that big a deal to try things.
Fanta is an interesting point. I only remember it as a grapefruit soda growing up in the US. Ali though only thought of it as orange, and here they have a number of different flavors. Now you are throwing pineapple into the mix?
Being able to get stuff from the PX on a base would be great. I just don’t have those connections. I think the nearest base is Heidelberg or Stuttgart anyway.
Most Americans that I have mentioned it to thought the concept of mezzo mix to be gross. Though even as a kid I was more than happy to mix whatever was in the fridge together and try it.
Glad you enjoy the blog. Glad to see Germans dropping by and liking what I write.