May 2011


All about the little differences*

I knew long in advance that the first quarter of 2011 was going to be a busy one for me – and it was. I started to surface at the end of March, and now, now that May is beginning, I am starting to take a long view of things.

For the moment, my time horizon is two weeks, and I need help.

In two weeks I am supposed to give a guest lecture on what’s it like to be an American living in Germany, or, perhaps more broadly, what’s it like to be an expatriate living in Germany or Europe.

The problem is, unfortunately, I have no idea what to talk about. And I am scheduled to talk for some three hours – presumably with a break in the middle.

The talk is before a summer study abroad class from a major university in the United States, and is comprised of approximately 21 students (when I was invited the enrollment was 28, so 7 have (already) dropped), principally graduate, but perhaps some undergraduates as well.

If any of my readers could make some suggestions, I would appreciate it.

Right now the only thing I can say is that the bread is better here.

Unless you get your bread from the Back-Factory, in which case, American bread wins, hands down.

* With gratitude to the Heidelbergerin for the headline

7 comments to All about the little differences*

  • These are things that I’ve noticed (although I’m doing it from an Australian perspective not American)

    * work/life balance is much more important than the rat race that is prevalent in Australia/ USA eg shops being shut on Sundays, shorter working hours.

    * differences in humour – Germans don’t seem to find irony as funny as we do.

    * cost of living – not sure how it compares to the US but compared to Oz, it’s much cheaper.

    * cultural differences in how major holidays are celebrated eg Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Halloween.

    Also, I recommend showing lots of photos to pad out the time.

  • One of my favorite anecdotes is that the Germans usually all wait at red crosswalks even in the dead of night when no cars are coming. Yet where there are no rules, they either create them or just shove ahead. For example old women here seem to think you need to wait for one individual ATM machine even if there are 10 there, and yet they all seem to push and shove to get on the tram before you even get off.

    Remind them that everything takes far longer to do than you might expect.

  • I’ll stick with the little things 😉 They might figure all these out just from visiting, though.

    * Five-zillion-ply toilet paper!
    * Shelf toilets!
    * Mini fridges!
    * Trash separation!
    * H-milk being standard!
    * Eggs and cheese slices not being in the cold case at the store!
    * Check-out staff get to sit down!
    * No 20% tipping requirement!
    * Tissues in tiny packs instead of big boxes – carrying them yourself more standard than having them sitting out!
    * Train/bus riding on sort of an honor system!

  • As an opener, go down to your local Rathaus and pick up some type of German-only form, and make copies and hand them out and tell them to fill them in, even if they do not understand German. This is what life is like for an expat, trying to figure things out all the time. If they ask questions, just answer seriously in German, with a frown, all the while unpacking things from your cloth shopping bag.

    I think you could go on for 8 hours if you wanted, based on the previous suggestions plus everything that you know. It’s easy to forget how much you’ve learned, until you come back to the US.

  • @HinE Brilliant!

    I fear, however, that you forget how much you’ve learned, until you move to the NEXT language and have to learn it AGAIN.

  • Riayn – Thanks for the ideas — I am incorporating them into the presentation.

    Andrew – Great tips — Danke!

    CN Heidelberg – Little things are best — I’ve titled my presentation “All about the little differences”

    heather in europe – Wonderful! I found, online, the form for registering at my local Rathaus. It is extra special as it has stuff crossed out (officially) on it, even in PDF form.

    cliff1976 – Thanks for the closing slide.

  • […] want to thank everybody who commented and provided suggestions as to what to talk about during my Living in Germany as an American […]