Culture Shock- Germany vs. USA

expat, travel

Thinking of moving to Germany? Whether you’re moving abroad or simply looking to get informed before your next visit to Germany, there are a few cultural differences to you should know in order to be prepared. Here are some of the most interesting/surprising differences I’ve noticed while living abroad as an American expat in Germany:

Closing times – Depending on where you live, stores in Germany (esp. grocery stores) tend to close much earlier than American ones. Particularly in Bavaria, be prepared to deal with closing times as early as 8pm. Oh, and shopping for groceries on a Sunday? You can forget about that.

Grocery stores – Want to know another hilarious fun fact about German grocery stores? Self-bagging. Americans can consider themselves lucky to have someone bagging their groceries at the cashier. In Germany, it’s a race against the cashier to see if you can manage to bag your stuff as quickly as they scan it! Beware- I’ve had my fair share of angry stares when I didn’t bag my groceries fast enough. And god forbid you need to try and go back for an item you forgot! Most stores have a single pathway from entrance to exit- so don’t try going the wrong way or you’ll face the wrath of the Almans!

Strict rules – Speaking of doing things the wrong way- good luck trying NOT break any rules when you’re in Germany. From walking on the wrong side of the street to speaking too loudly on public transportation and/or asking too many questions about the menu at a restaurant, you can expect to see some raised eyebrows if you stick to your American habits while in Germany. Most Germans are not accustomed to the overly-friendly, inquisitive, chatty nature of Americans. Furthermore, if you walk into a restaurant expecting anything remotely similar to American service where “the customer is always right,” you might want to get a reality check. Germans may have a reputation for being “rude” in Americans eyes, but have you ever thought that maybe Americans are just a bit spoiled by our waiters’ forced smiles/getting custom orders every time we go out eat? (I’ll have one Venti-Skinny-Decaf-Soy-Cinammon-Dolce-Latte with 2 pumps of Vanilla and just a little bit of whipped cream, please)

Pharmacies – For Americans, pharmacies are gigantic- offering an assortment of medication but also groceries, alcohol, makeup, and more. The local German “Apotheke” offers only the essentials for medication, and would certainly surprise any American walking in and trying to grab their painkillers off the shelves. Here, you must request pretty much everything from your pharmacist and face some pretty skeptical stares if you order anything stronger than 400 mg of painkiller meds.

Paying in cash – I never thought this would be an issue when I moved here, but it’s very important to carry cash when you live in Germany! This is especially true when living in Bavaria, where many restaurants only accept cash. That can make for an awkward date when the bill arrives!

Beer – Need I say more? If you’re moving to Germany, be prepared to encounter a very heavy beer culture. Know the differences between Hell, Pils, Weizen, and more. If you’re not a fan of strong beer, try a Radler (that’s what it’s called in Bavaria)- it’s a refreshing mix of Sprite (or some kind of lemon soda) and beer. Not into alcohol? Stick to a delicious Apfelschorle- apple juice mixed with sparkling water. Prost!

Here’s a selfie of Florian and I enjoying some Augustiner beer at our local fair!

Weather – It shouldn’t be a huge shocker to anyone coming from states with seasons, but the weather in Germany gets cold. For someone like me coming from sunny California, the weather in Germany was surprising, to say the least. If you don’t have the stomach for the long, harsh winter months starting January and ending around mid-April (sometimes end of April! As the Germans say, “April, der macht was er will,” meaning “April does what it wants”), than you might want to think carefully before moving here. Most days tend to be cloudy, rainy, and snowy in the winter months. The best time to travel to Germany? Late April, early May, or even in September/October (Oktoberfest, anyone?).

Here’s a photo I took in Bamberg on a rainy day, just outside of a Birkenstock store!

Education – Are you also carrying around a good chunk of student debt? *Laughs in European.* Tuition is basically free in Germany, aside from the basic cost of like 100-200 euros just to cover university administrative fees as well as your semester ticket to use the buses/transportation. FYI- this is worth the price and actually an incredible deal, considering you’d typically pay 2-3 euros for a 10-15 minute bus/train ride.

Insurance/Public Benefits – Did someone say universal healthcare? Americans are quaking. Looks like someone is doing it right- Germany ensure everyone has basic human rights by covering their citizens’ healthcare and avoiding the chaos/anxiety/stress that many Americans face every day. Deutschland 1, USA 0 (because Americans are still dying due to lack of health coverage / starvation / homelessness / more).

Religion – We already touched on a bit of politics, now let’s cover religion! Overall, Germany is a pretty openly religious country, with predominately Catholic and Protestant influence, and (like most places in Europe) churches everywhere you look. Regardless of your opinion on religion, there’s one thing anyone who has been to Germany in December would agree makes it the most wonderful time of the year, and that’s the Christmas markets! Filled with various wooden booths selling candy, snacks, trinkets, and that oh-so-glorious Glühwein, the German Weinachtsmarkt / Chriskindlesmarkt is a must-see for anyone thinking of traveling to Germany.

What are some of the cultural differences you’ve noticed while in Germany?

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Traveling Alone Changed My Life – Studying Abroad in Sydney

College Tips, travel, Uncategorized

Traveling alone is a giant leap into an adventure- no matter where you go or even if you’re visiting the same place again. No two travel experiences are exactly alike- and each time that I travel, I learn a new lesson.  One of the biggest lessons I learned during a trip was when I traveled on my own to study abroad in Australia. Just reminiscing about it now (2 years later), those short four months went by in a flash and completely changed who I am today.

Australia had always been a country I was fascinated with- starting with my obsession over Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin (R.I.P.) and love for the movie “Kangaroo Jack.” I’d always loved the idea of a country so incredibly far away and literally “down under,” but with incredible wildlife, wonderful people, and a stunningly beautiful country. Fast-forward to 2015- I finally decided to make the huge trek over there during my last semester at UCSC. Upon getting accepted by the University of Sydney, I was overjoyed but also unprepared for the journey ahead of me. This was the opportunity of a lifetime, but even at 21 years old I had no idea how significant this experience would be in shaping my life today.

The first step was getting on that 15 hour flight from LAX to Sydney. I arrived at the gate for Qantas (the only airline I considered for that lengthy flight)- thrilled and incredibly nervous for the journey ahead of me. Despite the long flight ahead and my crippling anxiety, a little bit of booze and a whole lot of food helped me get through it. After arriving, I finally got out of the plane and attempted to find my ride to the hostel. I’d never even stayed in a hostel before, but this was one of the best I could find and I needed a cheap place to crash for a few weeks until the start of the semester.

Wake Up! Sydney was definitely one of the coolest (and craziest) places to stay. If you’re young and looking to meet other young travelers, it’s the perfect way to enjoy Sydney and party any night of the week. Since I definitely couldn’t live in a hostel while studying at the Uni, I finally had to get my head on straight and look for an apartment (I used Flatmates.com). After searching far and wide with my friends from the hostel, I finally found an amazing apartment in Glebe- just outside of all the craziness of downtown Sydney and only five minutes from my university.

The months flew by after moving in, and I was so excited once I made friends from my classes and started to finally form a social life. My flatmates were amazing and I had such a phenomenal time even when I explored the city on my own. There’s something great about just going out on your own and experiencing a city without anyone or anything holding you back.

I hopped on a bus one time (after moping for most of the week about my lack of a social life and desire to see more of the city) and I went all the way to the Opera House on my own. Everything seemed to slow down after the first month of living abroad- my friends from the hostel had all gone home, I was still adjusting to my new apartment, and I had a whole new university (and city) to navigate. I remember breaking down a few times on the phone with my dad. I felt like it was too long of a wait before going home, too long of a flight to get home, and just too much for me to handle in general. Little did I know that simply waiting a little while longer and taking some steps to branch out would make all the difference in the world.

I managed to make some new friends in my classes, opened up about my anxiety and really worked on pushing my comfort zone while traveling and living abroad. I visited new places and took several plane rides to see the best of Australia. My travels took me to Cairns, Ayers Rock, Melbourne, and of course all around beautiful Sydney. I learned to be more independent, manage my money, cook and clean for myself, budget my time wisely, and especially believe in myself more than ever before. Without this experience, I can’t say I’d be where I am today or even feel the way I do about myself today.

Whether you’re studying abroad or just traveling alone for the first time- remember that you’re never alone. People in other countries are often friendlier than you think- so long as you communicate yourself appropriately and respect their culture. Next time you’re unsure about traveling alone, just think of the freedom you’ll have to work on yourself and embrace making new memories and socializing with interesting people. Don’t be shy to speak to the person next to you, even on your flight there! I actually ended up running into the guy next to me on the plane because he was a professor at the university! Remember, people all over the world are often excited to meet foreigners and hear about their life experiences.

So- are you thinking about traveling alone or studying abroad someday? If you’ve ever traveled alone, comment below with your experience and any of your tips for people who haven’t gone yet! Until next time- thanks for reading “From My Perspective.”