After five months of living in Deutschland and visits to Belgien and das Vereinigte Königriech, I saw first-hand just how diverse different countries can be. Now, upon returning to den USA after 11 months in Deutschland, I have come to appreciate things about living in both countries that, without my Fulbright, I probably would not have noticed.
Here is a list of some of the areas in which the US and Germany differ and how (in my opinion) the two countries stack up:
I knew raising a baby in the U.S. would be expensive, but I didn’t realize just how expensive baby supplies in the States were until I shopped for them after two months of caring for a baby in Germany. Everything from diapers and wipes to clothes are much more affordable in Deutschland; here’s a breakdown of some of the prices (reflective of comparable products e.g. package size, product quality):
|Item||Germany (EUR)*||Germany (USD)*||USA (USD)|
|Size 1 diapers (store brand, normal pack)||0.11/diaper||0.12/diaper||0.18/diaper|
|Scented diaper trash bags||0.01/bag||0.01/bag||0.02/bag|
Germany is famous for its Bier, which is held to higher standards legally than that of American brews. Each region has its own specialty (e.g. the Rheinland boasts Kölsch), ranging from Dunkelbier to Hefeweizen. Not only is German beer delicious, but it is extremely inexpensive. At restaurants, a 0,33 L beer, which would cost about $5 in the States, typically costs about $3.10 (€2.80); 0.5 L beers, a $7 drink in the U.S, costs about $5 (€4.50). In the grocery stores, beers—even specialty ones—typically cost $0.50 - $0.99 (€0.45 – €0.89) for a half-liter bottle. The only thing Germany is lacking is a good IPA (although Beck’s, which is based in Bremen, has a pretty good IPA).
The currency in Deutschland is the Euro, which makes traveling to other EU countries (at least those in the Eurozone) a breeze without currency exchanges. The different-sized bills are easy to pull apart and sort through, and the multi-colored currency makes it easy to spot a 5 (green) from a 10 (red). However, there are three copper coins—1, 2, and 5 cents—of nearly the same size; these tend to build up in your coin purse because they require a lot of time for sorting. Moreover, €1 and €2 come in the form of large coins that get heavy once they start to accumulate.
On the other hand, U.S. dollars consist of bills that are all the same size, hence they easily and neatly fold up for storage in your wallet or pocket. Coins are more distinct; there are only four common types of coin (25¢, 10¢, 5¢, 1¢) in the U.S. dollar whereas the euro has eight (€2, €1, 50¢, 20¢, 10¢, 5¢, 2¢, 1¢).
In the States, most coffeehouses have free WiFi and plenty of space for laptop computers. Of course, patrons are welcome to socialize sans technology too. In Germany, a coffeehouse can mean anything from your internet café (although sometimes an internet café can be little more than a kiosk that sells liquor and cigarettes) to a small Rösterei where hours of computerized dabblings would be frowned upon.
Another big difference between German and American coffeehouses is a matter of beverage types. Many German coffeehouses have a limited menu of only hot drinks, whereas most American establishments offer iced and frozen beverages, as well as flavors such as vanilla or hazelnut.
Iced tea in the U.S. comes in all kinds of varieties: unsweetened, sweet, lemon, raspberry, peach, …. These varieties range from homemade to Nestea or Lipton varieties. In Germany, they have Nestea and Lipton too, but only two flavor options: Zitrone and Pfirsch. (In reality, German iced tea will have you asking whether you’d like some tea with your lemon; it is more flavor than tea.)
Our Hebamme looked at me as if I were crazy when I said we didn't need a bath for Günther because we would just use the kitchen sink (like my mom had done with me). When I returned to the States, I realized that the sink in my German apartment was only a quarter of the size of that at my parents'. No wonder we couldn't give the baby a bath in our German kitchen....
Mexican food/mexikanische Nahrung
Quality of Mexican food in the States ranges from Taco Bell and Old El Paso to local "authentic" restaurants. No matter what you opt for, the food is bound to be good. In Germany, however, Old El Paso has fewer options which don't live up to the American standard, the only Taco Bell is on a military base, and any restaurant with a Spanish name is... well... Spanish.
England is probably the only country in the world that can mess up pizza. (I‘m looking at you, Norwich pizza establishments.) Luckily, Köln (at least Ehrenfeld) is full of Italians. While Mesino’s II in Carlisle, PA, has my heart for their chicken pesto Bambino, Joey’s delivery pizza chain in Germany takes the cake (rather, pie) for their Italia pizza—a mix of mozzarella balls, pesto, basil, and pepperoni over tomato sauce.
However, whole pizzas aren't always cut by default in Germany; you have to make sure you indicate you want your pizza geschnitten.
There are a few really cool jungle gyms in the U.S., but Europeans really aren't afraid of their kids scraping their knees. German Spielplätze are covered in extensive rope-mesh contractions; really high, near-physically-impossibly-steep slides; and towers not meant for those wary of heights.
Public transportation/öffentliche Verkehrsmittel
The only experience I have using public transport regularly in the United States is was in the Boston area when I did research at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. As someone doing research without a strict schedule, the public transport was okay (although buses could be as much as 45 minutes late). In both Marburg and Köln, buses and trains, respectively, were generally on time.
Unless you have recycling bins outside your home in the U.S., getting rid of your plastics and paper such that they don't end up in a landfill can be time-consuming and even expensive if you have to drive to a recycling facility. While many grocery stores offer recycling for plastic bags, there are usually no dumping stations for plastic bottles.
In Germany, not only are plastic bottles recycled, but most glass bottles and even some sturdier plastic bottles are re-used. Most bottles—even across different brands—are identical (sans label) so that they can easily be re-used five (for plastic) to ten (for glass) times before being melted down. As an incentive for people to recycle, Pfand (typically €0.08 for glass and €0.25 for plastic bottles) is charged at the register. All grocery stores are equipped with machines that collect the bottles and print you a receipt so that you can get the value of your Pfand bottles applied against your total bill or as a cash return. The bottles are then collected and returned to bottling companies for cleaning and refilling.
At Dickinson (and I assume at most American institutions of higher education), my student fees ($250/semester) went directly to Student Senate, and much of those fees got rerouted into things like student programming. My Semestergebühren at die Universität zu Köln were a little more expensive (about $270/semester), but the benefits included a semester ticket for not just Köln but all of (which is the Bundesland in Germany). Using my student ID, I could ride on any Deutsche Bahn train (except and trains); on weekends and after 7:00 p.m., I could even take ein Fahrgast (i.e. Alex) with me on Kölner Verbetrieb (KVB) trains for no charge.
The water pressure in my parents’ guest shower is to-die-for, but in Germany, you have separate knobs for water power and temperature. This means that you can pre-set the water temperature rather than fiddle with hot and cold knobs every time you go to shower.
Both the U.S. and Germany have food trucks and trailers, but German street sausage is both inexpensive and delicious. Three euros for a foot-long Bratwurst that hangs off the Brötchen? Sehr lecker!