Alright, let’s put the first things first: Germany’s a pretty cool place.
There. I said it.
However, I didn’t always think that way. Actually, I used to think Germany was rather dull and uneventful; nothing interesting, nothing noteworthy about it. It’s where I’m from, it’s what I know – I wanna go abroad and see some exciting places – basically, anywhere but Germany. So, I did. And it was great. So far, I spent extended periods of time in Finland, Malta, Switzerland, and the USA, and all these places taught me something new about the world and myself. Finland taught me that you sometimes need to stop, take a closer look at things, listen and enjoy the silence. It also taught me that you don’t have to deface every square inch of untouched nature you can find with ugly buildings just because it’s there.
Malta taught me patience; that sometimes you just need to let go and chill because most things such as scheduled office hours or repairs can ‘apparently’ wait until tomorrow. Or until next month. Or until pigs fly. 😉
Switzerland taught me that chocolate is not a treat, but an art.
America taught me not to generalise an entire nation based on a handful of lunatics, and to get along with everybody if need be – no matter whether I like their political and social views or not. It also taught me that getting into an argument with an unconditional NRA supporter is the most fruitless, frustrating conversation you could ever engage in. 😉
But most importantly perhaps, all these experiences made me appreciate my home country more. So, here are three things I cherish about Germany having lived abroad:
I’ve talked a bit about this in a previous entry, but there I only scratched the surface, and I can’t stress this enough: Us Germans, we love recycling.
Now, this wasn’t always the case. In the early 80s, the newly founded Green Party was laughed at and dismissed as crazy hippies with woollen sweaters, unwashed hair and a bunch of ridiculous ideas on how we had to save the planet. But over time, people came to realise that those whimsical Green weirdos were actually kind of right, and they managed to implement a nationwide recycling system. Nowadays, nobody in Germany questions the necessity of recycling anymore. It has become pretty much a routine requiring no consideration, like pumping gas, brushing your teeth or having sex with your own spouse. You don’t question it – it needs to be done. Period.
Recycling was never a big deal to me. I never even thought twice about it – that was until I moved abroad and realised how much I actually needed it for my mental balance.
Every German household has at least four different bins – compost (Kompost or Biomüll), paper and cardboard (Papier/Pappe), plastic and metal (Plastik und Metall), residual waste (Restmüll, everything else like hygiene products and everything that doesn’t fall into one of the other categories or is made of mixed materials), and then there’s special collection or rubbish tips for electronics, old furniture, etc.
When I moved to Malta there was exactly ONE bin. ONE. Everything went into O N E bin. Think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill? Let me tell you, it was awful! Every time I opened the lid of that O N E bin, I could almost physically feel Mother Earth groan under the unspeakably ignorant and unnecessary crime against nature I was committing. She was like: ‘Seriously? You gonna throw that empty bag of Walker’s into the same bin as your Gameboy Color’s dead batteries even though you know better? I’m so disappointed in you, FräuleinWunder. And by the way, Gameboy Colors are so 1998 – get over your wannabe hipster-self, girl. ’ And I’d be like: ‘I’m so sorry, Mother Earth! If it would help any I’d separate the rubbish but the rubbish collection’s just gonna throw it all together again anyway. And don’t you dare talk sh*t about my Gameboy Color! Who do you think you are?!’
Anyway, back home I had the absolute (though perhaps slightly delusional) certainty that everything I threw in the bin would be recycled and reused to the highest possible extend – here, I had nothing. Nothing but the image of cute, bubbly dolphins dying a torturous death after getting their snout stuck in my carelessly thrown away grocery bag, and the last bits of the rain forests being hacked to pieces because nobody had bothered to turn my boring notes from a romantic poets class into toilet paper.
2. The German Language
My language is my home – I’m lost when I can’t express myself verbally.
I would unhumbly say that my English is decent for a German, and living in an English-speaking context was never too much of a challenge. But still, instances where I’d reach the end of my language abilities occurred from time to time or where I was just uncertain and concerned whether my language skills would be sufficient for the situations I’d be confronted with.
Last year at my Parent-Trap-like summer camp in Massachusetts, there were countless situations where I would’ve loved to confront our camp director on some of the questionable decisions he made and ask whether he even thought about how implementing his quirky, half-baked ideas made life for us counsellors unnecessarily cumbersome. But I didn’t because I knew he would verbally outwit me in no time simply because I could not say things the way I wanted to say them due to lack of vocabulary and needing too much time to process what he said.
I also kind of feel like the other counsellors might have thought I was a bit dim because I’d say strange things with awkward wording, and not know the most basic things (well, I knew all of those things; I just didn’t know the words for them…:D).
It was even worse when I worked as an au pair in Finland; not knowing more than a couple words in Finnish, and then being left alone with two toddlers who were balling their eyes out because mummy had left for work. ‘Oh my god, will she ever come back?!’ Yeah, of course she will but I couldn’t tell them because I just didn’t know how.
I bet every expatriate living with a foreign language can relate. Since then, I appreciate it so much when everyday conversations aren’t a constant cognitive challenge. Not only that but German is a really cool language in itself. Hollywood Nazi-movies made the world believe that German every-day conversations sound like orders being shouted across a WWII-battlefield. Sorry to break it to you, folks, but constant yelling is not a thing in Germany. When I call my mum to ask her at what temperature I should wash my socks, I don’t yell at her Gauleiter-style. When I check out my groceries at the store, I don’t shout ‘Have a nice day’ at the cashier. We can actually talk at a reasonable volume.
What I personally love about the German language is how expressive and lexically diverse it is. I mean, look at this:
We have more than 20 totally different words where English always uses ‘to make’. Isn’t that awesome? Why do we need that? We don’t know but it’s really cool and it confuses the crap out of language learners. 😀 Or the verb ‘to put’ – in German, we have multiple words for ‘putting something somewhere’ depending on the manner in which something is put somewhere and the position it takes. Just because.
We also have some really batsh*t crazy animal names. You English-speaking folks, your animal names are so boring; just taking random Latin words and stuff. Why not get a bit creative? The Germans love that. That’s why we don’t call a slug and slug but a naked snail, or a sloth a lazy animal, or a rhino a nose horn, and (one of my personal favourites) a tortoise a shield toad. Because it looks like a stretched-out toad with a shield around its body! Amazing, isn’t it? 😀
We also have some really cool words for things that English just doesn’t have.
You always wanted a word to describe the feeling you get when someone else is making a complete fool of themselves in front of you or on TV; doing something utterly embarrassing? Search no more for I raise you: Fremdschämen – ‘being ashamed for someone else’.
Another good one is Torschlusspanik, literally ‘the fear that the gate is closing on you’. If you feel like time’s running out for you to achieve something; you start to panic and rush things, and you’ll probably stumble over your own feet in the process – you’re suffering from Torschlusspanik.
Something we’ve all felt before: Treppenwitz. Literally ‘staircase joke’. You know, when you’re in a argument with someone and they get the last word and as soon as they turn around and walk away you think of the most demolishing comeback ever? Too late, your chance is gone. That’s nothing but a Treppenwitz.
I could go on about this stuff forever…:D
3. German Food
This is a classic – everybody misses their home country’s food when living abroad and so did I but this is different.
I never thought of myself as a picky eater. Apart from the odd stuff you don’t like that everybody has, I pretty much eat everything. But being a German in America was almost literally an acid test for my taste buds.
America, what is wrong with your bread? You call those white, crust-less slices of mushy nothingness ‘bread’?!
In all seriousness, that’s not bread. In Germany – the motherland of bread high culture – this does not even deserve the name ‘bread’! If anything, we call it ‘toast bread’ to indicate that it is not actual bread. And I don’t know any German who would eat said toast bread untoasted if they’re not on the edge of starvation. As a personal rule of thumb: If bread is lighter in colour than my own wannabe-ginger skin and rips apart when I try to spread cream cheese on it, it’s literally and figuratively for the birds.
And don’t even get me started on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! No offence, America, I know how much you love them but in all seriousness, a PBJ is NOT an appropriate meal for an 8-year-old. To be precise, that’s not an appropriate meal for anyone. It’s chewable cancer, that’s what it is.
Six weeks into my time at camp, my mum sent me a parcel with some real German dark rye bread. You can’t possibly imagine the culinary explosion in my mouth when I took my first bite after what felt like an eternity of withdrawal.
The campers were like: ‘What is that? Ugh, gross!’ Those barbarians just didn’t understand the magic of a slice of real bread with a 2cm thick layer of liver sausage spread on it.
In Malta, the bread situation was quite alright. Yeah, they didn’t have oven-fresh crusty brown bread but at least they had packages of vacuum-sealed slices to keep my spirits up. It kind of was my methadone while I couldn’t get my heroin. 😀 But America was just the worst on the bread side. The ABSOLUTE WORST. I grew so sick of it, I haven’t touched a slice of toast in more than nine months. Sorry, ‘Murica but true story. Dying
toast brown and calling it ‘German bread’ is not how German bread works. 😛
If you wanna try some real German bread, go to any German bakery and be amazed by the vast selection of shapes, colours and flour mixes they offer. You can start with the light ones and slowly work your way up or you can do it hard-core mode and go straight for the Pumpernickel – an almost black rye bread which is baked (or rather steamed) at a low temperature (~100°C/210°F) for about 16-24 hours to achieve its distinct savoury-sweet taste and smell.
Ever heard of Mett? That’s ground pork seasoned with salt and pepper and topped off with onions, mustard seeds, bell peppers, parsley – whatever you like. It’s eaten on bread or rolls.
Before you judge – try!
You can get it at most butcher shops and most larger supermarket’s meat counter. Or you can prepare it yourself from plain ground pork; adding finely chopped onions and the above mentioned seasoning. You also can do some really fun things with it, for example, make a Mettigel (Mett hedgehog) – one of the highest achievements of the German haute cuisine. Just take a large clump of Mett and form it to look like this:
Then add onions as spikes and grapes, olives or raisins as the eyes and nose. Serve cold and become the biggest biggie at every pot-luck-party!
However, Mett is a very northern German thing. You most likely won’t be able to find it in Bavaria or anywhere in the south. Even here in Mecklenburg the variety of different types of Mett is not as large as in Lower Saxony, where I’m from. Don’t miss out on this, guys.
Don’t take some of my more cynical remarks too seriously, though. I really like America and Malta, and all the other places I’ve been to. It’s all said in good humour. 🙂
So, yeah. You could say Germany and all its little amenities only grew on me once I had to live without them for a while. It is a comforting thought to know that, no matter where I go, Germany will always be there and have those things waiting for me when I come back.
Germany, you’re quite alright. I like you. Please, don’t change. 🙂
Cheerio, folks, and until next time!