My Life in Germany – Expectations vs Reality
Remember how hard and stressful I said it’s been trying to deal with culture shock and adjust to living in Germany? I’ve come to realize that a lot of my stress stemmed from expectations that just weren’t met when I got to Freiburg. I thought things would go one way, and when they didn’t I freaked out. Here are a few of my expectations and what the reality turned out to be:
Expectation #1: That the renovations Andy was having completed in the apartment would be done by the time I got here.
Reality: A leaking pipe from a few months back meant that the wall between the bathroom and the kitchen had to be replaced before the bathroom could be renovated. Since the tile layer wasn’t satisfied with the condition of the new wall, it had to be rebuilt three times. This delayed things several weeks, which meant that for two weeks our bathroom still had no shower walls and the kitchen had no plumbing. Taking a shower meant the majority of the bathroom got wet. No plumbing in the kitchen meant trying to wash dishes in the bathroom sink and usually just deciding to eat out.
Expectation #2: That the food wouldn’t take long to get used to since it’s not drastically different from American cuisine.
Reality: Germans eat a lot of pork products. The lunch meat aisle in the grocery store is overwhelmingly filled with more varieties of ham, salami, sausage, and other pork products than I thought existed. Even different shapes of the same exact meat slices. But very little choice for sliced turkey or chicken. Eating out is tricky too since there are so many meals made with pork and sometimes only one chicken choice. There are bakeries scattered all over town that sell cheap sandwiches, but I’m not a fan of those either. In the States a sandwich is mostly about the meat, the bread is just the holder. But here, it’s all about the bread and there might only be two or three slices of meat and one little slice of tomato. And they put butter on it. Odd.
Expectation #3: That I would be doing so much walking and bike riding that I’d lose at least a few pounds by the end of the summer.
Reality: I did buy a bike. But when Andy and I rode home with it, I remembered I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was probably 14 years old. I’m nervous about riding around town because of the cars, even though Freiburg is one of the most bike-friendly places on Earth. Drivers slow down or even stop until the bike gets by, bikes usually have right of way, there are bike lanes all over, and I’ve been told that 99.9% of the time, any accident involving a car and a bicycle will be ruled in favor of the bike. But I’m not ready to leave our neighborhood. As for the walking, I think on average I walk about a mile or two a day and not all at once. Better than what I did in Atlanta, but not enough to result in much weight loss. Plus, remember expectation #2 above? Well, I compensated by eating a lot of yummy pasta Bolognese and After Eight (mint chocolate chip) gelato.
Expectation #4: That air drying our laundry wouldn’t be that big of a deal.
Reality: Andy didn’t even have a washing machine until I got here, so even being able to wash our clothes without having to haul them to a laundromat is a big bonus. For the most part, Germans feel the damage a dryer does to the environment outweighs the benefit it provides, so not many people own them and they are expensive. Plus we wouldn’t have room for another appliance anyway. I always knew we’d get a drying rack, but I never realized how annoying it is to use. Minor inconvenience really, but for someone who is used to throwing clothes into the dryer, it’s painfully tedious to spend so much time hanging up each item on the rack. It also means clothes and towels don’t feel soft when they’re dry, they feel kind of crispy. The crispy feeling fades pretty quickly but it’s hard to get used to.
There have been others, but I think you get the point. Having too many expectations definitely led to stress, disappointment and tears. I didn’t think culture shock would be so hard to deal with since Germany is a completely modern country and on the surface, doesn’t appear to be drastically different. But there will always be culture shock when you move, especially to a new country. I should’ve expected that and thrown the other expectations out the window.
October 3, 2011 @ 3:48 AM
I thought I was the only one! I was let down by a lot of my reality when I got to Italy. You feel like, as a traveler, you aren’t allowed to complain, but you’re still human!
I hope that things are slowly getting better (I know you’re away on your trip at the moment) but that all will be sorted when you come back! I know that the little changes can be annoying but you will MOSTLY get used to them. The clothing rack is much easier to deal with in the summer! 🙂
October 3, 2011 @ 11:59 AM
Wow, thanks! It’s really great to hear this happened to other people too. I’m sure I’ll be better prepared when I get back at the end of February. Thanks for the encouragement!
October 3, 2011 @ 12:24 PM
I love that Annie said it perfect “You feel like, as a traveler, you aren’t allowed to complain, but you’re still human!”. Damn it we are able to and well I am glad you wrote this. It gives people an honest look at how a big change may feel & actually be like. I hate that expectations most of the time let us down… but its life & we live and we learn & we adjust to what is out of our control.
October 4, 2011 @ 3:23 AM
Thanks Jaime! Yep, it’s definitely not all wonderful and rosy all the time. I’m hoping I’ll loosen up a little after all this time on the road too. Hope you’re doing good!
October 3, 2011 @ 12:34 PM
I hear you on the drying thing! I think most of Europe don’t use dryers. Since I’ve been in Russia, I have to time my washing to allow at least 2 days to dry and the only way to get jeans dry is to hang them in front of a heater!
October 4, 2011 @ 3:24 AM
It’s a shame it’s not warmer where you are, because our clothes usually dry in about 24 hours or so. But jeans do have to be timed out if I want to be able to wear a specific pair…and I only own 2!
October 3, 2011 @ 2:35 PM
It’s good you’ve been able to pinpoint the reason for your distress. Knowing can be half the battle to feeling better. I suppose now that you’re on your trip there will be all kinds of other stresses to worry about instead!
October 4, 2011 @ 3:25 AM
Yes, definitely different kinds of stresses on the road, and it’s been less than a week! But you’re right, being able to identify what was stressing me out in Freiburg helped and should help when I return.
October 3, 2011 @ 4:20 PM
Butter is the German Mayo! 🙂
You will get used to all of it but rough towels are one thing that I can’t stand, no matter the situation. Nothing like a hot, soft, Bounce scented towel fresh from the dryer. Ahhh… 🙂
October 4, 2011 @ 3:27 AM
You’re right about the towels, but I’m getting used to it. It’s really only crispy for the first 1 or 2 uses, then it’s fine. And the butter isn’t exactly bad, it’s just weird. And I think they put too much on the sandwich!
Andi of My Beautiful Adventures
October 3, 2011 @ 4:49 PM
I think I would have had some MAJOR culture shock moving to BA even though I have romanticized the city in my mind for years and years. Thankfully, my hubby adjusted REALLY well to life in the States. Hang in there! You should do a post about the things you love in Germany 🙂
October 4, 2011 @ 3:28 AM
I’m so glad he adjusted well to living in Charlotte! I’ll probably be able to do a post about things I love about Germany when I get back from my trip. Thanks!
October 3, 2011 @ 5:19 PM
I agree with Annie and Jaime — it’s important to share the differences in expectations and realities and moving to another country is a big deal 🙂 Traveling and/or living as an expat does *not* mean that everything is easy or that we’re on holiday or even “permanent holiday” (ugh, I hate getting that one).
I missed having a dryer in Oz for the soft feel for my clothes and can completely empathize with that one.
October 4, 2011 @ 3:30 AM
Exactly, moving to another country or doing long term travel is not a vacation, it takes a lot of work. I’m glad so many people can relate to what I’m going through and are glad I wrote about this!
October 3, 2011 @ 5:53 PM
Hang in there! I’m sure you’ll get used to the German oddities soon 😉 I hear you on the sandwiches – but the other way around. When sandwiches are served at work (here in Texas) I usually take some of the meat out. Being from Germany I find it odd that they stuff them so full. One of the first things I do when arriving in Germany for vacation is to buy a prepared Broetchen at a bakery. Yumm! And the whole drying thing… I’m not sure if it’s all environment-reasons. I think in Germany we also really believe that too much drying is pretty bad for a lot of your clothes. So, while you will find that many households will fully dry things like towels, socks, and stuff like that, most people won’t dry their T-shirts, skirts, etc. for fear the material might get damaged or the clothes will shrink.
October 4, 2011 @ 3:33 AM
I’m sure that’s true about the damage to clothing, I do like that I don’t really have to worry about my clothes shrinking. I’ve actually been tempted to buy 2 sandwiches so I can combine the meat into one, but that seems like a crazy waste of good bread. I admire you for adjusting to life in TX, I think that would be culture shock for a lot of Americans, let alone someone from another country!
October 4, 2011 @ 5:55 PM
Texas really is kind of different 🙂 But it’s also lots of fun – at times. I think culture shock kind of sneaks up on you, especially when you don’t expect it. It really did hit me here as well at the beginning. People look similar, you get similar things in the stores, you do similar things – and you just wonder why things don’t seem to “fit”. Sometimes it’s easier to adjust to a completely different culture, because you don’t expect to fit in and you expect difficulties… If you like more meat on your sandwich, just ask for it. A lot of times, they prepare the sandwiches fresh in the bakeries and maybe they won’t mind throwing on a few extras for you 🙂
October 8, 2011 @ 10:59 AM
Hmm maybe when I speak German better I’ll ask for more meat on my sandwich… 🙂
October 3, 2011 @ 10:32 PM
More bread, 1 slice of ham, tomato and butter….. thats exactly how it is in Malta too. Not to mention with “salad” actually means either A) lettuce and tomato on the side, or B) coleslaw on the sandwich.
Crispy towels–i know the pain
October 4, 2011 @ 3:34 AM
Thanks Jess! Yeah, the salad thing is a little weird in Germany too, usually has weird dressing on it and odd things I don’t expect like green beans. I’m getting used to the crispy towels though…slowly…
October 5, 2011 @ 5:10 AM
When we were in Madrid we had to hang dry everything and it drove me a bit batty – especially because my jeans took forever. One thing I do LOVE though is how you can put your towel on the radiator and you get out of the shower and it is waiting for you all warm.
October 8, 2011 @ 11:00 AM
We have one of those towel rack warming things, I can’t wait to use it in the winter!
October 6, 2011 @ 11:31 PM
hahaha…very true, there is a whole lot to it when adjusting to live in another country, but you get used to it…
October 8, 2011 @ 11:02 AM
October 10, 2011 @ 8:10 AM
I can really relate to what you’re saying in this article. I’ve often found myself having to adjust my levels of expectations while traveling or living abroad. I remember when I first backpacked in South America I was constantly comparing it with my experiences in SE Asia.
October 10, 2011 @ 5:27 PM
Thanks Samuel! It’s so nice to hear I’m not the only one experiencing those things!
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