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:

our new bathroom, complete with shower walls

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.

my bike, with 26 inch wheels instead of 28 because I’m that short

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.

our new drying rack

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.