This was written when I first arrived in Germany, in 2000, and actually quite a lot has changed since then. And though I make fun of the Germans, I have really grown to love them despite all their differences, or maybe because of them.
Well, I've been living here in Germany for almost two months now and have made some observations of „the good, the bad and the ugly“ that I thought I’d share with you! It’s somewhat lengthy, but the best stuff is at the end so be patient!
I’ll start with „the good“ and work down from there….
First of all, I now live in the most beautiful city in the world. Regensburg. The downtown area has buildings dating back to the 11th century and even has a portion of a stone wall which was built by the Romans in 194 A.D. The streets are narrow and cobblestoned, lined with little shops and cafes. There are tiny walking lanes which sometimes open up to courtyards filled with flowers in the window sills of the buildings. Everytime I walk downtown I find something new. The architechture is awesome, with styles that are varied but kept in tact over time. They have laws that don’t allow modification of the outside of buildings except for refurbishment, so the insides are contemporary, but the outsides still look medieval. We have a great cathedral in the middle of town which is called the Dom and it’s as grand as Westminister Abbey.
Everyone in Bavaria owns a BMW, or so it seems, but that’s where it ends, once you leave Bavaria the only ones you’ll see are rentals. Except for the VW’s and Audi’s all the other vechicles are ridiculously small. A VW Golf is a big car. Peugot, Renault, Citroen?… the French should just stick to what they are great at, like bread, wine and cheese. Opels, SEATs, Trabants, and other cars I don’t recognize and have never heard of. Then there are the Minis, you’ve got to love em. They look straight out of a Charlie Chaplin movie or from a circus where they try to pack as many clowns in a possible. Air conditioning? Ha! Never standard. You can’t get your window up fast enough when at a red light next to a 1975 Mercedes diesel with Polish plates pumping out black fumes. Hack, hack!
The Alps and the Bavarian Forest are awesome. I have never seen the color of green in such depth and brilliance anywhere else, not even the lush US Northwest. The forests are thick and fresh and the smell in the air is breathtaking, what you would try to bottle for an air freshener. Much of the forest land is privately owned, but you are allowed to walk, bike, hike, whatever you like. The countryside is also beautiful with its rolling hills, dotted by small villages each of which has a grand church in its center, of course dating back hundreds of years. They are made of stone and even on a 90 degree day, they are chilly inside. The stained glass and murals are so exquisite you wonder how many unknown Michalangos there may have been. There are fields of grain with bright yellow flowers, hillsides covered in red poppies and bright blue cornflowers, and rows of hops winding up 15 foot poles that look like huge grape vines. And we all know what hops are for!
Beer, ah beer. Baviaria, the home of beer, 627 breweries in the state alone. They’ve been brewing here for 900 years. I’ve done a little testing and can honestly say they’ve perfected it. Not only are the varieties endless but they have a different glass for each type. Tall ones with a bulbous top for Weissbier; slender ones for Pils; the standard pint glass for Helles or Export. And it’s cheap, DM 3,50 to 4,00 ($1.75 to $2.00) for a half liter which is a little more than a pint. They also have something especially for the bikers called a Radler which is half pils and half lemonade and is great when you are really thirsty, those you can order by the liter mug, and you don’t have worry about it getting warm if you drink too slow, cause when it comes to the table it’s already at room temperature. Beer gardens are everywhere, but now I know the origin of the term „beer wench“. The service is so slow, you can expect to wait a half hour until you are even approached at your table, not only that, they are not known for their "customer service". And, yes they are wearing Dirdls (traditional clothing), but no, there are no St. Pauli girls here.
Okay, let’s move along to „the bad“…
They don’t speak English. Yea, you hear in the US, „Oh, everyone in Europe speaks English.“ Yea, right, in England and that’s about it. Not only that, but the German spoken in Bavaria is not the German learned in school, even the northern Germans have trouble understanding it, and it’s not just an accent like the U.S. southern drawl, they make up new words. In most of Germany the typical greeting is „Guten Tag“ which means „Good day“, that’s normal right? Well, in Bavaria (and Austria), in the shops, on the phone, everywhere, they say „Gruss Gott“, which loosely translated means „Give my regards to God“.
The food sucks. Plain and simple. Potatoes and sausage are standard fare. Pickles count as a vegetable as a side dish with your meal. Meat doesn’t come neatly cleaned and packaged like in America, nope, it’s all sloppy and bloody and fatty and still has veins, and sometimes more than that. Oh, and meat means pork, period. If you want a „beef“ steak, you’d better specify, or you’ll be getting a pork chop. Milk….(this is scary)…they have what they call „H“ milk here which most everyone drinks. It comes in a cardboard carton, at room temperature and you can store it in your cupboard for weeks before using it, then it goes into your fridge and lasts forever. It kind of tastes like soy or something but there’s a picture of a cow on the front so I think it’s actually a dairy product. You can buy fresh milk but it only stays good a couple of days because there are no preservatives and it only comes in a liter size, no gallon jugs of anything, anywhere. Ditto on juice. Their orange juice is our Tang, orange drink, they’ve never heard of pulp.
Only the best restaurants will provide you with napkins, and you’ll have to ask for them in peoples‘ homes, they aren’t on the table. They don’t sell napkins in the big 150 Scott‘s economy pack like in the US. Nope, napkins are a formality and are given in little packets as gifts to be used on special occasions or when entertaining your boss, who probably wouldn't use it anyway.
Clothing styles. Apparently, whatever makes you look fat and disproportioned is vogue. As far as I’m concerned, tight white pants on overweight women should be against the law instead of a fashion statement. Also, it’s ok here to wear the exact same outfit several days in a row and the same pants all week without a wash in between. People walk a lot here, so you’d think comfy shoes, like sneakers, would be prevalent, not so. Clearly they believe that sneakers are for sports only. High heeled funky sandals are on every woman, they look great, but upon closer inspection, you notice that every inch of her feet (which aren’t calloused) are covered in BandAids.
Everyone smokes. And to make it easier to get your butts, they have little „Zigarette“ vending machines on every street corner, and not just in the cities, even in the tiny little villages! Hey kid, want a smoke?
They recycle everything here! Paper, metals, plastics and everything has to be sorted to the nth degree. After one week here we got a letter in our mailbox from the city saying that too many recyclable items where found in our regular trash. They searched our trash! Hmmm, what’s their job title? „Trash Engineers“?
I think Bavaria must hold the record for churches and clocktowers. From every window in our apartment we can see anywhere from one to three different clocktowers, and they all have bells which ring every quarter hour. Isn’t that lovely you say? Yea, during the middle of the afternoon it’s nice, but it doesn’t stop, 24 hours a day they ring and at 6 am they play some kind of special waking up song that goes on for 10 minutes! But they kindly delay it to 8am on the weekends, thanks, and give my regards to God.
And finally, what you’ve all been waiting for, „the ugly“….
First of all, it is quite clear that America was founded by the English, not the mainland Europeans. Although Americans can oftentimes be pigs, they definitely have acquired the culture and comparative conservatism as learned from our forefathers of the polite English society. It's quite a different story in mainland Europe.
Toilets often have a little „shelf“molded into the bowl, which is where whatever you „deposit“ remains until you flush. But I guess I should be glad that at least they have toilet bowls in Germany, versus France where sometimes you just get a hole in the floor (even at established restaurants). Ladies, if you come across these holes, be warned, the recommended foot locations are for men, if you even able to hover with your feet in these spots you are going to get splashed. I recommend you hold it.
Many people chew with their mouths open. The fork is in the left hand and the knife in the right at all times. They eat as quickly as they can without looking away from their plates, but God forbid they were to look up and speak because they’ll spit all over you. Why should you stop chewing when you talk? They have bad breath and rotten teeth, they’ve never heard of lifesavers although they do have TicTacs, but who still uses Tic Tacs? Obviously no one here.
And they have a particular odor. But when you eat primarily pork, what do you expect? Many homes don’t have showers, just tubs. Sponge baths are an acceptable form of bathing. If you are lucky to have a shower, using it once or twice a weeks is apparently sufficient. Deodorant is not required. Nor is armpit or leg shaving for women.
Naked people are everywhere. I never know when I’m going to run into one. A nice walk in the park, and there’s everyone laying in the sun in their underwear or b-day suit. And it’s not just attractive young people, it's all shapes and forms. We were sitting on the patio at the lake house quietly enjoying breakfast, and oh, look, here comes the 90-year-old great, great grandmother from next door for a swim from her dock. She takes off her shirt, shorts, and doesn’t stop there….ackkkkk!!!!!!
And last, but not least, personal space. In the United States, we have an unwritten rule that you need to allow a couple of feet between you and the person to whom you are speaking unless you are intimate with that person. Well, here, your personal space constitues the volume in which your body exists and nothing more. People will sit right up on you in a beer garden, park bench, bus, wherever and think nothing of it, and as they talk they wave their hands and lift their arms, releasing that oh so familar after-pork smell.
My worst nightmare is a fat, naked guy sitting right up on me on a bus who hasn’t showered in a week and is spitting his sausage as he’s jabbering in some language that can’t possibly be German, but is.
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