Sunday, May 5, 2013

Differences Between Germany and the USA

Over the course of my time abroad, I have noticed many similarities and differences between Germany and the USA. Most of the similarities arise from the fact that both are developed and westernized countries—both have cars and roads, supermarkets and fashion trends. But there are also many differences between these two world powers. Some differences are major, like beliefs about political systems and the environment, and some are minor, such as food preferences and cell phone plans. In this blog I am going to list a few of the more minor differences, purely for the sake of entertainment—I’m not an anthropologist making sophisticated hypotheses. These differences have been observed during my time traveling, speaking to German people, and listening to American people who have been living in Germany. Enjoy!

  • Free public toilets are virtually unheard of in Germany. You can find them in train stations and at rest stops, but you must pay to use them. Public restrooms are easy to find in the US, and are almost always free.
  • In Germany jelly donuts have far less jelly, and pastries usually aren’t as sweet.
  • In Germany the sales tax is included in the price of an item, while in the US tax is added at checkout.
  • Everything is smaller in Germany: houses, cars, people, animals, televisions, beds, refrigerators, and food portions.
  • Graffiti in Germany is more like art—it is high quality and tastefully placed. In the US, tagging and raunchy scrawl are much more common.
  • In Germany, women will often skip wearing a bra in the summertime, and if they wear a bra they are careful to hide it with loose clothing. American women wear bras on principle and don’t care if the bra shows through their tight shirts.
  • While US restaurants often stop serving food around 9 or 10 pm, in Germany food is usually served until midnight. People come to restaurants late and stay for a long time.
  • When you reserve a table in Germany, it’s yours for the night, and after the waiter or waitress brings your food they will leave you alone until you flag them down for the bill. In the US, waiters will continually check in on their tables, and it is expected that diners will leave soon after they have eaten.
  • It is frowned upon to ask to take meal leftovers home with you in Germany—they are typically thrown away. In the US, asking for a box is the norm. 
  • In Germany, it is considered to be very rude to ask for free water with your meal—you are expected to buy chilled bottles of water, either still or sparkling. Also, public water fountains are extremely uncommon, while in the US free water is easy to obtain nearly anywhere.
  • Germans think that cheerleaders are fictitious. They believe cheerleaders only exist on television as tacky add-ons to a show, but have a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact that cheerleading is a common part of US culture. Germans tend to view the concept of cheerleaders as preposterous, sexist, and degrading.
  • The drinking age in Germany is 16 for beer and 18 for hard alcohol, though the laws are not enforced and drinking is not an area of public concern. In the US the drinking age is 21 and the laws are strictly enforced.
  • In Germany, jaywalking is taboo and can get you into big trouble. In the US it is commonly accepted.
  • There are no closets in Germany; families buy heavy wardrobes instead.
  • In Germany houses do not come with their kitchens; stoves, counters, refrigerators, etc., are bought once and move with the family. In the US kitchens are part of the house.
  • Germans usually buy homes with the intention of living there for the rest of their lives, while Americans will switch houses much more often.
  • In the US, coffee shops are places for people to hang out, read, study, and use the free wifi. US coffee shops have a wider beverage selection, and each coffee shop has a unique atmosphere and culture. In Germany, coffee shops are places to drink coffee and leave.
  •  In the US, book stores are equipped with arm chairs and coffee shops, they are open late (often till 11pm) and on weekends, and people are welcome to browse and read as they please. In Germany, book stores discourage browsing, do not have coffee shops or a welcoming atmosphere, and they close early and on weekends.
  • In the US, highways and driving instructions usually use compass points to guide you. Highways have names such as I40 West and I40 East. In Germany, they drop the compass direction and add a city name, so that you have to know the location of the city and where it is in reference to your destination. Highways have names such as B1 Nürnberg and B1 München, and drivers are supposed to know that München is south of Nürnberg. This gets harder when signs use obscure villages as directional points.

For a more intelligent and in-depth comparison of Germany and the US, you can visit the following website:

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Goal Without a Plan is Just a Wish

Dear friends, I am sorry for the absence of blog posts in the last weekends. I have been quiet lackadaisical in my writing due to the distraction of a myriad obligations and daydreams. Plus, I haven’t been doing anything very exciting. I am working hard in the classroom, where I have undertaken a multi-dimensional unit on Anne Frank and the Holocaust, and have been working to fulfill my university requirements to secure teacher certification. Last weekend I ventured to Frankfurt, where I took my (8 hour long) teacher certification exams. I did very well on the tests, and am excited to be just weeks from gaining certification as a high school English teacher. Yay! I’m a little disappointed that I won’t be able to be at my graduation ceremony or celebrate with anyone I love, but a placement in Germany was a good trade-off for missing graduation.

The other source of my distractions and daydreams come from my plans to continue onto Southeast Asia when I finish my placement here at the end of May. I have made up my mind to backpack through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam for five weeks before settling down on the island of Phuket, Thailand for five weeks to complete my Cambridge certification to teach English as a foreign language (the CELTA cert). I am getting so excited to roam these beautiful tropical countries with few possessions and no itinerary—my daydreams involve a lot of beaches, hammocks, and piña coladas. I also want to ride elephants in the rainforest, gape at ancient temples, get lost in chaotic markets, and savor the delicious local cuisine. The CELTA certification portion of the trip will be intense, but I’ll get to work with real Thai students every day, and at the end of it I will be ready to teach English anywhere in the world, in the United States or abroad. I’ll see where the wind takes me, though I know South America has been calling my name for far too long.   

Concerning my Germany/Europe travels, I have a few goal destinations to reach in my last few weekends here. Realistically, between conservation of funds and the amount of work and planning I have to do, I am not too optimistic I will reach them all. The list is as follows:
  1. The Black Forest. I have, for as long as I knew it existed, wanted to walk barefoot in the Black Forest. There is no reason for this, I just have a strong desire to do so. Preferably while wearing red lipstick and carrying a white flower.
  2.  Ellich, Germany. This is a tiny village that carries my family name (mother’s maiden name). It is very probable that my Germany ancestors founded this town, so I would like to set foot there as well.
  3.  Amsterdam. I want to see Anne Frank’s house in person, plus the tree-lined avenues and quaint canals are very appealing.  Also, whenever I tell anyone under the age of 30 that I have been to Europe numerous times they always ask about Amsterdam, and I’m tired of their disappointment when I say I haven’t been.
  4. Poland. Again, I have no objective in visiting Poland, but why not? I think my lack of expectations for this country would leave me pleasantly surprised.

So my dear friends, this concludes the update of my mental meanderings and my near-future plans. But, as Mr. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry would say, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” I miss you all and will try to think of something very exciting to tell you in my next blog. Cn krathạ̀ng t̀x mā (until later in Thai).

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Spring Break: Switzerland, Italy, & France

This spring break was one of the most wonderful I have ever experienced. It was full to the brim with new experiences, tastes, and people—with laughter and sunshine filling in the cracks. I felt like a queen: I got to have a royal dinner in a castle in Italy, sail around one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, and lounge on the Mediterranean coast eating French pastries.  I felt like a child doing handstands in the Alps, letting the smell of fresh flowers tickle my nose, and riding a bicycle by the sea. Mostly I just felt connected—with the world, with the people that I met, with each moment. The world is so beautiful and inviting; when you open your heart and eyes, it opens its arms to you. It dazzles you and twirls you around in the sun while your feet are dusted with drops of dew. It shows you magic, real magic, and you feel magical because you can see it. When you are open and present you become thankful and happy, and the world rewards these feelings by showing you even more beauty.

I documented some moments in my trusty moleskin journal, and I am going to share the events of my wonderful spring break that spanned 7 days and 4 countries (if you include Monaco, which is only 0.78 a square mile). Enjoy!
Izzy picked me up before dawn last Friday and we hit the road for our adventure. A few coffee breaks and a couple of hours later, we crossed from Germany into Switzerland! I nibbled strawberries moist on my lips while Alps and villages flew past the rain-splattered windows; I felt so privileged and alive!

Once we arrived at Catherine’s apartment, we crashed on the couches for a couple of hours while the rain continued to patter against the windows. Finally, bright-eyed and excited, we headed out to see the city. We took our two spunky midget dogs and took a stroll around the border of the lake. Little boats roosted against the colorful banks, which were laced with ritzy shops, unique trees, and fragrant flowers. Vineyards met the water in some places, and there were swans floating about. It was pretty as a postcard.

When we got hungry we bought fresh baguettes, two kinds of cheese, and tomatoes from the market, and we sat on a lakeside bench in the misty rain eating our picnic. We explored an expensive gallery, jewelry shop and a casino, and then headed back to meet Catherine. We girls sat around drinking red wine, watching lime trees and the pink blossoms of springtime sway on the veranda.

After a while we hopped in the car for a quick but thrilling drive into Italy. We sat down in a humming bankside restaurant, where we each ordered our own pizza with pepperoncini olive oil, wine, and the most authentic tiramisu for dessert.  Real Italian tiramisu consists of a simple sweet biscuit soaked in espresso and alcohol, and drowned in a thick crème. Mmmmm. The perfect finish to a wonderful first day of vacation.
Our second day was a dreamy paradise. In the morning Izzy and I waded through the thick morning springtime air to pick up fresh pastries to eat with our cappuccinos. We lounged about for a bit before heading off for the day. We drove to Como, Italy, past snowy Alps fading into shimmering water that hosted swans and sailboats alike. Lively villas perched lakeside, and the sun peeked out to line puffy dark clouds with silver and gold.

In Como we explored a bustling outdoor market before propping ourselves in a café for toasty sandwiches (mine was a Capri with fresh mozzarella, oregano, and basil) and Italian wine. Side alleys beneath regal churches led us to the sparkling lakeside, where we spontaneously hopped aboard a sailing ship and toured the lake. After, we found gelato and sat on the curb in the sunshine; eating that pistachio and bacio goodness, and I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. I love Italy, because in the streets everyone smiles at me and calls me “bella,” and I feel so beautiful and sexy whenever I’m there. Even when I’m eating ice cream on the curbside. Next, we went to a grand Italian supermarket I went absolutely crazy, buying Italian pasta, wine, coffee, olives, olive oil, and so much more.

We finished the day with dinner in a castle. After freshening up in Switzerland, we hopped the boarder once more and made our way to Castello di Casiglio, which is a real castle in Italy. The dungeon has been remodeled into a makeshift bathroom, and servants (ok, waiters) in red coats treat visitors like royalty. Amid glittering diamonds and bottles of wine, we enjoyed course after course of the most meticulously prepared food ever seen. Each dish looked like it belonged on the cover of a magazine, and it was deliciously sinful to desecrate each work of art that was presented to us on its shining platter. Over the course of the meal I became increasingly convinced that humans are put on earth for the sole purpose of being able to enjoy good food, wine, and company—it was a meal that could convert anyone to hedonism.  
The next morning, cappuccinos and Italian cookies were eaten in the fresh rays of sun (rain had danced on the rooftop all night), and we soaked up the luxurious and carefree morning. Eventually we packed up and walked by pristine Lake Lugano once more. The trees had seemingly sprung overnight, the sun was out, and the air smelled like rain and flowers and damp earth. I did handstands and cartwheels in the grass before we grabbed Italian lemon sodas as we drove off towards Italy and our destination in the French Riviera.

We drove beside the sea for most of the trip. Pink, orange, and yellow villas were stacked so quaintly against steep hills laced with vineyards and olive groves. The sea was so blue, and soft, sweet rain fell. We snacked on leftover pizza from Italy; we sand along to the radio. It was the perfect road trip.

We arrived at my hostel in Nice (pronounced like niece), France, and I was so excited to find that it was hip and young and full of life. There was an amazing bar and lounge filled with the most intriguing lot of travelers. Over happy hour beer(s) and a scrumptious quiche and ratatouille dinner, I made friends with a hilarious Italian doctor and two girls from South Korea. On the road, friendships are formed instantly and intensely, and you find yourself philosophizing and conspiring with people met only moments ago.  
The next day my soul lived on my skin and was tickled by the sea breeze, by the market air, by lively strangers’ breath. I have learned to find my own heaven on earth by cultivating a sense of wonder, being very present, and recognizing and seeking beauty in the world and people around me.

I woke slowly, grabbed my book and camera, and set off to wander. I found my way through the bustling antique market, stopped to browse in artesian shops, and listened to sweet accordion music that filled the marketplace. I climbed a small mountain covered in vines and sat beneath a waterfall at the top, then paused in a graveyard that overlooked the old city before heading into the old town. I got lost in narrow ancient alleyways and moseyed in and out of shops, touching and smelling everything. Finding my way to the sea, I napped there in the sun with the sound of the waves lulling me.

When I was ready for more, I boarded a bus headed to St. Paul de Vence, an ancient picturesque village on a hilltop that is full of galleries, cafes, and dusty courts with old men playing traditional French sports.
Back at the hostel I met a fine Englishman named Tim, and we laughed and drank in the dwindling sunlight, watching the daylight fade before we hit the streets in search of dinner.  We found a tiny French restaurant tucked into a vine-covered alley. Sitting at red and white checked tables, we feasted on pastis (an anise aperitif liquour), socca (a chickpea pancake), calamari (fried squid), and crème caramel (toasted caramel sauce over a thick crème cake). A truly local meal!
The next day, Tim and I rose early to take full advantage of our day. We grabbed a coffee and headed off to Frances’ largest fruit and flower market, where we bought strawberries, cherries, tomatoes, peach jam, three kinds of to-die-for cheese, and a warm baguette. We returned to lay by the sea, where we rubbed lavender on our temples, placed cool stones on each of our belly buttons, and listened to the waves.

Later we joined a group of travelers from the hostel for a walking tour of the city that ended in a grassy picnic on the château hilltop. Tim and I broke off to roam the Musee d’Art Modern et d’Art Contemp (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art), which was a though-provoking and memorable first experience with modern art.

After a last beach-side nap and a creative dinner, we joined the group for my first pub crawl! A lively group with members from nearly every continent joined together to get wild with the nightlife of Nice. My favorite was the salsa bar, where I discovered that our motley crew was bold, though not exactly talented with this festive dance.
In the morning I caught a train to Antibes, where Izzy and I headed to the beach to enjoy the sunshine. We shared wine and funny stories as we nibbled on bread, cheese, and olives. I got my first springtime kiss of intoxicating sunshine and finished an entire novel—it was the perfect way to spend a vacation day. We passed the afternoon walking through the bustling downtown and loitering around the beautiful harbor, then lounged at a café and watched the world go by before I caught my train back to Nice.
After a last coffee with my hostel friends, a last stroll through the market, and a last look at the beach, Izzy and I hit the road. On the way back we stopped at Eze, another ancient mountaintop village overlooking the sea. We roamed the narrow paths and looked at captivating and unique art. We bought our last French bread and pastries for the drive back and headed to Monaco, the tiny country that covers only .78 of a square mile. It was so little and crowded and rich! Finally we were on the road for good, headed home via Italy, Switzerland, and Austria. I am back in Germany now, reflecting on my wonderful spring break and feeling astounded at how amazing life can be.