I was talking with my sister yesterday via the miracle of inexpensive international calling that is Skype, and I was telling her about some of the smaller differences between Europe and the US, things that are just interesting to me because they’re different. To someone who’s been in Germany for more than a year or two, these are the kind of differences that probably don’t get much notice, but to me, they’re huge and fascinating. Here’s a few of them.Plumbing:
Urinals and toilets here are different. Not so different that it’s difficult to use them, but even just the flush mechanism. In the US, there’s typically a handle that pulls up a flapper inside a tank. The mechanics of it may be the same inside the tank, but here the flush button is usually on top for tank styled toilets, and it if you press the button the other way, it will stop the flush. There are also toilets where the tank is set into the wall, and the flush button is a big panel- I haven’t the foggiest idea how that works, but I’ve seen it in several places. Heck, even the stall doors in public restrooms are different here. They’re more private than in the US, and there’s a little occupied/vacant indicator built into the door handle. I think that’s kind of nifty.
Phone jacks in the US are a tiny little modular affair, less than half an inch wide. Here’s what they look like here in Germany:
While interior doors aren’t much different, front doors here have a tendency to have a knob that does not turn. The entire purpose of this knob is just to have something to grip in order to open the door. The actual latch part of the assembly is built right into the keyhole. The lock is different also- the normal setting is locked from outside but not from inside. There’s a keyhole on the inside of the door too, and from either side of the door you can extend the deadbolt halfway with one turn of the key or all the way with a second turn of the key. I had to go through the settings with the door open so that I could see the deadbolt positions before I fully understood the door lock.
This is my favorite difference so far, when it comes to normal house stuff. The windows here are just cooler, no pun intended. In the US, windows usually open via an upward or sideways sliding motion, or they can be tilted up with a hand crank. Not so, here. The window handle has three positions. In the downward position, the window is closed. In the horizontal position, you can open the window inward. The third position is the one that made me go “Neat!” – when you flip the handle upward, you can tilt the window in so that it pivots on the bottom two hinges. This gives you ventilation without having the entire house exposed to the rain or wind or snow, not unlike a car sunroof, but done vertically. From left to right, these pictures are closed, open, slanted open:
The best part of the windows here though is that it’s very common for there to be external rolldown shutters on very window. In other words, the windows have built in shutters on the outside of the building that you control from inside. Here’s the shutter on my bedroom window, and the strap mechanism that’s used to roll it up and down: