[Retro Post] Stuff That Makes Americans Go “Bwuh?!”

Editor’s Note: What follows is a post which was completely written in April of 2014.  For some reason, it languished in my drafts folder for the next twenty months until I just noticed it now.  I probably didn’t feel like it was finished, and I assumed I’d come back to it later.   It’s possible that some of these observations found their way into other posts, but I wanted to post this entirely in its original form anyway.  This is a snapshot of my mindset roughly halfway through my time living in Germany.  Here we go!


After more than two years in Germany, it’s easy for me to forget just how much I’ve adapted to life in Germany.  These things are all normal facts of every day life for me, but I never experienced them in the United States.

Unexploded bombs are a regular occurrence. Several times a year, I see news articles about how U-Bahn service in this city or that city had to be suspended because a crew of workmen found another unexploded bomb left over from World War II.   Typically, they either contain it or do a controlled detonation to dispose of the ordinance and then life goes on as normal.  This happens so often in Germany that nobody thinks it’s unusual.  I think it’s amazing though.

You don’t have to try the door handle of a toilet stall to know if it’s occupied.  The stall doors here have color markers built into the latch similar to what you see on airplanes that go red when the stall is occupied and are either green or white when it’s free.  It’s a tiny, simple thing, but it’s absolutely genius and I will desparately miss it when I get back to the States.

Almost everyone brings their own canvas bags to go grocery shopping.  Canvas bags are a crunch-granola thing in the United States-  most grocery shopping in the US involves leaving the store with a slew of plastic or paper bags.  Here, the stores sell the canvas bags at the register and actively encourage you to bring your own.  Additionally, there are no grocery baggers here-  when you ring up your groceries at the cashier, you have to turn around and put it all in the bag yourself.  I love the idea of canvas bags, but I’m really looking forward to having a bagger again-  I always feel like I’m in a panicked rush to bag all of my food before the next person’s groceries are slid down the ramp by the psychotically fast cashier.  Grocery shopping should not be that stressful!

Ice cream is perfectly normal almost every day, even in January.  It’s slightly harder to find ice cream in the winter-  many of the Eis stores close up shop for the winter or change to other products (like crepes!).  There’s always a few places to get ice cream though, even in the dead of winter, and Germans love their ice cream so much that I’ve seen a man eating ice cream at -18C.  That’s right around 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

Walking in the bicycle lane makes me uneasy.  The sanctity of the bike lane is very important here, because bikes are used much more commonly than in most places I’ve been to in the United States.  Most people will ring the bell on their bikes to alert you that you’re in the way, but not everyone is that nice.  Some will just run you down.   Incidentally, bicycle bells are standard equipment on most new bikes here, for exactly this reason.   I’ve gotten so used to this aspect of life here that if I walk in the bicycle lane, I feel skittish.

Late night television commercials border on pornography.  Short and annoyingly repetitive commercials appear on broadcast television for various phone sex lines.  This doesn’t happen on every channel, but it’s always on at least one channel after 11PM.  I would include a YouTube example, but the little jingles can be annoyingly catchy and I’m not cruel enough to earworm anybody with that today.

Is there anything about where you live that non-locals would find surprising?

2 thoughts on “[Retro Post] Stuff That Makes Americans Go “Bwuh?!”

  1. Robert

    You’d be surprised, how many bomb findings happened this year – this 2 major ones where an area within 500 m of the bomb had to be evacuated (everybody – and everbody means everybody, even patients of the intensive care unit had to be moved to other hospitals – has to leave, no matter what)!

    As to the question – I’m sure every American would be surprised about the thing, that (almost) nobody cares about drinking alcohol (especially beer). The American way of handling beer consumption always got/gets on my nervs when I was/am over in the US…

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