I’ve wanted to write this post for a while now, but I was too afraid. I was afraid of what people might think if I told them how hard life is here. I didn’t want them to talk about me behind my back or feel sorry for me because they thought I made the wrong decision coming here. I also didn’t want to offend the Germans or any other person who simply loves this country and calls it home, but I’ve been silent long enough.
We Americans heavily romanticize Europe. For many, living here is a dream, and I’m certainly not here to extinguish those dreams, but it just might happen if you continue reading.
I am a Bible college graduate with a degree in Missions. That’s a fact that embarrasses me now. Anyone can be a missionary without a Biblical degree. I should have been smart and majored in Education so I’d have solid training to fall back on. Perhaps if I’d gone that route, I would have a job by now. However, my schooling led me to a seven-week stint in Japan for an internship in 2005, and it provided me with information and firsthand accounts of the difficulties of living outside of your home country. I studied the realities of culture shock and mentally prepared myself as much as possible to one day say goodbye to my friends and family and go overseas.
I think perhaps I was more mentally prepared than most people when I left my home country, and it is still the hardest thing I’ve ever done. My husband’s German friends often ask me what the hardest part is about living here. That question is normally followed by blank stares and stammering as I try to find the right words. If I looked them square in the eyes and said, “In nearly every single aspect I’ve encountered in Germany, I can firmly declare that life in America is far easier and far better,” what would they think? Would they be offended? I would certainly be offended if someone made such a blanket statement about life in the U.S.
But it’s true… in my opinion, anyway, life in America is much simpler. It’s more relaxed, it’s cheaper, and it offers more freedoms. It’s hard to put into words why life is so much harder here. When I think about how to articulate my feelings, my thoughts always tend to feel jumbled and range from “I don’t have a dishwasher” to “the driving laws make me crazy.” However, I’ll do my best to explain in as organized a manner as possible…
Firstly, Germans aren’t half as efficient as we Americans typically believe they are. I’ve been here 7 months and we’ve had a slew of problems with everyone from the Immigration Office to the language school to FedEx to customs. Every time you talk to anyone you have to be sure and get their full name and contact information and to document the time and date of your call. Otherwise, the next time you call, there won’t be a single person who remembers you or your problem. I’ve been the recipient and giver of good customer service in the States and I know it shouldn’t work the way it does here. As a customer service rep, it’s my job to take accurate notes in order to serve the customer. It’s my job to make sure the next time they call, anyone in customer service can find my notes and pick up right where I left off. The customer doesn’t have to remember a thing. They only need to remember that they called and the rep can do the rest. That being said, conducting business in this country can be a real nightmare and cause lots of headaches and frustration.
I am also completely illiterate here. Like a child, I need all correspondence to be read and explained to me. I need my husband to hold my hand and take me to every meeting and appointment. It’s extremely humbling to have to ask someone to open all your mail because you can’t read it. I’d be lost without my husband, but my frustrations with my illiteracy in German fueled many of our arguments the first few months I was here. I couldn’t understand why I felt so angry every time we had to conduct business until one day I realized my anger was at myself for having to be so dependent on him. Once I had that realization, our arguments ceased when we had to make business runs and I was able to keep myself better in check since I finally understood the feelings, but that doesn’t mean they went away. I’m doing my best to learn German, but it’ll take years for me to feel comfortable in the language and that’s not an easy fact to grasp sometimes.
Then you have the problem with learning to adapt in a new culture. Here’s one example of MANY I could share… One frustrating evening when my nerves were on edge, my husband basically said to me, “I told you so!” I completely exploded and he was completely caught off guard. A long and tense argument ensued and the whole evening was ruined. The next day, he described the scene to his female co-worker and then asked how she would feel if he’d ended the ordeal by saying, “I told you so.” She looked at him dumbfounded and said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Yeah… if all that happened and then I said, ‘I told you that was a bad idea,’ what would you think?” Again, she looked at him confused and responded, “I don’t see a problem with that. If the roles were reversed, I would say the same thing to you.” She was absolutely shocked when he told her that he and I had encountered a problem with that phrase the night before. She simply couldn’t understand how anyone could be offended by such an insignificant thing. I told my husband, “Kids in America get slapped for saying that! I can’t grasp how you don’t understand this!” But really, it’s a culture thing. It’s a culture thing I’ll never, ever understand. To Americans, “I told you so” is not okay. To Germans, it’s perfectly acceptable. I don’t get it.
I never before realized just how sweet Americans are until I came here. There’s a reason Germans have a reputation for being cold and hard. Because to an American, they are. They’re not sweet and tender. They don’t approach you in gentle kindness when you’ve messed up and say, “I know you didn’t mean to do anything wrong, and I’m not upset with you, but what you did was not okay.” No. Instead, they say, “Hey, that’s not okay! Fix it! Don’t do it again!” My husband is very gentle and kind, but even he exhibits these “German” traits from time to time. We’re both learning how to work around these cultural differences, but it’s not easy. Sometimes things get said in the middle of a weak moment and you don’t stop to think, “This is a cultural difference. Don’t let it get under your skin.” Instead, you let it cut you to your core and you lash out in defense.
Life in Germany is also incredibly expensive. Germany is centrally located in Europe so you can go any one direction and in only a few hours you can be in France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Poland, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and more. The problem is that many people can’t afford to travel. My car takes diesel which is the cheapest type of gasoline in Germany. The other day my husband marveled at the fact that diesel is now the lowest he’s seen it in many, many years. At 1.12€ per liter, that works out to be about $5.16 per gallon. In the States, I spent an average of $70 a month on fuel. My husband spends about $386 per month. So, considering that I don’t have a job and my husband isn’t some high-up exec, traveling isn’t really a possibility for us right now. One of my greatest dreams has always been to go to Italy. I could be there in 4 hours by car and I can’t afford to go.
Fuel isn’t the only expensive thing, though. Living in a single-family, standalone house is likely a dream I’ll never see fulfilled in Germany. It’s too expensive so most people live in apartments and living in an apartment means foregoing a lot of freedom I’m accustomed to having. For example, our heaters are regulated by the landlord and they don’t run from midnight to 2:00 or 2:30 every morning. So if you get home at midnight and your heaters have been off all day, that’s too bad for you. You have no choice but to snuggle up under the blankets with tissues and cough drops and pray you make it until they come back on. We also have a community laundry room. When I do laundry, I have to haul my clothes, soap, and softener down 46 steps and into a freezing cold cellar. When the clothes are done, they get hung up on a drying rack that’s also in the cellar. Nobody steals clothes, but I think I’ll never get used to having my underwear on display. We don’t have a private yard where we can grill or lay out in a hammock or just be alone. We don’t have a driveway, and we don’t have the privilege of getting to argue or sing at the top of our lungs without being overheard by the neighbors.
Germans live with less… much less than Americans. Everything is smaller. Kitchens don’t have built-in cabinets and counter tops. We own every single item in our house except the toilet, bathtub, and sinks. No, I’m not exaggerating. Even the kitchen cabinets are ours. And since you have to take everything with you every time you move, most people only buy a few very cheap cabinets to store only the most necessary things.
These are only a few of many reasons I think life in America is easier than in Germany. I could go on for hours, but at some point it would just begin to look like nitpicking.
I miss my friends, my family, and Mexican food. I miss feeling confident when I’m behind the wheel of a car. I miss the comforts of knowing and understanding the language and culture of my country.
However, every parent I’ve ever spoken to in regard to the difficulty of parenting has said roughly the same thing to me; “Parenting is the most difficult but most rewarding job a person can have. I worry about my kids all the time and they often frustrate me, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.” I’ve never wanted kids so this statement has always baffled me. I never understood how anyone could love a job that was so stressful and emotional. But then I came to Germany… and even with all the hard things I’m learning to endure with grace and dignity, I wouldn’t trade my situation for anything. In the last 7 months I’ve grown and matured in ways I never could have imagined. I’ve learned things about myself and challenged myself and I’m a better person because of it. I told my husband the other day, “I think we’ll never live in America and while that makes me a little sad, I’m ok with it.” This is a great adventure and I don’t want it to end. I want to live in other countries and experience other languages and cultures. I want to see the world, and I want to do it with the greatest man I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.
So please don’t read this and think I’m unhappy. This life isn’t for everyone, but I choose to see the beauty in it. I chose this life and I’d choose it again, and again, and again, and again, and again…