We have survived our first month as expats! (Well, technically, we have now survived two months by the time I have posted this). The first month (or two) is definitely a honeymoon phase. EVERYTHING is wonderful, and you are just having so much fun exploring your new country and culture. Any frustrations or things that go “wrong” are easier to take in stride and to laugh off as “part of the adventure.” Additionally, Frankfurt being such a large, international city makes the adjustment easier, and it sometimes feels like your life isn’t all that “different” at all. However, we still have those “WTF” moments and observations of certain cultural differences that we are adjusting to.
- Everyone smokes. Okay, maybe not everyone, but it often feels like it. Europeans are often viewed as more health and wellness conscious than Americans, but when it comes to smoking…well, they have not gotten the memo. Thankfully, you cannot smoke inside bars and restaurants; however, you CAN smoke at your table on a patio or right outside your office. There are no laws requiring smokers to be a certain amount of feet (or meters) away like we have in the United States. Also, there are still smoking and non-smoking hotel rooms. So, we can be sitting outside on a beautiful summer night, enjoying a wonderful dinner, and have several tables of smokers surrounding us and blowing smoke into our food. Yum. Not to criticize smokers, but you know…aside from it being gross, it also kills you… There may have been a time where we unknowingly wore our disgust on our face a little too much, and when the table next to us got up to leave, they said “we won’t smoke any more.” Whoops. Cultural norm that we just have to get used to, like it or not.
- Dessert-crazy. Now, this one is much easier to adjust to! Germans have a HUGE sweet tooth. Dessert multiple times per day would not be out of the ordinary. As someone with not much of a sweet tooth, I am certainly starting to develop one. No complaints here! I am a firm believer in treating yourself. (I’m just wondering how treating yourself so often doesn’t affect their waist lines!) There are an abundance of pastry, chocolate and ice cream shops in the city, and we are constantly seeing people on the street with gelato. “Kaffee und kuchen” (coffee and cake) is a German tradition of getting together for a slice of cake and a nice cup of coffee in the afternoon, and we have definitely noticed this occurring all over the city. Which brings me to our next observation…
- Do people actually work? Working in the city center, I am surrounded by cafes. At any given point in the work day, those cafes are full of people in suits enjoying an espresso and chatting. I found myself wondering if these people actually work. Obviously, they do, but it is such a difference from the work culture in the United States where people feel that they cannot take a break. The city is at your finger tips, so why not conduct business face-to-face over a nice cappuccino, rather than at your desk behind a computer screen? It is a change in mindset and a testament to the quality of life here. United States, take note!
- The leisurely pace. My first day of work in the Frankfurt office, I came out of the U-Bahn stop and immediately put on my best NYC or Chicago “defense.” I expected the city to be fast-paced, especially at the start of the work day. What I found instead, was myself getting frustrated at how slow people were walking! “Come on, people, get a move on! We have places to be!” It is a cultural difference ingrained in me to just go, go, go. But, we do not have to be that way. I had no reason to be that way that morning. I just was. It has been such a nice change of pace to slow it down. The Germans have it right here. We do not need to always be rushing. Enjoy your morning commute, take a more leisurely pace. Your stress levels will thank you.
- So. Much. Cash. For being a major financial hub, it was quite surprising to us how many places do not take credit cards. Get with the times, right? It has been an adjustment to carry a lot of cash (and coins, especially the coins). Restaurants and bars are charged upwards of 5% per transaction for the use of credit cards, which is much of the reason why they are not accepted. However, Germany is just unusual in that it has a relatively low level of credit card usage compared to other European countries. Everyone has their debit cards, and credit cards with banks, like Deutsche Bank, are not true credit cards. Rather, they get automatically paid off at the end of each month by taking the money from your checking account. As a result, it is much more difficult to find yourself in debt here, which is definitely not a bad thing!
- But, where is the Iced Coffee? I will admit, I have kind of given up on this one (in the short term). If you think about it, it really should not be a surprise. Europeans in general do not do ice like we do in the United States. However, when we first got here, I found myself baffled that I could not get a proper iced coffee. How do they LIVE?! Even Starbucks was hit or miss, depending on the barista. I try to avoid Starbucks though, because I feel like I should branch out, and it is more expensive than the local cafes. One particular place near my office had an “Iced Americano” on the menu. In English, just like that. “Jackpot!”, I thought. “They will know what I want! It’s on the menu!” My order comes up, and it is definitely a hot Americano. Fail. Also, an “Eis Vanille Latte” should not be confused with an “Iced Vanilla Latte,” otherwise you may end up surprised when your coffee comes out with a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream inside topped with a ridiculous amount of whipped cream and chocolate shavings (see #2 above). This was technically a “fail” when you consider what I was going for, but also a “win” because it was delicious. The Germans just do not know what they are missing when it comes to iced coffee in the summer! I have been seeing signs outside of cafes though recently, indicating that there might be something promising inside now that we are in the middle of summer, so maybe one day soon I will go on my quest again. But, for now, I am happy with my little cafe next to my office, where the baristas know my order and make excellent café lattes to start my day!
- Group Fitness. This one I knew would be an adjustment before we moved. Boutique fitness in the United States is booming, but it really has not made its way to Germany (and there are absolutely NO barre classes). There are many nice gyms in the city, and personal training is very popular. As is, good old-fashioned running in the park. However, I am not someone who enjoys working out on my own or with a personal trainer. I love the group fitness atmosphere, and I feed off from the energy of others in class. It fuels me and keeps me pushing harder. When I talk to co-workers and people I have met here about taking group fitness classes, they kind of laugh. Usually, the first question is “like Zumba?”, said with a smirk. Well, yeah…like Zumba, except it is 2016, and there are so many other amazing options now! I think studio concepts like The Barre Code and Orange Theory Fitness would do very well, if the Germans knew about how effective they are. I think there is a misconception here that group fitness is not as “good” or as effective of a workout as personal training. I had done extensive research prior to moving and was able to find a great spinning studio and a yoga studio (both even have English-speaking classes!), but aside from those, there are not many other studio options in the city. Some gyms do have classes as well, but I do not necessarily want to be paying for a gym membership on top of spinning and yoga classes, and I have heard that they are not very challenging (maybe contributing to that misconception mentioned above). I am working on my new routine and really enjoying the spinning and yoga studios. Justin has joined one of the gyms. So, while the options are not the same as at home, it has been good to push myself outside of my comfort zone to try new things (including classes in German), and I always have at home methods for when I need my barre fix!
- Order. Germans seem to be stereotyped as very orderly, right? They are known to be very rules-based, which is definitely true. However, when it comes to walking on the sidewalk or standing in a line, they are not orderly. I had actually read somewhere online before moving here that Germans do not line up in an orderly fashion and thought to myself, “there is no way that can be true.” Oh, it is true. In addition to that, they are also all over the place when it comes to walking on the sidewalk. You would think most people tend to walk in a fairly straight fashion, but here people kind of zig-zag all over the place. And it is not because it is a crowded city with people moving fast (see #4 above). Sure, there are a lot of people, but people seem to zig-zag around for no reason. Or as they are approaching you head on walking down the sidewalk, you would think the tendency would be for each of us to shift to the right (kind of like driving a car)…but, no. Instead, they will shift towards you, even if they see you shifting a certain direction, making for an awkward back and forth while trying to pass by each other. Just an odd observation that we cannot make sense of!
- Perfection. This one does not really come as a surprise. Germans are perfectionists. We especially notice it when it comes to speaking English. Frankfurt is a very international city, so most people do speak English, and we are also learning German. However, we always approach people with “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” (do you speak English?), and we will often get an answer of “my English is not good” or sometimes even “nein” (no). The person will then proceed to speak perfect English! They set high standards, but they also…
- Know how to enjoy life. Part of that comes with the government regulations in Germany (and throughout Europe). Everyone knows that Europeans get much more vacation time than we do in the United States. Thirty days vacation is standard and required by law. In addition to that, everything is closed on Sundays in Germany, except some restaurants. This is an adjustment coming from the United States, but one we knew about. Losing that extra day to run errands and do grocery shopping is hard, but I completely appreciate the reasoning behind it. Sunday is truly a day of rest and time to spend with your family and friends. You cannot even mow your lawn on a Sunday because there are quiet hours. It forces you to just relax! But aside from these government-regulated things (good or bad), Germans just enjoy life differently. You will rarely see someone on a cell phone during dinner, and it is the norm to spend 2-3 hours at a restaurant enjoying the company of your family or friends. It is also very common to just hang out at the park with a group for the afternoon, enjoying wine or a picnic. They walk, they bike. They seem to find happiness in the simplest of things in a world that relies so heavily on technology for entertainment. And then there are the festivals. That is its own post right there. The Germans win at festivals.
Overall, it has been a wonderful and exciting first (and second) month! Experiencing a new culture is fun and challenging. And while we have experienced some set backs and frustrations along the way, they certainly make for good stories! Stay tuned for an update on our second month soon, as well as some of our recent travel adventures.