Hey guys, I love my red pants. You may recall them. Maybe you like them, maybe you don’t. The cover photo of this is misleading – it was in Tokyo – but I don’t have any good Germany pics of my red pants. Regardless, they’ve traveled with me to three different continents and on many adventures. But never have I been stared at by so many strangers while wearing them than while in Germany. To everyone who has heard me talk about this already – I apologize in advance.
I realized that I haven’t shared much of the day to day observations and differences in our life in Germany which I think are pretty interesting. I’ll get to some of those, but first I’d like to share what I’ve learned is sometimes referred to (fondly) by other Ex-pats online as the “Germanic Stare.” When I first got here, Sean and I were wondering if it was just us, or if I’m just vain, but people around our street and elsewhere would watch us, some stopping dead in their tracks to do so. I’m not kidding, one woman on our street stops, turns around and watches you walk away – I know because I’ve felt her stares and I’ve seen her do this while walking on the other side of the street from us. People love to watch you minding your own business, especially older adults. Taking the recycling out, buying something at the grocery store, walking down the street, someone is watching you. I know you can also say Well if you see people staring at you, aren’t you looking at them also? Yes, but not with quite the stare down my neighbors give. It’s like a competition. Sometimes I make eye contact with someone, and then look away after a normal amount of time. You glance back and they’re still watching. I almost feel like I need to assert myself and never lose the staring contest.
But the pants! I get stared at in my normal clothes, but I REALLYYY get stared at when I’m wearing my red pants. At first I shied away from wearing them, then I realized that was silly and I’m just going to be me. Bright color wearing me. One day I wore my pink pants out, and when I prance around in my electric blue pea coat, same story. I was initally worried perhaps my pants were giving off some strange signal to people. But nope, it seems they’re just surprised by my brightness, and don’t really wear bright colors around here. Okay, enough about my pants.
After discussing this with Sean Why are people staring at me? Do they know I’m American? Am I that weird looking? I finally googled it and to my relief came across a few articles/blog posts from other Ex-pats about the “Germanic Stare Down” which really explains it all. Some people have said it goes back to older generations and the war: you didn’t know who was living around you, what they did and were doing, or what they were hiding, so it was sort of a neighborhood watch thing. No one is going to tell you what’s going on so you have to take matters into your own hands and stay abreast of your neighbors at all times. It seems that you just have to get used to the staring thing, which we kind of are now, so it’s all good. Also, let me state that this is clearly not how everyone is, but it’s not uncommon. In general the attitude with strangers here is that until you get to know someone, you owe them nothing. No pleasantries are exchanged with strangers on the street generally. Though younger people are definitely friendlier in that regard. This is not to say people are rude or anything. And as I write this, I’m conscious this is coming from someone who actually enjoys talking to strangers and comes from the friendly slow “south” of the U.S. – not that I’m that southern.
On to some day to day life observations. These are not true of every region of Germany, but what I’ve noticed here in Bonn in NRW:
Recycling: They are master recyclers here. When you take out glass to be recycled you have to sort it by glass color: Brown, Green, or Clear, and there is of course a place for paper near these bins. My mom is an American Recycling Master (like American Ninja Warrior for the Environment) and I’ve become one myself, so I love this. I think this is common in some places in the U.S. too but I haven’t seen it so prominently. I also understand the expenses behind recycling, which I need to look into here, just out of curiosity.
Like in DC, you get charged if you use bags at the grocery store, so everyone brings their own.
- There’s a deposit, or pfand, on many of your plastic and glass bottles and the process for returning them is quite simple. You’ll find a nifty machine in grocery stores making it super easy to return the bottles and get pfand your back. Simply place the bottles one by one in the machine, hit the print button when you’re all set and a receipt is printed to take to the check out and have the amount reduced from your bill. Obviously there are some states that accept deposits on your average bottles in the U.S., but it doesn’t seem as widespread or as simple to get your deposit as it is here.
Haircuts: I braved the language barrier last night with my friend Kate, and we went to a salon here called Cut and Roll for German haircuts (New cut: half of my head is shaved and now my hair is now red! jk). But get this: you can of course pay to have anything you want done to your hair (if you know the language well enough ha!!) but apparently it is common for the customer to be handed a blow dryer to dry and style their own hair at the end of the cut. How much sense does that make? You’re the one who is styling your hair every morning, so I think it’s kind of genius: do it yourself, see how you like it, then you can have them trim up anything you don’t like. We had a little bit of trouble with not knowing enough German hair cutting phrasing. I realized on the way over (not for the first time, just in this context lol) they don’t use inches here, rather centimeters, so I couldn’t say, I’d like you to cut off 3 inches…more like can you cut off 7.62 cm! There are so many ways that could go wrong.We were certainly nervous about what the outcome of these haircuts would be, but all turned out okay after some long talking and using the terms nicht, geschniedet, ja!, nein, Das ist gut, Bitte schneiden nicht mehr!
Sundays: Shops, Grocery Stores, and other business all close on Sundays, and you’re not allowed to make too much commotion. Which is nice, except I like to go to the grocery store on Sundays, but at least this makes us plan in advance better and allows families, friends, church goers, yogis and yoginis etc to have a real day of rest. Restaurants and some bakeries are open, so if you forgot to shop, you’re okay, you can still eat! As for noise, the recycling bins have signs on them saying you’re not allowed to place things in them on Sundays and on holidays. A Croatian woman in my German class warned me when she moved here she was told you’re not allowed to vacuum, or do laundry either, but I believe her neighbors are a bit older. I have no clue how enforced this is.
Independent Children: Kids seem to roam freely and more independently in a way many parents don’t allow in the U.S. these days. We’ve noticed a few times small children alone in the middle of the street (I’m talking like toddling about) and wondered, “Does this child have someone with him?” (Not in a judgey way, just in a wanting to make sure he wasn’t lost) I’ve seen lots of young kids alone in front of me at the grocery store buying something – dish soap, candy, veggies. Some of this can of course be attributed to living in a city where you can walk to pick up literally everything you need. I think that’s great to be able to live in a world where you don’t feel like your child can’t go out alone. Bonn has a population of over 300,000 within its administrative limits, so it’s not huge, but it’s not so tiny either. Feeling safe to let your kids be unattended, while building independence and knowledge of navigating the world at a young age is great. Of course, there are dangers everywhere and I don’t know these kids and their stories and am clearly not a parent.
Transportation: You always hear about German efficiency right? Well I think that’s probably true for many things, but the trains here are always delayed!
- This is kind of a silly one, traffic circles actually operate like proper traffic circles. Ha, the other day in my German class we were talking about the words and language that you use in giving directions. I asked how you could say “go/walk through the traffic circle” and my instructor was so confused, since here traffic circles are more just for cars, not pedestrians. *cough* Dupont Circle *cough*! For my non DC-ers, there are traffic lights in the middle of Dupont Circle, making it an extremely inefficient traffic circle.
- They have great bike lines everywhere, and this place is so very pedestrian friendly. (P.S. I bought a bike! Now to just get comfy riding it)
Food: (I have more on this, but a few quick fun ones)
- Their egg yolks are alarmingly orange:
- Common in Europe, but they don’t give you water with your meal automatically- you must ask for it and will very likely have buy it.
- Germany is known for having delicious bread, and let me tell you IT’S TRUE! Their Dunkel Brot, and anything else.
- Sunday afternoons German families traditionally have Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) and many cafes offer a deal for this on Sunday afternoons. Love that tradition – nice time to chat with family friends, or apparently gossip about your neighbors (again, hearsay from my German teacher).
- Germany does love their brats! Brats, Wurst, Currywurst, Sauerkraut. Noms.
- They put corn on top of everything, salads, pizza, soup – interesting garnish.
Loud Americans: I’ve got to say, I think the loud American stereotype is perpetuated slightly because we are a bit more outwardly expressive, joyous and sometimes loud with our laughter, even if we’re not always that loud. People seem to keep their cards a bit closer here. (again this is coming from an open book of a person haha) Joyful people making a scene are cause for glaring. Why are you being so loudly joyous??? Twice I’ve been having conversations out with a friend and have had nearby people mock us. When I picked Cindy up from the train station, we had a joyous, and yes slightly more elevated, HELLO!!!! and this guy standing next to us mumbled some things (suffer Deutsch) in a high pitched squeal and rolled his eyes at us lol! Sean and I try and keep our noise level down (most of the time) so as not to disturb our German friends, though I’m sure other people might feel differently about that ha! Sean also pointed out that it is probably also because we are speaking in English and therefore our strange sounds stand out more.
To sum up: you will be late on the train, your eggs are safe to eat, and no you don’t have anything on your face! All of this is also to say, that I’m really loving Germany and all of the people who I’ve truly talked with.