I’ve started to remember some of the other things that used to surprise me about Germany, that are completely commonplace to me at this point. This is the second post I’m writing about them, and I’m positive I’ll find more as the year progresses. These are the everyday things that are different, but once you’ve seen them a few hundred times or gotten used to the way things are done here, they just become completely normal.
Cars: Cars here are for the most part small. It is a real exception and I always notice any time I see a truck or an SUV driving around. I do not mean to suggest that they are not here, because they definitely are, but they are not nearly as common to see driving around as at home in the Midwest. I am thankful almost every day that I can get around without driving, because not only do I not understand all of the road signs, but many times there are NO signs at all. It isn’t that the road signs are in German (though that surely would be another vocabulary fail of mine), it is that they are just different. Example: there are these circular signs the size of a soccer ball with a red circle around the edges and an X through the middle. Sometimes there are arrows under the X, and sometimes not. Sometimes there is another sign with times underneath, and sometimes not. I have yet to break the code. These are often the only signs I see, like in our neighborhood that has multiple intersections of little streets lined with apartment buildings, where none of the intersections has either a stop or yield sign at all. I can only imagine the pandemonium it would cause in the US if drivers weren’t instructed what to do at every intersection we encountered, but the Germans seem to do just fine without constant reminders. It used to surprise me that they park on the sidewalk too, and it is still a little jarring when I see a car parallel parked on the sidewalk next to a car parallel parked on the street. I’m still unsure how that actually works, but I see it so often that I don’t even find it odd anymore. Lastly, the progression of the stoplights here used to make me laugh. At home the lights go red-green-yellow-red-green-yellow etc, but here the lights go red-yellow-green-yellow-red-yellow-green-yellow-red etc. I like this idea, and imagine taking my foot off the brake when the second yellow flashes, though this is a very common practice in Cleveland where the motorists just watch the light for the cross street.
Beds: Our German double-bed is two single sized mattresses next to one another on two separate springy platform things which are in one shared bedframe. There are no box-springs, rather a line of wood slats that are cushioned on each end by springy things. Each of us has our very own duvet and giant square pillow on top, and if we want to cuddle, we have to either choose a side or find our way to the crack in the middle. Our beds each have their own fitted sheet, and there are no flat sheets between us and our personal duvets. When I was staying at the hostel, I had to show multiple people how to make a bed the German way, and even suggested they come up with a cartoon to demonstrate to their guests how to do it. The first time I came to Germany and had to make my bed in a hostel, I had to have my more knowledgeable friend show me how to even put on the duvet cover, as I had never seen one before.
Household: The sheet-duvet situation would not be soo bad, if we didn’t only have one set for each of our beds. While this doesn’t sound so bad really, please remember that like most German households, we do not have a dryer. Not having a dryer means that if we want to not have a backload of laundry, we pretty much need to do one load a day so that they have a full 24 hours to dry on the hanging rack. This also means that I’ve become better acquainted with ironing again, which is most definitely not my favorite thing to do. Now, please add to the sheet equation that our 19 month old still takes a nap in the middle of the day, and you can start to understand the conundrum. We must wash her linens, but they must be dry by naptime. Solution, dry them on the heaters! It’s winter, so they are nice and toasty warm and great for drying sheets quickly, and speeding up the drying process of things like snowsuits and jeans too. Speaking of the jeans situation though, because we don’t have a dryer and I have very American style jeans, they seem to keep getting just a little bit more stretched out. The same thing goes for any of my clothes lacking any percentage of elastic in the fabric. Guess that means mama needs a new German way. As for the sheets, yes, we could purchase another set for all of us, but then they are just another thing we have to get rid of when we go back to the US in October. Ah the conundrum of staying abroad for one year.
The last unsurprising thing I will mention is the relative cleanliness of German houses. I have by no means done a scientific study, and perhaps all of my friends here have OCD, but Germans really keep a clean house. I once asked a German friend how often she cleans her bathroom, and she told me every day. Seriously? “Oh, well I only clean the toilet, shower, and sink every day, and then scrub the floors once a week.” WHAT? I know I am not winning any awards for keeping a clean house, but I thought once a week was sufficient for the bathroom. We have fallen into the German habit of vacuuming our house daily. There are four of us and we have wooden and tiled floors throughout the apartment, and if we skip a day we start to see dust bunnies and feel the sand (probably from the playground) between our toes already. We also wipe the condensation from the bottom of our amazing German windows at least twice a day, though I honestly think that madness could be an entire post to itself.
Because of our bureaucrazy experiences and this cleanliness factor, I am starting to wonder how in the world Germans get ANYTHING done other than cleaning, standing in line for things, and then filing the important paperwork in perfectly organized three-ring binders. I’ll get back to you on that one.