I’d never been here before, so I daydreamed about the many European adventures we’d have. Walking along the Seine, cracking open antique books on Portobello Road, swimming in the Adriatic.
My expectations looked something like this:
This is what it actually feels like:
Living Germany: First comes confusion
You’d expect to feel confused when living in a country where you don’t speak the language. However, in Germany, almost everyone speaks some English. When I call Vodafone to complain about my cell phone bill, after much trial and error I’m connected with a perfect English speaker. When I try to get my shoes repaired, a combination of pointing and Gernglish eventually results in a brand new insole.
When I talk about confusion, I’m not talking about the language barrier. I’m talking about not understanding a damn thing about German bureaucracy.
Internet acting up? No problem! Just use the code sent to you in the mail six months ago. Lost the code? Just head to your local Vodafone store, request a new one (and no, you can’t do it over the phone) and wait two hours for the code to be texted to you. But be sure to watch your phone. Your temporary code will expire 20 minuets after delivery.
Have a pet? Don’t forget to register him with the city! And no, this isn’t something you can do online, or anywhere except for the main city registrar. They will then bill you an additional monthly pet tax. This is on top of the TV tax that’s mandatory for every household, regardless if you actually have a TV.
Actually, don’t get me started on taxes. My head might explode. HALF my income goes towards German taxes, despite making a quarter of what I made in the States.
Living in Germany: Then comes embarrassment
The result of living in constant confusion is a constant worry that I’m doing something wrong. Germans like things done a certain way, and you will be reprimanded because you most definitely are doing something wrong.
For example, last month I ordered a package from Ikea. The package was very big. I live in an apartment, and because mail is delivered with no consistency involving time and/or day and/or season, you must be home 24 hours per day to collect your mail.
Sometimes though, I leave the house. Deutsch Post will—with 100% certainty—attempt delivery during that time. So on this particular day I had to pick up my Ikea package from the local post office. This post office is same place where I practice my German and get yelled at for not being fluent after six months. This lecture is a recurring theme in my life right now.
Fortunately, that day a friendly young woman was there to help. My package was too big to carry home, so she suggested I borrow a shopping cart (einkaufswagen, my favorite German word) from the local supermarket. That way I could place the Ikea box into the einkaufswagen, and roll it all home.
This is my worst nightmare. Imagine walking down a narrow, busy city street filled with stern Germans (all of whom are in their 90s because Düsseldorf’s entire population is retired), in a country where everyone yells at you for everything, PUSHING A GIANT SHOPPING CART. But I had no choice. It was that or sacrifice my adorable new Ikea purchase to the post office gods.
I borrowed the shopping cart.
As I wheeled this monstrosity home, I tried to look down at the ground, hoping to ignore the laser eyes from my German neighbors. But if you’ve ever tried pushing a rolling device containing an uneven piece of furniture inside, let me tell you: it takes of lot of abdominal strength. Since I really just have one giant ab, it took a lot of whole-body tensing to roll this thing down the street without crashing into a parked cart. This meant I had to meet every stern 90-year-old German in the eye, wincing as they snarled.
The good news is, the language barrier comes in handy during situations like these. You could argue I’d encounter fewer embarrassing scenarios if I spoke the language, but I’d counter with the fact that no single human is capable of following every German law. So when I am inevitably yelled at I just smile and apologize, “Entschuldigung, mein Deutsch ist schlecht!” and continue along my merry way.