Sarah Kotelnicki, Staff

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Since I first got to experience the American everyday life as a foreign exchange student, I’ve noticed a few differences between the American and the German lifestyle.  The differences are not very big per se, but can make a remarkable difference in people’s normal way of living, if they add all up.

  1. The handling of dogs. Germans take their dogs everywhere. Every tenth person you will encounter on the street has a dog with them. You will find a dog at almost any place. In front of supermarkets (at the dog parking space), and you will usually spot at least one under a table in a restaurant. That could be because German dogs have to be very well-behaved to live in rented apartments. If they don’t act as the house owner requires, he or she can kick you out. Most of the dogs you meet, even in downtown areas, are being walked without a leash. They stay at their owner’s side, or just a little bit ahead, and never allow themselves to be distracted. You rarely hear them barking and they are never allowed to jump all over a person out of excitement.
  2. The importance of education. Education in Germany is always free, for elementary school, high school, or university. If you study in Germany you will never have to pay for it. The government thinks that it is more important to have a lot of people being educated then to use education as a way to collect/make money. If your grades are good enough the government will even pay you to go to a school in Germany, or at least support you to find and afford an apartment near the university you want to study at.
  3. The school system. School in Germany is a little bit different. You have kindergarten from age 2-6 and the last year is called Vorschule and prepares the kids for the elementary school, which is from age 6-9. You visit elementary school for grades 1-4. In elementary school you get sorted into one class, consisting of 30 children, and you have every subject and every hour with the same people every day for the next four years. Your class gets two class teachers which are teaching you almost every subject and operate as a kind of advisor too. In Germany you also never get to pick your subjects. You have 12 subjects which are given by the country and you have to learn them no matter what. These subjects are History, English, Maths (Algebra, Geometry…), German, Art, Physics, Religion, Chemistry, Biology, Technology, Physical Education and Science. You also don’t have the same subjects every day. The order of them changes daily and repeats weekly. After elementary school you change to a Weiterführende Schule. It is kind of like a high school, but not really because there are four different kinds of school and you get sorted into one, depending on how smart you are. If you are above the smartness average you would go to a Gymnasium. If you are average you would either go to a Gesamtschule or Realschule. If you are below the smartness average you would go to a Hauptschule. You visit that school from grade 5-10 which means from age 10-15 or 16. After that you are done with school and graduate with a Realschulabschluss (A normal certificate of graduation). If you want to go to a university later in life, you can add two more years of school and then you have the Abitur (which is like a College graduation).
  4. The dealing with trash. In Germany you always have to use the appropriate bin. Sorting your garbage is required by law, and if you’re caught doing it incorrectly, you can be slapped with a fine. Three of these waste bins need to be found in each household: paper, plastic, and “everything else.” Germans take this duty very seriously, and will even call you out publicly if they see you putting trash in the wrong bin. It can be pretty annoying but it’s also important because of the environment.
  5. The consumption of beer and alcohol. Germans love beer. But the main intention is not to get drunk, it is more a drink to be enjoyed about/with. The drinking age in Germany is, compared to the USA, very low. You have to be 16 years old to drink alcohol or 14 years if your parents are present while you drink it (so they can watch you).
  6. The treatment of bread. There are bakeries on every corner, often with at least 30+ different types of bread. They start baking fresh bread every morning at 4 am so you can buy it before you have to go to school or work. In the evening comes a truck which picks up the bread that hasn’t been sold over the day to give it to poor people. Germans eat bread for both breakfast and supper. There are way too many combinations of food that you can put on your bread, and you really never get tired of it.
  7. Healthy Food. Healthy food is easier to find. Cheap grocery stores are everywhere and you will always find more fresh vegetables, fish, meat and fruits then prepackaged stuff. Germans rarely go out to eat. The lunch has to be fresh cooked every day and should contain as little fat/oil as possible. Additionally there exist no such thing as Walmart in Germany. One of the main reasons for that is that if a store sells food, it only focuses on the quality of the food and how to make it the best way possible. If a store sells clothes, it only focuses on the quality of the clothes. A few years ago, Walmart actually tried to settle in Germany, but it didn’t work out very well. Germans thought that the quality of the things would go down if quantity was more important than quality.
  8. Transportation. In Germany, even small cities have reliable public transportation. Don’t want to take the bus, streetcar, subway, or train? Well, take your bike or just walk! People walk a lot and you can get everywhere you want to, because there are a ton of sidewalks. Everything is within walking distance and if it’s not it only takes you a 30 minute bus drive to get to the city. Though obesity can be a problem in Germany, it is not as bad as it can be here sometimes.

The two countries are not as different as you would think. Sure, the language and all that basic stuff can make life always a little difficult, but honestly it probably wouldn’t be such a great challenge for an American to move to Germany and live there. I really enjoy living in the United States and just the thought of leaving makes me want to cry. Sure, I miss my family and my friends from Germany, but it is not like I won’t miss my host family or my friends from the US if I leave again. It is kind of a twisted situation. Both countries became a home for me and someday when I’m older and done with school, perhaps I’ll leave Germany to start my life in America.

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