We are almost halfway through my year abroad! This week's thoughts on living in Germany:
- Recycling. The Germans are serious about their recycling. Whereas we have to pay to recycle in some parts of the States, including mine, it's practically required here. My apartment offers recycling for paper. There are public bins for glass recycling (which means I split my wine bottles up by color once a month). And the grocery store actually hands out coupons for returned plastic containers - 25 cents a piece! Additionally, my building at work is sorted, meaning the housekeepers go through the trash each day and pull out what can be recycled and recycle it.
- Food. Honestly, I'm over potatoes and schnitzel. It's fine but it's everywhere. That being said, I will miss the work food options. At my site in the states, the cafeteria isn't great but most people eat off campus anyway. Here, no one eats off campus. I'm not sure if it's a cultural thing or just that there's not a lot of options nearby. While I miss Panera Bread and Noodles and Company desperately, I don't mind. The campus cafeteria is awesome. There are three options - the actual cafeteria, called the casino, that is honestly restaurant quality. Huge meals I never finish. Then there's the kaffeebar. In addition to excellent coffee (though not as good as the free fancy latte making machine in my building), it also offers paninis and pizzas. Finally, there's the cafeteria, a cold food option. There's ice cream and open faced sandwiches and rolls and bottles of pop. It's the open faced sandwiches I will miss. They're the go to favorite for my colleagues for lunch meetings. It took me awhile to get on their side - open-faced sandwiches are tough to eat. But then a colleague told me the secret - take two and put them together. Then you have an entire bun to wrap your hands around! At the cafeteria, I usually pick up a cheese sandwich half and a meat sandwich half, then put them together. It's so friggin' tasty and really filling. Confession: they're available all day and I've had it for breakfast a few times - not hungry the rest of the day!
- Visitors from the States. Another nice benefit of being an expat: all the new friends from back home! People from my States site, even people I rarely spoke with or interacted with, stop by my office to see the American living abroad. I'm there to provide travel tips and restaurant suggestions. I find myself having dinner or a lunch with someone I never would have talked with otherwise. Last year, it was even more expansive - everyone visiting takes the tram and I would meet the oddest people on the tram right next to our office (it's even named after the company - easy to direct people to!). This year is a little less random since I have a car, but still! Two weeks ago, two colleagues were in town, one I was friends with and one I met for the first time during their visit. We went out to dinner every night; people I would never have talked to otherwise! I have two colleagues who are starting their three-month stay next week and I'm thrilled to give them my suggestions and also just to have some friendly Americans to chat with!
- Floors. This is small and the height of first world problems, but Germany (and Europe in general) numbers floors differently. In the States, the ground floor is the first floor, then the second floor, etc. In a matter that makes my engineer heart beat happily, it's a little different on this side of the pond: the basement is -1, the ground floor is 0 (or G), the next floor is 1, then 2, etc. This is fine and makes so much sense, but my entire life I've had a different mental model and it's hard to change. So, I work on the second floor, but it's really the third floor. I live on the fourth, but it's kind of the third. It's doubly confusing when the other person realizes I'm an American and uses the American floor numbering. It's like the metric system - it makes sense but America does what it wants.
- Exercise. Which also brings me to exercise! I feel guilty for taking the elevator to the second (really the third!) floor at work or the third (really fourth!) floor at home. But usually I don't take the elevator at all because, in general, Germans do not take the elevator. I routinely have meetings on the fourth (fifth!) and fifth (sixth!) floors and yet, unless I get there early and am alone, I find myself walking up with colleagues. I totally get walking the stairs is healthier, walking off all those open-faced sandwiches, but sometimes I just want to wallow in my American laziness.
- Twin Beds. I haven't seen a true King or Queen sized bed since I've been here. And I go to Ikea and it's like for fun on the weekends! Instead, there's a twin bed. And there's two twin beds put together. Even my married friends here confirm - they just buy two twin beds and stick them together. In my apartment, I have two twin beds shoved into a Queen-sized sheet. Sure, it makes an awkward indentation in the middle that I cannot resisting shoving my foot into in the middle of the night, but it makes so much sense! Two twin mattresses are much more manageable than one King or Queen. Small storage unit or tight staircase? No problem! Good job Germans, is what I'm saying.
One final note: Sarcasm is my main form of humor. Germans are not very good at perceiving sarcasm. I keep forgetting this and having difficult, awkward conversations...