PCSing to Germany — Be Prepared for Some Initial Irritations

© 2015 Peter Free


30 March 2015



Be prepared for some annoyances when PCSing to Germany


Here is a sample:



Getting connected to the Internet may involve delays.


Contracts and instructions are written exclusively in German and are not (generally) available online, where Google Translate would be able to get at them.


House windows lack screens.


Air conditioning is rare.


Restrooms and bathrooms lack fans — the resulting humidity leads to mold and damp.


Germany’s “green” mentality makes weed control and fertilization more difficult than in the US.


Major appliances arguably tend to be energy wasters.


Vegetation frequently comes up to already narrow road verges, and street junctions are often partially screened by poorly situated traffic signs.


Germans are very noticeably rule bound.


German helpfulness is hidden under deceptive dourness.


German food will be an acquired taste for many.


Sundays are legally enforced days of rest.


Germans frown on cooping dogs up, while one is at work.





I admire Germany. Society here works noticeably better than its US counterpart in more ways than not. The longer one stays, the more evident this is.


Consequently, my list of negatives is intended only as a heads up to Germany’s few drawbacks, as those might be evaluated from a newly arrived American’s perspective.


Once here a few months, these irritants fade under a tide of positivity.



Internet hook up can be a hassle


In our region, Deutsche Telekom is reportedly the most reliable provider. Unfortunately, even Germans agree that “Telekom” (as they call it) is too big and compartmentalized to find its own behind.


Our Internet connection experience with Telekom made America’s customer-hated Comcast look good. Be prepared for delays, occasional technical incompetence, a frustrating technical language barrier, or even billing without providing service.


Our German neighbors told us this is par for the course. And unlike American customers, they shrug at the inconvenience. It is, they say, only a one-time thing.


Once connected, our Telekom service has been reliable.



Contracts and instructions


Despite being host to tens of thousands of military Americans, German legal contracts are in German and no other language. These agreements are usually not posted online, where foreigners could use Google Translate to get the agreements’ gist.


The same is true for German-originated products, even where the local economy is almost entirely dependent on the American presence. I soon found myself choosing goods based on the number of languages on the outside of the package. Most of these came from other European Union nations.



Windows lack screens


Insects are as common indoors as out. I spend a lot of time sweeping or vacuuming bug carcasses. Although the insect load is trivial compared to the United States, it is annoying.



No air conditioning


Germany combine the absence of air conditioning with an apparently culturally based unwillingness to open windows in institutional buildings during the summer.  Buildings often seem humidly hot for no good reason.



Restrooms lack fans


I suppose this is intended to be an energy saver. But one has to open the window to vent mold-growing humidity and stink — which, it seems to me, probably loses more energy than the lack of fans saves.



Green mentality


In the US, we can control weeds and fertilization relatively easily with widely available products. Not here. The locals use vinegar to spot spray weeds and fertilizer is noticeably expensive.


The absence of easily available weed suppressors is aggravated by the seemingly nationwide use of pavers and cobbles to build sidewalks and driveways. Weeds like the cracks, and the vinegar routine gets old quickly. Especially with all the rain. Vinegar, natural though the Germans may think it to be, also acidifies the soil in an obviously harmful way.



Obtusely designed major appliances


Despite being a green society, German washers and dryers probably suck up more energy than they should. Cycles can be noticeably long. And the machines are usually smaller than their American counterparts — which means that they do their energy-wasting dance two or three times as often.


Clothes dryers are not vented to the outside. Instead, the machines condense water in a collection container. Clothes come out noticeably damp. As a result, German stores sell inside-the-house drying racks.


You may notice, too, that appliance control panel icons are frequently incomprehensible. You will need to read the German instruction manual.



Blind street and Autobahn on-ramp corners


American civil engineers and street departments would have safety fits in much of Germany and Europe generally. Bushes and obstructions frequently come right up to street verges. Traffic signs often seem to be placed where they will most obscure side to side traffic. I suppose this is a result of everything being spatially cramped and inhabitants’ acceptance of the fact.





Germany’s impressive orderliness is in large part due to people’s willingness to do everything by the book. Closing time is closing time, and so on.


By way of personal example, our military base library is run by a German staff. They once sent me an email that one of two books that I had checked out at the same time was overdue. However, I had noted on my automated paper checkout slip when I had returned the two books.


Although the clerk agreed that the second book had been returned three days after I checked it out, he nevertheless insisted that I replace the allegedly missing one, note on the receipt be darned. To make things even more laughably unhelpful, he told me that I could not pay for a replacement. I would have to order and donate it.


Obstinate single-mindedness may be the quality that irritates service-oriented Americans more than any other.



Deceptively dour


Germans are more private and unrelievedly serious than Americans. Perhaps the prevalently gloomy weather makes them dourly sour acting.


This character trait is especially noticeable when one steps over the border into noticeably more animated France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy.


From an American perspective, Germans also do not have an especially discernible sense of humor. I have learned to keep my self-deprecation and institutional fun-poking wit locked up.



The cuisine “ain’t “great


I imagine these folks give the Brits a run for the money in the lousy cuisine sweepstakes. German food is stomach-churningly fatty and (in many instances) lacks even a smidgeon of elegant nuance. No wonder everyone drinks beer at meals.




My mother was Swiss-German. Even she refused to cook mainstream German dishes.


By the way, German red wine is sweetly awful by any civilized dry wine standard. Nevertheless, the locals think it’s great and brag about their genius vintnership. That said, German whites, if you like that sort of thing, are excellent.



Sundays are legally enforced days of rest


Stores are closed. Even lawn and garden work on Sunday is a frowned upon. When the Germans frown, you know you better quit doing whatever it is you are.



For example, don’t coop those dogs


German neighbors have firmly chastised some of our friends for leaving dogs at home, while at work. Dog-friendly custom here even takes pooches into restaurants, so as not to torture these social animals with loneliness.



The moral? — Once an American newcomer is established in Germany, most of these irritations lose their bite


After cultural acclimatization, most of us begin to appreciate Germany’s excellence. It took me a couple of months.


The transition is easier, if you speak German or have a helpful and English-speaking landlord.


A sense of humor helps — as does developing an eye for the large number of things that Germany seems to do with impressive levels of consideration:



For example today, I was today at a German hospital. I noticed that the radiology waiting room had chairs that catered to an older clientele.


Each chair had a small cup welded to the foot of the front right leg and a hook attached to the upper seat back on the same side. These gizmos were clearly designed to hold canes and keep them from falling and tripping people.


The seatbacks were close to vertical and the seats themselves were firm and tilted slightly forward, thereby making it easy for older people with ailments to stand up.


I was impressed, as I almost always am, when out and about in this country.