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17 Side Effects I've Had as an American Living in Germany

by Genevieve Northup Aug 10, 2016

1. Random German words have replaced English equivalents.

I’m late because I was stuck in a stau and had to take an umleitung — I haven’t said “traffic jam” and “detour” in six years. I wave farewell and say “Tschüss” or “Auf Wiedersehen.” I describe dishes by the German ingredient names: kurbus (pumpkin), courgette (zucchini), bratkartoffeln (home-fried potatoes) and frites (fries).

2. I went from an outgoing southerner to a shy foreigner.

I no longer make small talk in line at the grocery store or chat up the solo diner at the next table because my German is “nicht sehr gut” (not so good). Not only is my vocabulary lacking, I’m also nervous about making grammar mistakes — a side effect of being a writer for a living.

3. I don’t secure my home like Fort Knox.

I grew up in a house with handguns and security cameras. In Dallas, I had an alarm system, extra keyless deadbolts and a hyper-vigilant dog. I once forgot and left my keys in the front door of my German home overnight. My car and household valuables were still there the next morning.

4. I intentionally order water with gas.

Carbonated water tasted repulsive, like flat Sprite, the first year I was in this country. A year later, I searched for Perrier while stateside like it was the holy grail.

5. My impulse buying habit stopped.

I have to bag my own groceries, pay for sacks if I don’t bring my own, and play Tetris to fit everything in my tiny fridge. I plan a few meals and purchase what is on the list, nothing more. My pantry is not stocked with stuff that was 59 cents that I won’t ever use.

6. I appreciate compact cars.

I thought they were ridiculous until I had to maneuver a mid-sized SUV down cobblestone streets and through multistory parking garages. Plus, fuel is four times more expensive here than in the U.S.

7. I can’t donate blood back home.

The day I hit the 5-year mark of living in Germany, I was put on the lifelong blacklist for the American Red Cross. Because of a minuscule chance that I could have contracted Mad Cow Disease from a tasty burger or medium rare steak, the organization won’t take my O-.

8. I always carry enough cash.

I live in rural southwest Germany, where most businesses still refuse credit cards. It only took a couple of awkward interactions with cashiers to make the switch from plastic to euros.

9. I recycle.

I diligently sort and separate compost, paper, glass, plastic and aluminum to be a good global citizen. I still haven’t figured out where soiled paper napkins and shrimp shells go, but I do my best. And I feel bad about the lack of recycling in my workplace.

10. My 50-pound dog is my sidekick for everything.

The assumption is that my Lab mix is allowed everywhere, unless a sign says otherwise. She finds clothes shopping to be quite dull but loves watching food and people at outdoor cafés.

11. I roll my eyes at the forecast.

I check five websites and apps every night, each with a different take on the next day’s weather. I pick out two outfits for the next morning — one for the pessimistic forecast, the other for the optimistic prediction — and always carry a heavy raincoat.

12. I have a different concept of what is old.

The Roman bath ruins in Trier, the 14th century Ulm Cathedral, and the 700-year-old Dresden Christmas market are old. The Texas Capitol building is not.

13. Chestnuts are no longer a mystery.

The famous lyric from the holiday classic finally makes sense. They line biking paths and hiking trails every fall in the Palatinate Forest. Area festivals are dedicated to the starchy nut every October, and some villages even crown chestnut queens.

14. I never assume that a restaurant is open.

It took a few failed date nights and dinners with the girls, but I got the hint. Even when it’s not summer break or the Christmas holidays, and even if there isn’t a notice online, I always call before showing up.

15. I cringe when Americans mispronounce town names.

The city of Wiesbaden is “Veez-badden,” not “Weez-bayden,” and it’s “Rote-en-burg,” not “Roth-en-burg.” Kaiserslautern is said “Keyes-ers-l-out-ern,” not any number of other phonetic butcherings I’ve heard.

16. Weekends are meant for one thing: traveling.

No more sleeping late, catching up on housework and binge-watching reality TV. The goal is to see, do, and taste as much as possible in just 48 hours.

17. I can spot an American tourist and pride myself on not being one.

It isn’t that they look like lost puppy dogs, speak English loudly, or jay walk. It comes down to the white running shoes with jeans. Even when they’re exercising, Germans usually aren’t in what Americans deem as athletic shoes. I was once a tourist, but I’m a local now.

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