Monday, August 4, 2008

reverse culture shock

It never fails that when I arrive back in the United States I notice many differences. The people in the US seem to be louder and more casual, they communicate more with each other in passing - making small talk and excusing themselves when they enter personal space. 

In Germany, it's a dead give away you're foreign if you offer up an 'entschuldigung' (excuse me) when reaching over someone or bumping into them. I can completely see how Americans are viewed as being friendly but not always following through with social appointments, however meeting people and establishing friendships is also very different. Germans are more reserved and have many 'bekannte' (acquaintances) for years. Their friendship circles are smaller, but more established. I attribute a lot of this to the amount of space in America - interactions are less, while in Germany people seem more concerned about what their neighbors are doing and make sure people are following the rules.

The shopping areas are landscaped and aesthetically pleasing enticing shoppers to spend, the toilets lack a 'shelf' and the toilet paper is, in my sister's comparison, 'less like a paper towel'.

Despite rising food prices, I'm still quite surprised how inexpensive food is and how much of a variety there is in the US. Everything is bulk even at a normal grocery store. Suddenly deciding on what kind of cereal to buy becomes a major decision. There are always new things and new varieties of even the most familiar products. In Germany we often have 'nur für kurzeit' (short time seasonal items). I do my best not to get attached to special soups, yogurts, or speciality flavors... or I do things the American way and stock up on things I really love.

Then there is the portion size. When I'm home I always hear how America is obese, which can be attributed to many things - driving everywhere, having over scheduled lives, having fast meals on the go, genetics, etc. I notice many of the fast food restaurants try to shape things up and promote healthier items.

It's interesting to me how I can be so out of the pop culture loop. There are plenty of television shows that I have never seen and hear people talk about, and new teen queens waiting to take over their predecessor's waning positions.

I hear people complain about gasoline costs, especially because the US does not have sophisticated public transportation and I wonder how this is going to impact their future. It makes me appreciate my subways so much more. In the US outside of large cities it still seems to be a status thing to not take public transportation. I'm intrigued to see how that will change.

I've also started to see ways that I have really adapted to the German way of life. I use a lot of ground almonds in baking and thickening sauces - they aren't so easy to find here. It's also not so simple to find single things, such as one pudding or carrot. 

That's one of the most difficult aspects of being an international resident - you always miss foods, places, and people, and no place ever feels completely like home. I've learned home truly is where your heart is, which for me is spread through the United States and Germany.

Now I have to deal with bulging luggage as I attempt to take pieces of the US back to Germany with me.


Bluefish said...

I had a hard time while in Denmark because I couldn't find the "right" rice for my meal. I was craving for rice that you can't even imagine.

I'm slowly getting ready to move to DK one day and I've also heard many negative stories about the Danes.

Have a pleasant flight and be safe:)

Lane said...

What the H? Where can I get this Canada Dry Green Tea? What good is living in America if I can't find it?

Catherine said...

How I understand you.
I also find foods more expensive in geermany than in France. I'm so pleased to be abble to choose fresh fisches in France which are so hard to find in Munchen ! I'm also pleased to be abble to buy in supermarket a one fruit ice cream, sorbet... pear, apple, strawberry... Just alone without having mascarpone or almonds or chocolate in. I think I'll buy an ice machine when I'll be back in Munchen.
Good luck with your luggages !

Bluefish said...

Hi, I've read somewhere that there is no more Munich Welcome card. Is it true?

JoernandAllison said...

If you're desperate and in a pinch, let me know if you need to ship anything... I can help :)

It is so strange going home. I also think that in some aspects, you and I might also have culture shock in terms of where we live in Germany (like the city mouse and the suburban mouse.) We shop in GIGANTIC grocery stores, that rival many of those at home.

It makes me laugh to hear Americans balking at the gas prices, since they are almost double here. But, they are starting to bring smaller cars on the market. I saw at least 20 Smarts in CT last month.

When are you returning? It is kind of bittersweet to leave home, to go home.

Emily said...

You'll find that you get inventive - I find a lot of things at the asian stores here, so that may be a good place to try once you're in Denmark. Try not to listen to the negative things and make your own happiness there. I'm going to have to look into the Munich visitor's card... I don't think it was a great deal unless you go to all of the museums. I'll have to find out and let you know.

Another joy of the US - finding things at one store but not another. We got the Green Tea ginger ale at Target and I love it.

I hope you stocked up on a lot of things in France! I saw an ice maker at Tschibo before I left. I'm sure you would be able to make a lot of delicious things!

Thanks for your offer. Coming to my other home is definitely strange and very bitter sweet. I wish the groceries in Germany were more modern with more variety. Food is always so difficult to replicate. With the gas prices and lagging economy I have definitely noticed a bit of a different in the US.

I'm leaving today! I have to prepare for a long day ahead. Then it's back to Stefan - the sweet end of leaving.