Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Innocent Naive American to Arrive in Germany

Occasionally, I will offer advice to Americans....about Germany.  Today's blog....is mostly designed for the American who has never been to Germany, and mostly wondering what to expect in the initial first seven days.  It's a cut-to-the-chase....simplistic ten measure list that you might want to read over two or three times.

First, if God had ever designed a society that bound into absolute standards and expectations (the Border Collies of the human world).....the Germans are that society.  They expect the train system to work correctly, and on time.  They expect the autobahn signs to quickly get to the point and be blunt.  They want streets clean, and roads built right.  Just the first initial moments at the Frankfurt airport, and transiting to the luggage area, and onto the bus or car-rental area....ought to give you that impression of a society wanting things to fit right.  The first hour on the autobahn ought to fill you with wonder over the way that things work.

Second, there is an enormous amount of creativity with beer and wine.  They've spent generations to develop things that draw you back.  As you sip a particular beer....bear in mind that it's in a bigger glass, and has more alcohol content than any American beer.  If you do transit to a second glass....pick another brand or type and appreciate the different tastes and textures.  Wine works the same way.  Sadly, after two or three hours....you've probably had too much alcohol and need to walk back to the hotel room.  Don't even think about driving.

Third, if you are staying at a German hotel....don't necessarily expect AC.  If this is July or August.....just accept the fact that you need the window open and enjoy the fresh air.  In May or June....you might need a good jacket.  You might need a t-shirt.  Weather conditions frequently change, and you'd best be prepared for just about anything.

Fourth, if you are a fairly religious person....don't go and expect others to be as moralistic as you.  Germans tend to be a fairly open society, and some elements of dress or behavior....might be a bit shocking for some from rural areas of the US.  Germans aren't mad or doing anything to insult you....it's just that time has passed in Germany and things have progressed on.

Fifth, a stop at a small town restaurant in Germany....could open your mind to dozens of new dishes....made in ways that you never dreamed.  Yes, things are loaded with cheeses and various vegetables that you just haven't seen before.  Remember that most restaurants hand out dishes with a fair amount of food....so don't snack in the afternoon, and give yourself plenty of time to enjoy a decent meal at a decent price.  You might want to have a listing in English before you sit down, and at least start with the simpler dishes and move on.

Sixth, don't be overly shocked at prices.  It's got the VAT already figured in when you stop at a shop and want to buy something.

Seventh, because all Americans tend to arrive between 8AM and noon of that day.....most everyone is dead tired and simply want to make it to a hotel or bedroom.  The honest truth is that you need to find a way....through coffee or whatever....to try making it to at least 8PM that night.  It's the only way to reset your clock.  If anything otherwise, then limit yourself to a two-hour nap in the afternoon, and try to get back onto the right body clock.

Eighth, don't expect much of anything to be open on Sundays.  Restaurants and gas stations are about the only thing that you will find open.  If you need anything at a drug store or grocery....you'd best make it by 7 or 8PM.  Don't expect small villages to have any store open past 6PM.

Ninth, it's ok to drink the tap water.  German water is pretty exceptional.  But....like ninety percent of all Germans will tell you....it's better to drink the store-bought stuff.  My humble advice is to buy yourself a six-pack of small bottles on day one, within an hour or two after you arrive in country.  By day two....buy a couple of larger bottles to keep handy.  Oh, and yes, there is a deposit, and they'd like all glass and plastic bottles back.  I know....it's a hassle....that's why they made it a law to pay a deposit.  Water with 'bubbles'?  Yes.  So you want to be thinking about what kind of water you'd like to sip.  Evian water....from France....usually is sold everywhere, and I'd highly recommend it.  No bubbles or weird taste.  Note, Evian water comes off the glaciers there....so it's pretty tasty for 2,000 year old water.

Tenth, most Germans under the age of thirty have a working knowledge of English.  They appreciate it if you can toss a few German phrases around and are generally helpful if you get lost or into trouble.  If you think you got yourself pretty damn lost.....ask questions and just play stupid.  Germans will always seek to help you.  A GPS?  Yeah, if you rented a car....you might want to have one with you as you travel.  A city map?  Well....it's hand for the first day or two.   Using the Metro or public transit system?  Most have electronic kiosks that have English instructions around, and sell you a day-ticket.

Yeah, Germany can be like landing on Mars.  Things are a little different.  But it's not a bad place to get lost in, or have to wander around.

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