Jennifer Padgett Bohle on living in Germany
'Lush and green, with lots of countryside and small towns' was Jennifers's first impression of Germany. It reminded her a lot of Kentucky.
Name: Jennifer Padgett Bohle
City of residence: Rheine
Date of birth: 4 November 1978
Civil status: married
Occupation: Former high school English teacher, now student and hausfrau--at least until I can speak fluent German.
Reason for moving to Germany: My husband is German and for the European adventure.
Lived in Germany for: three years
What was your first impression of Germany?
Lush and green, with lots of countryside and small towns --- it actually reminded me a lot of Kentucky. The people weren’t friendly and seemed impossibly reticent and reserved. I was shocked at the lack of customer service in shops and restaurants. Smiles are not given freely, and that felt strange. Also, in many regards (at least in smaller towns) I felt like I was looking at the United States as it must have been 50 years ago --- shops closed on Sundays and every evening around six, people only speaking to you if they’d known your family for years and years.
What do you think of the food?
I’d actually divide German food into two categories: traditional, made-from-scratch specialties like roasted meats and soups and the ubiquitous fast food --- doner kebabs , ‘currywurst’, and ‘pommes’. I’d love more creativity in the cooking and more fusion restaurants, even just a gourmet sandwich shop! I miss Tex-Mex so much that I’ve had to learn to cook over the past few years. I tend to make my own American, Mexican, and Thai food, because the few restaurants that offer those types of cuisine seem to be afraid of spiciness and seasonings and are reductive in how they view the food culture. My husband and I joke that in Germany, if you add corn and beans to anything it’s automatically considered Mexican food. I should just be grateful that I can find the ingredients I need; I may need to go to three different shops, but even in smaller towns there are ethnic food stores and sections in the larger groceries.
What do you think of the shopping in Germany?
Everything is expensive. I miss yard sales and flea markets and cheap secondhand shops. Even the consignment shops are pricey! Also, the same brands and stores pervade in every town and city, so that fashion and home furnishings is predictable and uninspired. You can almost pick out where things are from. I’d love to see more boutique shops. I shop when I go home to the US or I go to TK Maxx.
What do you appreciate about living in Germany?
It feels wholesome here. There’s clean air and beautiful nature reserves, families are always out enjoying nature, people are civic minded and generally seem to feel a responsibility to the world and people around them. The citizenry also seems more logical and thoughtful. There’s not this frantic, shrill, polarizing, and engulfing media culture that I can see --- there’s also not a culture of fear here. Children are always out on their bikes and playing in parks without their parents, one can walk city streets at three in the morning without danger. The lack of guns really has a positive effect on culture and the social systems keep everyone out of dire poverty. As a result, things are safer for everybody.
What do you find most frustrating about living in Germany?
The people! I find that they can be unbelievably rude, especially older generations. I’ve been shouted at quite a few times over mundane things. I get frustrated with the xenophobia here. Germany needs foreign workers and the creativity that diversity brings, but there’s not a sense that foreigners can, or do, add anything to the culture. I also loathe the German stare. It’s this prolonged stare in which you are looked up and down for a full half minute. This stare can seemingly never be broken, even when you look back.
What puzzles you about Germany and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
Transportation confounds me. The government wants to discourage people from driving everywhere, and yet the Deutsche Bahn is incredibly expensive. It’s cheaper to have a car, even with high gas prices. I miss air-conditioning, spontaneous road trips, and filling up a tank of gas for USD 30. I miss American smiles and just the general bantering that occurs as you go about your day…
How does the quality of life in Germany compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
This is a difficult question to answer because it depends on how one views quality of life. I feel safer in Germany, where I’m guaranteed great healthcare and don’t have to worry about violence and crime. Food is healthier and less expensive here, and we have more vacation days (24) On the other hand, more existentially speaking, I’ve found that the clichéd “American Dream” is still very much alive and there’s a reason so many people apply for green cards and citizenships, even from Europe. In the USA, you can be whoever you want to be. You can change careers at any time, move from place to place, go to college even without stellar grades, diligently and seriously pursue creative goals, and generally integrate yourself into the American life quite easily. The opposite of these things is true in Germany. Your future is virtually decided at age 16 and it’s extremely difficult to change careers. You have to do a two year job training just to sell cheese! People don’t move around here because it’s so difficult to integrate socially into new communities.
If you could change anything about Germany, what would it be?
I’d make people more spontaneous and open-minded and the bureaucracy more flexible. I’d make German grammar less complicated.
What advice would you give to a newcomer?
You should just expect to have embarrassing moments with the language and culture, but know that in a few weeks or months, you’ll have grown exponentially in your knowledge of how things work here. Learn a few survival phrases in perfect German and always carry a phrasebook with you! Learn to cook what you crave from home and bring teaspoons and measuring cups with you.
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