Jennifer Padgett Bohle on living in Germany

Jennifer Padgett Bohle on living in Germany

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'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
Nationality: American
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.

Jennifer Padgett BohleWhat 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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12 Comments To This Article

  • Janine posted:

    on 16th April 2016, 22:24:38 - Reply

    It's interesting how many other people notice this! My husband and I have lived in Germany for three years and have often puzzled at the stares. I remember once not that long after we got here we were at a bus stop by some traffic lights, and we noticed almost all the people in the cars waiting at a red light were staring at us! Not casually looking but fixated stares. It was kind of creepy. (And yes we look normal I assure you!).

    I have learned to somewhat adjust to the day-to-day eye contact for the most part but I find every once in a while some people will do it in such a weird way that it still makes me squirm a bit sometimes. I don't know that I could ever fully get used to it.
  • Portil posted:

    on 23rd October 2013, 18:58:36 - Reply

    Hi Gerda,
    May you suggest how we are supposed to response when we find out that someone is looking at you? In the place i grow up we avoid looking at the stranger for too long in case the starer got the wrong sense of "I want to know you" that sort of thing..Could you mind explaining what people should react when a
    Girl looks at a Girl;
    Girl-Man;
    Man-Man;
    Man-Girl;

    when you want to be friendly and when you want to signal them to stop?
    I honestly tried looked at the other side, but that person still stares. And is it common then in German people just look at each other and when you see someone look at you, you just look back at them for a couple of good minutes?
  • Gerda Jaeger posted:

    on 23rd October 2013, 11:03:28 - Reply

    I am German and I've learned it just the opposite. It is rude to avoid looking at people! If you are open and curious at the world and you are interested in the people around you, you look at them. Otherwise you just look away and ignore them. Or you have something (sinister) to hide then look away when people notice you looking. Afterall eyes are the windows into souls... so start looking! Of course this is a little bit exaggerated, but basically that is why Germans look at you. Juan is right, try a smile and you will get one back. [Edited by moderator]
  • Serena posted:

    on 20th October 2013, 10:11:58 - Reply

    About the German stare, i found that they "stare" even when they are overseas. I met quite a few of them last month during my trip in Europe. I remembered one of them just "stared' at me unblinkingly for about 2 minutes at the hotel lobby... i was so uncomfortable with that so i just looked away and freezed lol but then he broke the stared and we started talking, turned out he is a nice guy with much respect(as it's considered rude and disrespectful when you stare at somebody in where im from). But what makes their "stares" different from the rest of the world is that they stare directly at you, even with their bodies turned right at you, (at the place where I am from we only "stare" secretly,without turning our bodies or heads and when your target aware of your stare,you looked away and pretend nothing was happening) but when you look at the German who "stares" at you, they looked back at you motionlessly, without a smile or a nod or whatever. There was one time the two of them were sitting next to me ( i am sitting in the middle) and both of them turned their bodies and "stared" at me.. i knew they weren't unfriendly or anything but i almost fled. Imagine two lamp posts with spotlights pointing right at you in both directions..(you know in some places when we tried to escape from stares we look at the other direction, i just couldnt coz there was another starer from the other direction). Well anyway, it seems that the "stares" that i got were not from a rude perspective.. but i just couldn't be used to it and it's funny to know I am not the only who got the stares and found it funny haha
  • Juan posted:

    on 18th October 2013, 12:15:36 - Reply

    Hi Jen,

    Are you guys still here in Germany? I've lived in NRW for over 10 years already. I read your article a little over two years ago and found your descriptions very relevant. About the stare, I had to laugh very much. It is so true! My antidote to those looooong stares is to always look back at them with a big smile. They either look away or smile right back at you.
  • brian posted:

    on 14th December 2011, 11:51:13 - Reply

    I think you have been in a less favourable part of Germany. Your experience with people and prices shocks me.
    Perhaps that is because you did not come here from England, where you have a very class conscious and expensive society. Very much different to America.
    I hope that you will find another area of germany where things are better.
  • Jen Bohle posted:

    on 15th August 2010, 22:54:03 - Reply

    Thanks for writing. Your explanation is really helpful (and quite poetic!)and makes me feel a lot better about the staring. In the U.S., we really are told as children that it's rude to stare, so it was quite a shock to get that prolonged gaze. I notice it's usually a small town thing and doesn't happen when I'm in Berlin or Cologne or Hamburg. And don't worry, your English is great! I appreciate your writing in English, since my German is still rather intermediate and unremarkable!
  • Janny posted:

    on 15th August 2010, 14:38:57 - Reply

    The stare...yes, non-germans get confused. And I think most Germans aren't aware of it. It took me a while to understand what (usually foreign) people meant, when talking about "the stare".

    In fact it is not the German being "rude" as you said it towards someone. Germans just observe. I do it myself. I see someone in the subway and watch him/her read, talk on the phone, day dream, what ever... try sitting down in a street cafe, order a coffee and just watch the people passing by, doing their shopping...some are stressed, some are in love, some are joking around. If you watch people you get to see the fractions of what our lives consist of. Sadness, thoughtfullness, boredom, etc...it's life!

    Don't get me wrong, I don't do it all day long ;), just sometimes I enjoy observing other people for a few seconds...(but one shouldn't overdo it...to watch somebody for several minutes CAN be very annoying, even for Germans..in that case you respond by staring back, directly!!!! Usually the person watching you will get it and look away...only very few will continue...you can repeat the "stare-back" if it needed...)

    If you find somebody staring at you the next time, try "staring back" in a calm manner and smiling at them...(unless that person seems to be weird) depending on the person and surrounding, you will actually recieve a smile in return, and mabe the beginning of a "smal-talk"-like conversation...witch Germans usually don't (like) engage(ing) in very quickly!!!

    So, I had to write this because I just recently talked about our German staring-habbit with my friends...in my opinion in our culture it is not ment as a form of rudeness...we just enjoy doing it and watching people react to it!:) Don't get nervous about it...!(please excuse any writing/grammar mistakes I made!!!My english is not perfect:))

  • Jenpadge posted:

    on 5th August 2010, 10:16:26 - Reply

    Well, Chris, It's difficult NOT to notice someone looking you over for half a minute or looking other people over for that long. Anyway, the German stare is pretty infamous, and even my German friends and husband recognize it. [Edited by moderator]
  • Chris posted:

    on 5th August 2010, 02:16:58 - Reply

    I am wondering how Jennifer actually knows how long Germans stare at her if she does'nt stare back for the same period of time :)
    I think you cannot criticize people for things you keep doing yourself.
  • Jenni Padgett Bohle posted:

    on 20th July 2010, 11:14:10 - Reply

    Thanks Krayton. Just being honest! I appreciate your remarks and I wish you success and luck too.
  • Krayton DeJarnatt posted:

    on 16th July 2010, 21:46:37 - Reply

    Right on Jennifer!
    This is the most accurate description of life in Germany that I have read thus far. The German Stare comment is awesome. I have been here eight years now, and believe me, your views won't change, they will only magnify.
    Good luck to you and I wísh you the best success here.
    Krayton