The adventures of a born-and-raised-in-Michigan girl (OK, woman) who's moved to Bavaria with her husband, kids, and dog.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Not in Kansas (or Michigan) Anymore

Dorothy, you may be wondering if we've been hit by culture shock or not.

The answer to this FAQ is Yes, but mostly in many small ways that all add up to that vague "hey, we're somewhere else" kind of feeling.

The first thing that hit me upon arrival was the light (covered in the weather FAQ).

The sounds are another tipoff that we are somewhere quite different. Again, just a handful of subtle differences, but I am still not used to many of the sounds. (Another post devoted to sounds coming soon.) And then there's the changes in food and associated grocery scrounging for ingredients.

Little things can trip you up, when you don't speak the language or intuitively "get" the culture. Like the fact that Martin had to walk me through all the buttons and gadgets on the washer and dryer (I remember that "flecken" is for the stain cycle because it sounds like flecks, or spots, for instance). Or that the dryer works on a condensation principle. Which means that it collects water. Which means that you have to manually empty it every six to eight loads, or else it stops mid-cycle.

Also, there are no garbage disposals in German kitchens. This is Martin's biggest complaint about daily life here, it really gets to him. In the 1970s, they were illegal because the German sewage system couldn't handle the added load. Now, with improvements, the sewer capacity has increased, but the $150 model we had in the U.S. costs close to $1,000 (US) if you order it through a kitchen supplier (the place we used said they've sold just one in thirty years).

Before you run out to Home Depot and ship us one, we have already ordered ours for the kitchen makeover (from England, 220 volts and under $300). But we currently use the "bio" in-sink and under-sink composting system for our compost garbage, and take it to the curb in the Bio bin like everyone else.

And that's another thing that hits you right away. There are no less than five categories of garbage here. Glass (all colors) is recycled separately, you drive it off as needed to the sorting bins located in every neighborhood or town. The "bio" or compost garbage is picked up every two weeks (in a can stored inside a metal and cement bin which is built into your fence/gate, to reduce smell in summer I guess). The "paper" bin is picked up once a month (three weeks would be better, IMHO).

The "yellow sack" garbage consists of all non-paper and non-glass packaging that can be recycled, and is picked up every two weeks. It includes nearly everything -- the mesh sack around your bag of onions, the plastic bubble on a package of batteries, used tin foil, bottle caps, etc. Thankfully there is no limit to the number of yellow sacks that are picked up (we generate two or three in two weeks time).

The fifth and final category is called "residual," i.e. everything else (dirty diapers, dryer lint, etc.), also picked up every two weeks, and is the smallest bin of all. It is about one-fourth the size of a standard or largeish U.S. garbage can for $16 a month; or one-third the size of a U.S. can for $25 a month (ours) -- and remember it's only picked up once every two weeks. So you are pretty much automatically recycling based on the size of the residual bin and the pickup schedule alone, there's no real choice (not that I think that's a bad thing, I'm just stating the obvious).

Store hours take some getting used to, but it's not that bad (it's limited by law). Small bank branches and municipal offices have very limited hours, you really have to check first. Stores are generally open in smaller towns (like ours) until 6 pm weekdays, the mega-marts are all open until 8 pm weekdays and 6 pm on Saturdays. Small stores close at 2 pm on Saturdays, and nothing (except gas stations, museums, and some restaurants) is open on Sunday. I do most of the shopping during the week, working around playgroup and nap schedules, and we make one Saturday trip with Martin to the mega-mart every couple of weeks to stock up on cases of juice, pop, mineral water, etc. and do the corresponding bottle return.

Finally, another thing that's quite noticeable is the limited accessibility for strollers (and I would assume wheelchairs). Elevators exist in most buildings (old or new), but are much smaller, sometimes too small for a double stroller. In one case, at the Secretary of State, Martin and I had to carry the stroller up a flight of stairs, for me to get my new license. Couldn't figure that one out, since it was a fairly new building.

I'm sure I'm forgetting other things that give you that "foreign zap" of reality as you go about your day, but those are certainly the highlights. Will post other items as they come to me.


Anonymous Trina said...

Hi Catherine. I'm hooked on your Blog! Great job. I can't wait to read everything you've done. It'll take me a long time, but what fun! Thanks! Trina

7:58 PM

Anonymous Uncle Peter and Aunt Regina said...

We hope all is well. The recycling is overwhelming. You must know the colors, contents, and time frame. YIKES

You are doing a great job of keeping us up to date on your blog.

Uncle Peter and Aunt Regina

12:29 AM


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