I have no advice on moving to Europe that anyone should listen to. I made a disaster of the process and I will not pretend to be an authority on the does and don’ts of immigration. Having said that, my experience moving to Germany has been colourful so I thought I would share some of the weird, funny, and inexplicable features of my new home and strange life. Many of these things are specific to Nord-Rhein Westfalen and should not be taken as generalizations about the rest of Germany.
A flock of ostriches is definitely not the sight that greets the average visitor to Germany. My new home town however, boasts not one, but TWO flocks of the evil little buggers! I have been asking around for almost a year and no one has been able to tell me who owns them or for what they are kept. When I returned from a trip to the UK, however, there were fewer ostriches than when I left….
Yes, I know, most places in the world have trees. These are different. There is a field near our house that is completely empty except for these dead trees that have been arranged upright in a diamond shape with gaps at each corner. We have no idea why this was done, and we have asked everyone we know. When it is raining or fogging out, which is often here, they look like a scene from a Stephen King movie.
Sundays and Quiet Hours
Everything in Germany is closed on Sunday, pretty much without exception. The local bakery may be open for a few hours in the morning but all stores and banks are closed. While this is usually quite nice and not that unusual, there are some unique laws that must be followed on Sundays. It is illegal to wash your car, vacuum, or mow your lawn on a Sunday because it is a day of rest and it would disturb your neighbours’ peace. Even gardening is frowned upon and you have to stay in your backyard if you want to do any work. Your neighbours can call the police if they see you doing any work at all, so you need to be very discreet and stay on good terms with the people living on your street. Our favourite rule is that no one is supposed to do any loud housework between 1 and 3 pm every day because that is when babies are sleeping!
Beer over Water
It is more expensive to buy water in a German restaurant than it is to buy a pint of beer. We spent our first three weeks in Germany inebriated before we caved and started to fork out the extra money for water to stave of dehydration. The couple times we asked for tap water, it was served to us warm or in dirty glasses. Now that we are living in a house and not a hotel where we have to eat out for every meal, we usually just stick to beer.
I once spent a half hour in the grocery store trying to find oatmeal before I caved and googled the German word for oatmeal- “Haferflocken”. Every time I had to buy something for the first time in Germany, I had a similar experience. Just as I was starting to feel confident in my new vocabulary, I started grocery shopping in the Netherlands and had to learn all new names for my food. For all the difficulties in learning a new language, I have really loved learning German and I will continue to flounder my way to fluency.
Our neighbours are extremely lovely and we get along with them all very well. Especially the couple who live next to us, we sneak them carrots when their parents are not looking. Occasionally, they come keep us company when we are hanging out in the backyard.
What’s With All the Camels?
I seem to stumble upon camels and kangaroos at least once a week. I have lost track of the times I have seen a camel in the horse paddock or kangaroos in a duck enclosure. Again, I have no idea what they are kept for, even though I have asked around. They seem to be an accepted feature of the landscape and no one really thinks twice about them.
Laundry in Europe is the new bane of my existence. The washing machines take hours to clean your clothes, the soap is much to fragrant, and the dryers will ruin your clothes if you want them to come out dry. Also, you have to empty the water reservoir on some dryers after every few loads because they do not drain automatically. I have given up on the dryer completely and now only hang dry my clothes which is better for the environment anyway. However, it rains a lot here so my laundry is often spread out all over the house, rather than neatly on the line out back. Our washer and dryer settings are also in German so there were a few mishaps in the beginning.
“What is a Closet?”
Our house did not have a single closet when we moved in. They just are not included in the building plans of a lot of European houses. Ever wonder why Ikea has such great closets? Because everyone has to buy them here! I know several couples and families who use the spare bedroom in their house as a shared closet because clothing racks and “shranks” take up so much space. We were able to buy several wardrobes second hand and they are all over the house because they are our only storage.
A lot of things about our new household are different and we just accepted it. The size of the oven and fridge were not as easy to adjust to. The fridge in our kitchen is the size of the mini fridge in my dorm room throughout university. The oven is small enough that it doubles as a microwave- we will never be able to cook even a small turkey inside of it. There is also no freezer, which we have never been able to explain. The small fridge is because Germans buy everything fresh and the shop more often because they only buy what they immediately need. Europeans also refrigerate less of their food than North Americans. Eggs in Europe are not washed before being sold and retain a protective membrane that allows them to be kept unrefrigerated for up to 28 days after laying. We don’t refrigerate our eggs here, but we have a North American fridge and freezer in the basement.
Castles, Castles, Everywhere!
There are castles, big and small, absolutely everywhere. Sometimes, I stumble upon one when I am out walking the dog. The Disney Princess inside of me is thriving in their presence. Castles are cool because, hey, castles. They are way more interesting than I ever expected though, because every single one is unique and has been shaped or destroyed by unique circumstances and history. There is a sense of consistency and also uniqueness with castles that I love. If you stick around, you will read much more about them.
I’m sure over time this list will only get longer. We learn new things about German and Dutch culture every day. We love living here, but some things are so different from life in Canada that they strike us as odd at first. For the most part, we have thoroughly embraced the differences of life in Europe. New things take time to get used to and we will stay open to all the new experiences that come our way.