Stories from my life and travels as an American expat in Germany. Awkwardness guaranteed!

Everyone Loves a Top 10 List

Everyone Loves a Top 10 List

No country is perfect. As often as I find myself missing the USA and my home state of Michigan, I know there are many things that could be improved about the American way of life. Since America is a country that loves to borrow from other cultures, I think there are a few things the USA could learn from their German counterparts. So, I present to you: the Top 10 Things Germany Does Better than the USA!

10. Graffiti

If they (or their city) can afford it, Americans cover up graffiti as soon as possible. Especially if it’s in a highly-visible area, such as the front of a heavily-trafficked business. In contrast, the mentality in Germany seems to be: it’s just going to happen again, so why bother covering it up? I see graffiti everywhere here: small towns, big towns, alleyways, business fronts, park benches, public art, tunnels, etc. It doesn’t matter how “nice” an area is in Germany, or how rural; someone has used a sharpie or spray paint to “tag” something.

Of course, German graffiti didn’t make this list because I think America should adopt a similar “it’s going to happen, so why bother covering it up?” policy. It’s still an eyesore. But, I do agree that it’s (unfortunately) just going to keep happening, both in Germany and the USA. So, I’d like to see American graffiti at least turn just as positive and benign as the German variety.

Sure, you have your usual scribbles of someone’s name, smiley faces, and genitalia; those symbols transcend borders. Peppered among those poorly-drawn schlongs, however, are inspirational phrases like “nazis not welcome” and “fuck the AfD.” I’ve even come across messages about the importance of diversity. Basically, it’s the motivational posters found in your local school, but with swearing.

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9. Paper Products

I used to think it was weird when my husband would complain about the quality and cost of things like facial tissue, toilet paper, and paper towel in the USA. Paper products are paper products, right? Surely they can only be so strong before entering cloth territory.

Well, it turns out that even the cheapest toilet paper here is stronger and softer than the expensive stuff in the USA. With the exception of a few local businesses, I’ve yet to see anything lower than three ply, even in public places. Do you normally use more than one facial tissue at a time when you have a cold, because you know it’s just going to fall apart after one blow? No need for that here! The tissues are twice as strong and yet somehow twice as soft. The cheap paper towel is just as strong as the most expensive stuff back home, but half the price; take that, Bounty.

8. Recycling

After you’ve finished cleaning with paper towel, remember to put it in the appropriate bin! Here in Germany, we have three waste bins: paper, plastic, and “everything else.” Sorting your garbage is required by law, and if you’re caught doing it incorrectly, you can be slapped with a fine. Many areas even require a fourth bin for organic waste.

In contrast, recycling is not required in the majority of the USA. Sure, some states encourage the recycling of cans and bottles by adding a deposit, but it’s not enforced. If you want to recycle paper or plastic, you will usually need to load up your vehicle and take it to the recycling center yourself. If the area you live in happens to offer curbside pickup along with your regular garbage, you will have to opt-in first and agree to an additional fee.

America would greatly benefit from implementing the same recycling laws and policies as Germany. Sure, there are a few “it’s muh right as a ‘murican not to recycle!” types that would complain. Still, I think most Americans would be happy to recycle if it was picked up (free of extra charge) on garbage day.

Bonus: no plastic bags at the grocery stores, and all paper bags come at an extra cost. Here, we use our own containers for our groceries and pack them ourselves. Once you get used to it, it’s a lot faster AND better for the environment.

7. Mainstream Beer

bier

Until about three years ago, I thought I hated beer. Why? Because American macro breweries (think Budweiser, Miller, and Busch) make awful beer. The majority of easy-to-find beer in the USA is not intended to be sipped and enjoyed; it’s just a way to get drunk, with flavors ranging from non-existent to garbage water.

The only upside of mainstream American beer is that it’s cheap, which may account for its overwhelming popularity. Well, that and aggressive marketing and underhanded tactics.

The mass-produced, easy-to-find beer here in Germany, however, is both very good and cheap. This may be because Germans have had longer to perfect the art of brewing, and the fact that there’s much less of a focus on light beer than in the USA, where light is king. I personally prefer stouts, porters, and amber ales; all of which are difficult to find in America unless you’re in the craft beer section. Here, there are plenty of options to choose from and they’re all reasonably priced.

6. Dog-Friendly Everything

Germans take their dogs everywhere. And I do mean everywhere; every tenth person you will encounter on the street has a dog with them, there are always dogs in the mall, and you will usually spot at least one under a table in a restaurant.

In comparison, the USA is extremely unfriendly to dog owners. Very few places allow dogs inside, unless they are a service animal. Even restaurants that want to allow dogs often can’t, because of state or local health codes that prohibit all animals in places that serve food.

Of course, some of this may be because American dogs are, on the whole, not as well-behaved as German dogs. Most of the dogs I see, even in downtown areas, are being walked without a leash. They stay at their owner’s side, or just a little bit ahead, and never allow themselves to be distracted. I rarely hear barking these days and I’ve never had a German dog jump all over me out of excitement.

I think this stems not only from better training, but in how your average German interacts with dogs; or, more specifically, how they don’t interact with dogs. Children here generally do not pet strange dogs without asking the owner’s permission, which I’ve regularly seen both kids and adults (who should know better) do all the time in the USA. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen kids or adults here show much interest at all in dogs that do not belong to them. In other words, every dog here seems to get the service dog treatment of “leave him alone, he’s working.”

5. Bread

Oprah should move to Germany.

If you have only a basic understanding of German food, you are probably picturing beer, sausage, kraut, and pretzels. Well, now you know to add bread to the list, because Germans love bread, and they will complain incessantly about American bread while living in the USA. I used to find it kind of annoying but now, dudeI get it.

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There are bakeries on every corner, often with 20+ different types of bread. I’m sure your local bakery is just fine; maybe, they’re even amazing. Well, I’m here to tell you that they don’t compare to the bakeries in Germany. Even the cheap grocery stores here have amazing bread.

4. Grocery Prices

Speaking of the cheap grocery stores…they are everywhere, and they are the best. I have regularly bought four bags of groceries plus toiletries for under 20 Euro at Lidl. Yes, there are more expensive stores, but even those are cheaper than your average American grocery store. Also…the food isn’t any better at the expensive stores, there’s just more variety. Quality food is so easy to find here.

I’ve heard many a European in the USA lament the fact that healthy food is so hard to find in the USA. I used to find such comments arrogant, as anyone with eyes can see that most American grocery stores have a huge selection of produce, meat, and dairy; it’s up to the consumer to avoid the prepackaged stuff in the aisles.

What I now realize is that they were trying to say that it’s hard to find healthy food at a decent price. I kept our grocery bills pretty low in the USA by avoiding places like Whole Foods, buying in-season produce, and only purchasing meat that was on sale. I also used coupons. Yet for all of those strategies, we are still spending much less money on groceries since moving to Germany.

When you consider how popular commercial farming is in the USA in comparison to here in Germany, you have to wonder why, exactly, food prices are so high to begin with…

3. Drinking Laws

I had my first Wegbier on Christmas Eve, 2015. We were walking back from a Christmas dinner with my husband’s friends, and he noticed that one of the local bars was actually open. He decided it was really important for me to have the experience of having a beer while walking, so we got two bottles of beer and drank them on the way back to our hotel.

That was all perfectly legal here in Germany, though it would have been illegal in 99.99% of the United States. Such laws are, of course, outdated and pointless. You need only look at Germany to see that allowing people to drink on the streets doesn’t turn everyone into a degenerate. What’s more, people are going to do it anyway if they really want to; the stereotype of a paper bag around a 40 exists for a reason, and I often saw empty beer or liquor bottles on the side of the street in certain areas of the USA.

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Interesting use of water bottle holder…

I also think the age restrictions here are much better than in the USA. When you place a hard restriction on something, it only increases the allure; especially for teenagers looking to rebel. Here, you can drink beer and wine at 16, and at 18 you can have hard liquor. Alcohol isn’t so exciting if you don’t have to wait three arbitrary years after becoming an adult to legally have some.

I’ve heard some make the argument that it’s because kids in the USA get to drive unrestricted much earlier than their European counterparts. While this may be true (you can drive without an adult as young as 16 in most states), there is only a two year difference; German teens can drive unaccompanied at the age of 18; the same birthday they can legally purchase hard liquor.

So, are German teens just inherently more responsible? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps the real difference is…

2. Public Transportation and Pedestrian Paths

There’s very little excuse to drive drunk in Germany. Really, there’s never any excuse at all, but I’ve unfortunately known one too many Americans that will drive home intoxicated because they felt they had no other option. If you’re lucky enough to live in a handful of large cities in the USA, you might be able to take public transportation home, but for most Americans, their only responsible options to get home after a night out are expensive taxis (yes, I’m including Uber and Lyft; they get expensive if you’re not sharing the cost with some friends) or a designated driver.

In Germany, even small cities have reliable public transport. Don’t want to take the bus, streetcar, subway, or train? Well, take your bike! Here, there is always a dedicated pedestrian path that will get you to your destination.

Living without a car is nearly impossible in America outside of a few cities like LA, NYC, and San Francisco. In Germany, it’s easy; I do all of my shopping by bike, and if I want to go to a larger nearby city, there is always the train. You can even bring your bike with you, so long as you buy a ticket for your bike and pick a train that has a bike compartment. Don’t want to pay extra? Get a folding bike, and you can bring it with you in the overhead compartment! Don’t have a bike? The buses are fairly reliable and, even if you live in an area with a bad connection, there’s probably a grocery store within walking distance.

None of this is to say that people don’t drive in Germany, or that having a car doesn’t make certain aspects of life much easier. Obviously, they do and it can; it’s just much easier to be a non-driver here than it is in the USA.

1. Benefits

The USA is one of only eight countries that has no statutory paid minimum vacation days, and one of only four that do not require businesses to offer paid maternity leave.

Germany, on the other hand, has a government-required minimum of 20 paid vacation days per year, and nine public holidays. Parental leave is guaranteed by the government, meaning both mother and father get paid time off with the baby. In some cases, such as the mother being a minor, even grandparents can get time off. Germans also have universal healthcare, along with the rest of the developed world (besides the United States, of course).

Germans enjoy a number of other benefits, such as KinderGeld, strong unions, free college for undergraduate students, and fair maximum working hours.

So why doesn’t the USA have all of these benefits? Well, for one, you need much higher taxes to support most of these programs; something that would, unfortunately, not go over well in America. The big question, of course, is why programs that would be funded by employers aren’t being demanded by a larger portion of the American people. I have my own theories, but that’s a post for another time, perhaps.

Tune in next week for the Top 10 Things the USA Does Better than Germany!


Reader Comments

  1. Yes, very similar to Aldi. All of the Aldis I’ve seen have been a little larger than the Lidls, but there’s an even smaller, more basic store called Penny. I don’t really like their selection at Penny and the prices are similar to Lidl, so I don’t bother shopping there, but it does seem to be a pretty popular store.

  2. Great article ! And I love how you write ! 🙂
    It’s interesting to have the vision of an American in Europe! That’s the beauty of living abroad, you really can experience the country, the culture, the people… And that’s awesome ! 🙂

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