Friday, September 4, 2015

Germany vs. the U.S.: A Scorecard

Torsten has lived in the U.S. for 10 years now, and while he continues to love it here and we plan to live here forever, it feels like the more distance he gets from his time in Germany, the more he appreciates some of the things Germany offers that the U.S. doesn't. On our most recent trip to Germany, it seemed like he was wistfully pointing out quite a few areas where the U.S. falls short. To be fair, he had a point on all of those topics. But, we also noticed a few things where the U.S. actually comes out ahead. To that point, some thoughts on the advantages of each (note that these are all small, practical things, not questions about, like, government and life philosophy or anything).

Until I met Torsten, I thought that the autobahn was the name of one particular special road in Germany that didn't have a speed limit. I have since been enlightened: autobahn basically means interstate, and it refers to the entire federal highway system in Germany, which crosses the entire country with a ton of different roads, and large sections of most of them don't have speed limits. There are limits when you go through more urban areas, more dangerous/difficult to navigate areas, construction zones, etc. But otherwise, no speed limits. People routinely drive well over 100 mph. As a result, the "slower drivers keep right" policy is strictly enforced, and you pretty much never see someone pass on the right. I would say that 100 MPH was my comfort zone on our road trip--any faster than that made me feel edgy, and Torsten agreed. Certainly it made the road trip go by faster--we covered 400 miles in under seven hours including multiple stops with two little kids. The traffic patterns were orderly, and the rest stops were multiple steps above what you can usually find in the U.S. 
Winner: Germany

Parking Garages
People in Europe generally drive small cars. The VW Golf is by far the most popular car in Germany. SUVs exist, but are rare, and even those that you see are generally smaller than their U.S. counterparts. This has some benefits (and is helpfully on narrow roads built hundreds of years ago), but also, the German obsession with small cars and efficient use of space has led to the construction of some of the most insane parking garages I've ever seen. Even in Torsten's dad's VW Golf, which is a tiny car, we had a lot of trouble squeezing into spots even though the lines were clear. Getting the kids out of the back seat (even though the Golf had four doors) in those parking garages was near impossible. The turns on the ramps to get from one level to the next were terrifyingly tight, and if a car was coming the other way, watch out. I don't know what anyone in a minivan would even DO. Coming back to U.S parking garages where cars fit in spaces and nobody's back breaks trying to maneuver a kid out of a car was like a huge sigh of relief. (And that's before you even think about the amazing parking garage I saw in Santa Fe where every parking space had a red or green light over it indicating availability and there was a counter telling you how many free spaces there were and in what direction when you got to each floor, because THAT was magical.)
Winner: U.S.

Grocery Stores
U.S. grocery stores aren't bad. And we have a lot of variety in type of grocery store (standard such as Kroger/King Soopers, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, etc.). But German grocery stores are something else. They have amazing bakeries in-house, with certified bakers who had to do extended apprenticeships to learn how to bake. They have full-on butchers. They have amazing fresh meat and dairy. And it's all significantly less expensive than a comparable quality of grocery in the U.S. would be. My in-laws went to the grocery store and bought many pounds of delicious, top-quality meat to grill for our six-person (four-adult) group and paid a total of... 12 Euros. Also, the butcher shop in Germany is still a major thing. I would loooove a local butcher around here, but sadly that's just a pipe dream.
Winner: Germany

King Beds
German king beds are actually two twin mattresses attached to one headboard, each with their own twin-sized blanket or duvet. I know that some people actually prefer that, but I don't know WHY they prefer that, because it is awful. I'm certain that I'm being completely objective here, but no no NOPE. First of all, a crack down the middle of the bed is just not pleasant or necessary. What does it ACHIEVE? Torsten and I are both kind of sprawly sleepers who drape on each other a bit, especially when we first go to bed and are in the process of falling asleep, and having a giant crack in the bed makes our usual falling-asleep positions completely impossible. Second, I know that neither of us is a small person, but the twin-sized duvet thing is seriously for the birds. I love one giant king size blanket for us because there's plenty of blanket to go around, nobody is hogging, and there's no cold air getting in the sides because it's so big and drapey. A twin-size duvet with no extra overhang does not cover me, especially if I'm lying on my side, and drape nicely down to the sides of the bed to prevent air from getting in. Do not like. 
Winner: U.S.

OK, even I can acknowledge that this one is purely subjective. And it's not even so much about Germany vs. the U.S. (though partly that) as it is about family traditions. My family typically makes a big deal out of Christmas--big Christmas morning, Santa and the stockings, a huge roast beef dinner, etc. Torsten's family is much lower-key. Also, in Germany Christmas is celebrated with the dinner and the gift exchange on December 24, and Santa comes on St. Nicholas Day, which is December 6. So it's all just more spread out and felt, at least to me, very muted. It was still lovely, and I have no complaints about having done it that way, and also, Germany has amazing Christmas markets, but as a general rule I personally prefer Christmas American-style. It was very weird not to have a real Christmas morning, especially. However, I recognize that this is a serious case of personal taste and that other people would prefer the German way, so I am not going to call this fight.
Winner: Tie


  1. Oh, man, the parking garages almost killed me in Germany (and Spain as well). We'd get kids out of the car then pull into the parking spot, but often the driver would still be trapped then. How do people do it???

    On the other hand, I've always wished for the two-twin version of a bed. I'm basically a child who wants a line running down the middle of the bed so I can say "you're on MY SIDE." Also, perhaps we just have a crappy mattress, but there's an ever-so-slight tipping towards the middle if we're both on it and I don't want to be in the middle. I want to be on my side! Alone!

  2. We just have a small car but yes, generally parking is much smaller in Europe. Parking garages especially can be scary!
    Regarding the bed, as a German while the two twin mattresses are normal to me, I also prefer one big mattress & one big duvet. My parents came to stay with us recently and we bought them each a twin duvet at their request. Most of my German friends think sharing a duvet can't work although I think a lot will agree about the two mattresses being kind of stupid because of the crack in the middle. The only reason I think it can be a good idea is if the persons sharing the bed had completely different needs regarding hard/soft mattresses. That way you can each get what's best for each of you.