Sunday, June 10, 2012

Germany vs. USA: Lifestyle Differences

Today, I'll be taking a detour from my normally scheduled programming to inform you what German life is like and how it compares to the US of A. I'll be comparing everything I can think of, including: fashion, laws, transportation, language, school, leisure, environment, people, media, sport and (hopefully) more!

USA: Compared to Germany at least, anything goes. One could conceivably walk outside wearing garbage bags and not be looked at twice. Americans have virtually no expectations for clothing in public and are increasingly becoming used to the wildest trends, both for better and for worse. I suppose in that regard, then, Europe is only following America's rebellion-like willingness to be different. In American, we really are used to seeing clothing of all shapes, sizes and colors. So everything in Europe is quite tame in comparison!

Germany: People in Germany like to stare. A LOT. It's normal to exchange glances with a pretty girl or a business man. It's then to be expected if one walks in public wearing pajamas (which is culturally acceptable in America) to be stared at as if one's hair is on fire! I wore a shirt to a soccer club in a different town where I'm living at the moment. I was looked at with such obsession only exemplified by the paparazzi. For a mere day I was famous. But not in a good way. I was looked upon with scorn and [seeming] hatred for my anti-Düsseldorf shirt, which may as well be considered sacrilege.

An accidental photo, but it illustrates how any one of these people could well pass off as Americans by the way the dress.

USA: One of my favorite parts of the US is that it has no official language. Theoretically, (however it really doesn't thanks to naturalization) this should contribute to a more accepting, tolerant society that respects all languages and cultures. Rather, we have indignant people who demand immigrants learn English because this is 'Merica. Not having an official language has had the reverse effect in the States.  However, people do tolerate all sorts of accents from every coast and continent. People rarely, if ever, pretentiously correct each other. People really speak whatever they want however they want and I suppose it's this laissez-faire attitude that carries through our language that makes out the US to be stupid abroad.

Germany: Perhaps it's not only until now that Germans are experiencing immigration on a scale comparable to the United States. I've noticed a sense of pride when it comes to properly speaking German. Even thought I've been complimented many times over for my authentic accent, there have still been times when my grammar rubbed some native speakers the wrong way into asking me where I'm from. I sense a degree of xenophobia in Germany when it comes to foreigners. They always need to know where you're from. So they can label you and distance themselves or something else, I know not.

USA: In the United States, it's a good thing to be noticed. Good qualities to have are to dress well, look good, drive your convertible, blasting your Lady-Ke$ha-Perry mishmash mainstream (bullshit) music, all the while wearing your Ray Bans and looking like we Americans fancy, a "badass." It's quite normal for there to be people who (seem to) exist solely for attention. In Germany, things are again, rather different.
Germany: Unlike this extroverted, douchebag trend to notice and be noticed in the US, Germans are a milder sort. Germans dress largely very, very similar from one person to the next. They don't take many chances when it comes to clothing, behavior, etc. Of course, I'm generalizing, but at the same time I've seen this all first-hand.

Women's Rights: 
USA: Perhaps "Women's Rights" isn't the most appropriate name for this entry, but it's the closest name I could think of. In any case, in the US, women are downtrodden, underrated and underplayed, making men out to be the only possible breadwinners. It's really sad how often the potential of women is not achieved thanks to our cultural norms. If there is a family driving in the US, maybe as a point of male arrogance or tradition, the father always drives. There is a sense that women are not capable of focusing as they drive, and this has been the source of countless misogynistic jokes that highlight absurd women-caused crashes (but how many have men caused? More.)

Politically, it seems with regard to Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, both have been perceived as afterthoughts. There is a deep-seated belief in most Americans that women are not capable of leading a nation. Sarah Palin, the closest woman candidate in recent memory, was a laughing stock for being a republican, a woman or (perhaps actually) dumb, I don't know. Whatever it was, she was by no means given the respect she deserved.

Germany: In Germany, it is not unusual to see a middle-aged woman driving a car full of kids, with an equally-middle-aged man. Only, this time, sitting in the passenger seat. Call me crazy, but in Germany, where overwhelmingly the cars have manual transmissions people are more likely to pay attention to the bloody road! You know, 'cuz if you don't move that lever, your car won't go much faster than 40mph... In the US, people get away with reading books, eating, apply makeup, doing all sorts of useless crap on their phones and even having sex while driving I think in part because of our love with the automatic transmission. Without it, how on earth could Americans chow their Big Macs down while driving?!

America has been notorious for giving women rights at a less-than-brisk pace and that continues to be the case.

My theory then is that women gained the right to drive so late relative to the car's existence, that there were few women drivers, and the few who dared to drive weren't very good for the pressure that rested on their shoulders. And it's an unfortunate self-fulfilling prophecy when women hear that women "make the worst drivers" garbage, and then they're not disappointed when they don't pass their driving exam or get into a fender bender. And when they tell their friends about it, it's normal! While all that may have been theory, this is true: society sets our expectations for ourselves. Hence why men are more likely when their driving is insulted than women. Don't ask me though, I'm just a guy, what do I know? You don't need to tell me! I digress.

USA: In the US, either public transportation is so inefficient and slow or the public is so arrogant or lazy that it neglects its usefulness in favor of something infinitely more direct: the car. Americans' love for the car and over-sized ones at that is undeniable. It is nearly impossible to ask all Americans to shift their long-held cultural corner stone to now all of a sudden rely on a different means of transportation. Likely a result of money being easier to acquire, almost everyone has a car. If more Germans had the means (and means for storage as well!) I image more would own them. Americans need not think twice if their Dinali will fit in a parking lot or if they'll be able to parallel park it in a centuries-old German town with cobblestone streets lining its historic center. No, Americans bus their kids to and from school, perform errands and go out to lunch all the while achieving 12 mpg in their SUVs that do anything but go off-road.

Germany: Unlike in America, where what kind of car you have is a status symbol, having a car period in Germany is one. If in Germany, one is so affluent so as to be able to bypass the high taxes (in a variety of forms) imposed on citizens, high food costs, high utility costs (Germans have to pay for how much water they use and drain, if you're an American reading, can you imagine?!), let alone high education costs you are probably still paying off (But education is certainly worth it, because it got you your cushy desk job today. And even though you may not be enjoying the luxuries Americans do, you have dinner on your plate each night), and yet you still have enough "leftover" to afford an SUV, you have a lot of money.

As if having an automobile period in Germany is a big deal, incredibly, BMWs, Mercedes and Audis are sold as economy cars in Germany. Contrast to the 'States, where they are heralded as only premium "products," they are complete with hubcaps, low-displacement motors (anywhere from 1.0-2.0 liters) and tacky plastic exterior parts that keep costs relatively low. In the US the current generation BMW 3 Series for example, wouldn't be caught dead with any engine smaller than a 2.8 liter engine. About two times the average European engine!

In Germany, hatchbacks are the equivalent to sedans in the US. But instead of Chevy, Ford and so on, it's more common to see Seat, Citroën and VW. Also contributing to cost-savings is the low price for diesel. Diesel is the cheapest kind of fuel in fact. Standard unleaded 95 petroleum costs €1.73, while diesel is €1.54. With the small European hatchbacks exceeding 60 mpg ratings without breaking a sweat, Germans take every opportunity they can to save money in everywhere possible.

German S-Bahn train station. Notice anything in the background?
An example of hatchbacks lining a German street.
People crowd into an U-Bahn car after Japantag (Japan day) festivities.

USA: When I say "laws," I imply law enforcement primarily and the public's adherence to said enforcement. In the US, the police try to hold a vice grip to the people. Ever-imposing, ever-oppressing and never allowing any fun or freedom to be had. They do not trust the public, which is why the public behaves irresponsibly in the first place. If the police would allow the public some breathing room, then I believe they would act with more maturity. Of course, if whenever you come home from school and your parents do nothing but beat you and yell at you, you're going to either 1) run away from home, or 2) become rebellious and disrespect and disobey them. It should be clear that at this point, I'm not referring to murder, vandalism, arson, drug-vending or gang activity. Rather, traffic-related law enforcement. The police show no respect to the public (who pay their salaries) so why would the public to the police. It feels as though the police are constantly out to get people.

Traffic law enforcement is only the tip of the iceberg in the United States. A great deal of the laws Congress puts into practice are remedial for a problem that already has arisen and inadequately addresses said problem because Congress is so horribly inefficient and at this point the problem has morphed and gone on to hurt the lives of others in more terrible ways.

Germany: Compared with Germany, laws have immensely more foresight and fewer problems are likely to arise. This is illustrated by the absence of a violent relationship between police officer and citizen in Germany as seen in the United States. In my opinion, a smarter way to do things. (Also in Germany, people actually wait for the cue to cross the road! In the 'States, they may as well be props!)

USA: Environmental issues are a huge concern of mine. I cringed when I saw the enormous amount of trash from my peers at my college, Marquette University and the university's general reluctance and ignorance of the concept of recycling.

Such ideas of recycling and conservation may as well be thousands of miles away from the American psyche.

By in large, Americans don't seem to realize the real impact of wasting recyclable materials and really don't seem to want to care either. Out of sheer comfort, they just throw away and forget. This is evidenced by the unstoppable hunger to tear down forests and establish schools, houses and businesses. American urban sprawl is money-driven and will stop at virtually nothing, let alone natural habitats and risking the little fresh air there is left to breath.

Perhaps it's the unrestrictive economy that inspires free enterprise and million-dollar homes, which have come to represent success in the land of the free. I'm by no means against financial prosperity and luxury homes, but American society's desire to expand at the expense of nature is insatiable and nothing - not even this blog! - can do anything to stop it. The Man is too greedy to not want his third lakehouse and his seventh Porsche. Because of this, I'm disgusted and constantly fearful that in 20 year's time, the only nature that will be left will be the few forest preserves that are around today.

Germany: Germany appears satisfied with what establishment it already has. That is a quality I love about it. It allows a great deal of greenery to live - in cities, parks, towns and in and around streets - it is not limited to where humans said it could or couldn't be. It's a more liberal approach to the environment.  Whether that word bears a positive or negative connotation for you, it is positive in this case.

A great initiative in Germany is for every glass and plastic bottle, there is a ,25-cent reward. This inspires citizens to not litter and throw things in the trash like their American counterparts, but instead, to recycle. What a concept! Even though my family recycles, I'm sure such a word is shamefully foreign to most American households.

A feature of German society I cannot get past is how rampant smoking remains to be. That is by no means doing any favors for the environment!

The site right outside my window in Germany! By God is it lovely!
Area near my home, how gorgeous!

USA: The United States is the undeniable winner in this comparison. Germans watch our films, listen to our music and sing it in English, watch our television and are obsessed with everything American, because when that word is uttered, "Hollywood," "the music industry" and a number of other cultural touchstones are conjured. When I have told a group of German girls that I was from America, their eyes lit up in tandem.

The American media bears so much influence abroad in fact, that young German boys are beginning to wear American baseball, hockey, basketball and football hats and high school football jackets as  fashion statements. (And with little clue any of those sports are!)

Several months after their initial release, translated American films are shown in Kinos across Germany, CNN and a translated version of the History Channel play on televisions, while MTV dominates youthful ears with their exotic, American lyrics.

Germany: Germany does have a unique take on American media, although it is slight and often seeking to mimic the tried-and-true American methods. They've got rap and hip-hop like us, but in German and comedy like us (I even saw a show last night that was exactly like America's Funniest Home Videos, coincidence, right?).

Also, I'm a fan of house, trance and drum and bass music, and for once, it's not unusual to hear this music on the radio! Something I could never expect to hear in the US.

I find their reporting style and presentation to be more of the English flavor than the American, but you can win everything now can you?

BOTH: While the average American sportsfan is enthralled with basketball, baseball and football, I find these sports downright monotonous to watch. My saving grace (and don't be shocked) is NASCAR. Most northerners find this sport just as monotonous as I described basketball, baseball and football. And I can understand. Yes it is in an oval. And most of the time I myself find it boring. But when I sit down to watch a race it can be some extraordinarily compelling entertainment. 

More than NASCAR (and I really only watch and gave NASCAR a chance because that's all the Speed Channel shows) is road racing. This is racing again, but thankfully not in an oval formation. My favorite racing series include ALMS (American Le Mans Series), Formula 1, WTCC (World Touring Car Championship), BTCC, (British Touring Car Championship), DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft) and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. 

I also am a supporter of Manchester United and the German National Team, so I quite enjoy soccer as well, which means Germany is the right place for me when it comes to soccer and motorsports.


Summer Weather:
BOTH: Here I'll talk about summer weather more than anything else because my only experience in Germany (including my trip with my family in 2009 and this current month-long trip I'm on now for a German language intensive course) have been during summer.

In the Chicago, where I hail, the weather is gorgeous during this time. As of this writing is Chicago a (more) gorgeous (than Germany) 33˚ C (91˚ F), while here in Düsseldorf is a not so great temperature of 18˚ C (64˚ F).

Germany always finds a way to rain, one way or another. It frustrates me so much, but that's probably why there is so much green here. Every day I'm here, while I love the culture and experience speaking German, I'm missing one more day of gorgeous American weather. I love the heat. This is not what I had in mind coming to Germany in the summer. In fact, I only brought one pair of pants because I thought the weather was going to be ten times warmer. Boy was I wrong because it gets frost-like here during the night!

Rain, in Germany? No? You don't say? It never rains here!

In All:
It will prove impossibly difficult deciding whether I should move to Germany when I move on to my profession writing career. There is so much good and bad with both countries. And it's not even a direct comparison, because they are both respectively good and bad in a variety of ways that are in no way reflective of one another.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Concerning the language part:

It has nothing to do with xenophobia if people ask you where you come from.
They ask because they are interested in the world. Because maybe they have traveled to your city in the past.
Or they are interested in your country. So it is the other way round!!