19 May, 2016

Life in Germany: My Pet Peeves

When I first set out to write about the day-to-day frustrations of living in Germany, I thought I would have a short little list, the post would be a quick read and we could all move on with our day. Once I started writing, though, the pet peeves just started pouring in and now this post has quite a bit more than I expected. I've already written about my all-time biggest pet peeve about life in Germany, specifically the obsession with constantly airing out nicely warmed indoor spaces, so luckily you'll be spared reading about that one again. But that is certainly not the only frustrating detail about day-to-day German life. In no particular order, here are some more of my pet peeves about living in Germany:

1. Window blinds

Skylight window with the blind down. Nice view, huh?

I've also already written briefly about this one in another post, but it deserves mentioning again: I don't understand why anyone would want to sleep with their windows completely sealed off from the outside world. Then when you wake up, instead of having nice bright sunshine to welcome you to the new day, you have the same exact pitch darkness you had the rest of the night. How is a person supposed to wake up when you have no idea what time of day or night it is? Why have windows at all? (Oh right, to let all the heat out, I forgot.) And it's not just the bedrooms that have these things, it's every window and glass door in the whole house. I can't tell you how many mornings I came downstairs at my au pair family's house and found it completely dark with all the blinds down (and the LIGHTS ON!!), which then left me the arduous task of raising them all (and they are heavy!). Also, as someone prone to claustrophobia, these blinds often make me feel like I'm trapped inside my own house. Luckily I don't have to deal with this anymore, since neither my apartment nor Maxim's have these monstrous blinds (YES!!).

2. People wishing me Guten Appetit

I'm not really sure why this bothers me, since it is well-intentioned, but when I first moved to Germany I couldn't stand it. People in Germany wish others Guten Appetit, which translates to "enjoy your meal" or "bon appetit," basically whenever they see another person eating something but specifically when they sit down to a meal together. In the U.S. we are much less formal about beginning our meals, and the only time you are likely to hear "enjoy your meal" is from a server in a restaurant who has to be extra nice to you in order to make more money in tips. It just comes across as weird to me that someone I'm sitting down to lunch with would say something that I associate with being served, and that I am expected to do the same. It's especially weird when I'm eating alone and someone comes into the room and says "Guten Appetit" and nothing else. It makes me feel uncomfortable, and when the other person isn't also eating what am I supposed to say in response? "Danke"? Why would I thank someone for interrupting my meal and making me feel uncomfortable?

3. Deodorant

I very much enjoy the concept of deodorant, but the execution in Germany is, in my opinion, abysmal. Germany has a baffling tendency toward roll-on deodorant, and if you are looking for anything other than that you are going to have a very hard time and very few choices. Where are all the solid stick deodorants that I know and love? Apparently nowhere to be found. I went looking for a solid deodorant and found a grand total of one choice that didn't have aluminum in it, and when I got it home and tried it, it turned out it wasn't even a real solid at all but had the consistency of a weirdly congealed gel. I don't understand why anyone would want to put on deodorant and immediately feel like they've already been sweating for five hours; I personally prefer a normal solid deodorant that keeps me dry. But alas, it seems I will just have to suffer in this area (and stock up on solid deodorant when I'm in the States).

4. Lack of books in English

It's certainly possible to find some books in English in German bookstores and libraries, but the selection is predictably sparse. I appreciate the relatively good selection of novels, particularly classics, at my university library, and I have started to take advantage of those, but I miss going into a library and having a fairly good chance that I will find what I'm looking for. Here that is not the case, and the list of English books that I want to read is getting longer and longer without me having a reliable way to access any of them. I have the option of buying the books I want to read, but there are two problems with this: 1. I'd normally have to buy them from the UK or US and pay international shipping, and 2. I would then have to carry those books around the next time I move (which will be relatively soon) or sell them again, both of which seem like more effort than I want to put in. Unfortunately my current to-read list contains a lot of non-fiction, which is especially hard to find without buying it internationally.

5. German blankets

I recently tweeted that German bedding is the bane of my existence, and I will stand by this statement until the cows come home. Germans have this misguided notion that all four seasons, including summer, require a down comforter and therefore there are no other blanket options available. The down comforter that is the "summer blanket" to Germans is a winter blanket to me, and the comforter for winter, in my opinion, should be reserved for outdoor camping in sub-zero temperatures, or maybe nuclear winter or another apocalyptic scenario. How am I supposed to sleep comfortably when I'm overheating like crazy? And when I inevitably get hot, too bad, my only option is to take off the one ridiculously warm blanket and then, surprise surprise, I'm freezing. And this is just the beginning of the issues.

Then comes the comforter cover. Instead of using top sheets, Germans force their comforters into huge pillowcase-like contraptions that are difficult to remove and even harder to put back on. (The opening in the bottom to put the blanket through is too small and there are way too many buttons involved.) What's wrong with using a top sheet and normal, non-comforter blankets that can be added and removed according to the temperature/season? I can already hear Maxim's arguments against top sheets and in favor of this German nonsense, but I've heard it all before and I'm not convinced. I would say we'll have to agree to disagree, but that's hard to do when we are visiting each other and have to share the same set of blankets. Someone is always unhappy.

6. German pillows

And the bedding issues don't end with blankets. The pillows are also completely nonsensical. For starters, they are almost always down-filled, which is already my least favorite kind of pillow. Then on top of that, they are *gasp* SQUARE!! Whose idea was this??? A square pillow filled with down is literally the worst kind of pillow I could possibly dream up, and Germany doesn't seem to have anything else. I spent an entire 14 months with my au pair family trying desperately to fold, punch and otherwise coerce my square, down-filled pillow into submission every night and it never worked. It seems like Germans just decided to take their already ridiculous blankets, cut them into squares (SQUARES!!) and make pillows out of them. *sigh* Someday I will import "real" bedding from the US and will never look back.

I shit you not, this is an actual, standard size German pillowcase (Queen size mattress for scale). It's so unnecessarily huge and unwieldy. As you can see, the pillow inside it is much smaller than the case (because I refuse to use the huge down pillows that are supposed to go in here), which creates its own host of issues.


Anyone who has ever been on YouTube in Germany will know what I'm talking about. You're all excited to watch the music video to your new favorite song and BAM! You see this...

... for the THOUSANDTH TIME!! GEMA, the Gesellschaft für musikalische Aufführungs- und mechanische Vervielfältigungsrechte (otherwise known as the German fun police), is the German organization which seeks to protect the rights of musicians and prevent unlicensed and uncompensated use of music, which they explain in this adorable video (only in German, unfortunately). This is all well and good, but they go to some bizarre lengths to achieve their goals, one of which is the screen shot above. This is what I saw when I attempted to watch the video for the original version of a song uploaded to YouTube by the original artist! I highly doubt the artist would upload a video of his own music to YouTube and then willfully prevent his German fans from watching it, so who is GEMA protecting exactly? No one really knows. I've seen this GEMA warning once or twice on remixes or covers of other artists' songs, which I would expect from such an organization, but the laughable part is that the majority of the videos that are blocked are songs uploaded by the artists themselves to their official YouTube channels. Really, GEMA?? It seems like you're shooting the artists in the foot who you are claiming to represent.

8. Windows redux: No screens

Windows should have screens on them to prevent vermin from entering the house, right? Apparently, not so in Germany. When Germans inevitably leave all their windows open to let in all the nice fresh (or freezing) air, in come all possible manner of bugs. I just now had two bees in my room that didn't want to leave and were making all sorts of racket while I was trying to do homework. I think screens aren't popular here because there are hardly any mosquitos, but believe me, if you've ever lived somewhere with lots of mosquitos you know how important screens are for your well-being. Apparently Germans are slow on the uptake in this regard.

9. No closets

Another thing that German houses seem to lack is closets. When I lived with my au pair family (five people living in the same house) there was a grand total of ONE closet, and everywhere I've lived since then there haven't been any closets at all (with the exception of Maxim's parents' house, which also has just one closet). Instead of closets, Germans have wardrobes like this one:

Despite the similarity to a closet, wardrobes have a few drawbacks. For starters, they are usually narrower and shallower than closets, so things like laundry baskets, suitcases and other large items don't fit in them and have to be either placed on top (which in the photo above is impossible) or just left on the floor (as you can see in the corner of the photo). This can make a room feel very cluttered. They also require cleaning underneath and around them, which is more difficult than cleaning the floor of a closet. Without a closet I'm often not sure where to put stuff, but I don't think this problem will be solved anytime soon unless the German method of building houses suddenly changes (which, let's face it, is never going to happen).

And there you have it, my top pet peeves about living in Germany. Despite the somewhat sassy tone of this post, I really do like living in Germany. I feel safe here, there are opportunities for me that I wouldn't have in the US, and I feel like I fit well into German culture. However, I think I will continue to notice these little things, whether they annoy me or not, for as long as I live here.

If you live in Germany, what are your pet peeves? If you live somewhere else, do you experience these things too? Let me know in the comments, and thanks for making it all the way to the end!

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