Germany focused by a foreigner
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People and Surroundings
When you travel to a place very far from your homeland for the first time, a mixture of emotions might pass inside you. Expectations and fears of what can come, the yearning in holding the world and getting to know everything, without leaving anything that could be visited and seen behind...
It's really interesting and astonishing how it's possible after 11 hours inside an airplane that you change countries, cultures and costums. In a first moment you are boarding in your hometown, in another moment you are in a completely different place, with people talking and interacting in another language, with habits different from yours. It's quite hard for the brain to process all these facts and new occurrences. Usually when we arrive, we have the recognition phase, in which we try to identify and abstract the new things. When we return home, in my case, it's the relief phase. Relief because I won't have to be afraid of someone asking me something and I won't be able to answer, afraid of happening something and I won't be able to defend myself once I can't communicate properly, I won't have the intranquility of not understanding anything that people say... It was really surprisingly the sensation I had when I came back to Brazil after one month of permanence in Germany and I could understand again the small talk of people on the streets. Suddenly I had the following snap thought inside myself: 'Hey! I understand!' It had gotten so common and routine for me not understading what people talked that the sounds didn't process anymore inside my brain. They just passed from an ear to the other...
And it was in this recognition phase that I arrived in Germany, in Frankfurt airport. As soon as I realized I was in firm ground and I could see things different from airplane seats and air stewards, I didn't feel any marked difference from my country. You create so many expectations inside you, even making fantasies, and then you arrive and the first thing you say is... an ordinary city... It was this what I felt in a first moment.
But time after time I realized that Germany is very far from being only 'ordinary'. It's a place with peculiar characteristics, good and bad ones.
I will begin by the things that impressed me most. First of all, the organization and the order. Everything is organized in the maximum there. Trains, trams (Straßenbahnen), buses, all of them punctual, all really synchronized. Timetables of trains and buses including times as 9:07, 12:03, etc. for instance, are really common and don't even try to conclude that they can be rounded off to 9:10, 12:05, etc. These timetables are followed strictly and you can even lose the train if you don't pay attention to them. I even got to know that Germans get upset when a train is 10 minutes delayed. 10 minutes! What are 10 minutes of waiting for a public transportation for a Brazilian? I guess Germans will never get to know it. And all this impressed me much. Everything working well all the time, everybody working duly and respecting the rules. Rules... At this point I reach the main Germans' 'fault'. They follow so faithfully the rules, laws and any kinds of regulations that they get extremely bound to them. Not that this is something bad, but as we know, everything that is done with exaggeration becomes harmful. I will exemplify this with a little story someone told me one day. Bakeries, confectioneries and this kind of business stuff always have daily scraps. One day, a woman who was owner of one of those commercial houses, really embarrassed, offered with all possible care, a rest of the daily breads production for two Brazilians. They got happy, as I consider everybody here would get. Anything that is for free and it is in good state, here it is always welcome. But analyzing her point of view, I believe that this could be seen as offensive or something that is 'outlaw' by another German. Lucky Brazilians! J And this way follow the examples, such as companies that have big troubles when they have to modify their structures in order to get adopted to the new market realities. It's like we say here: 'In winning team, we don't change anything'.
Cleanliness. This is another good quality of the German cities. Everything cleaned carefully and with the minimum visual pollution. In some cities, such as Freiburg, sidewalks were made with such care and accuracy that you get astonished. As I reached the subject cleaning, I will comment something about the Germans' hygiene. Many people say that Germans don't take so many showers and I counted on this when I met my boyfriend in Germany. I got surprised when he said to me that he took showers everyday and when I saw that his colleagues did the same as well. Then he explained to me that there are special washing gloves which people use to wash themselves without getting completely wet. This is used by the elderly and also by those that don't want to take complete showers in hard winter times. They fill out the sink, soak the washing glove and start the work! J
I could verify this 'sink bath' when I visited the camping grounds. Usually there are individual sinks placed inside cabins with mirror, rack, hanger for the towels and clothes and taps with hot and cold water. There people take the famous sink bath. By what I noticed, usually the elderly and also people over 50 frequent this kind of bath. I even saw a woman around 50 years old taking her bath in the sink of the public bathroom; her upper body nude, a wet towel and let's set to work! I still prefer my method of taking a good shower everyday!
Still in the issue personal hygiene , another aspect that surprised me occurred in one of my chats with Thomas, when we got into the topic feminine epilation. How surprising was when Thomas said that German women didn't care so much about epilating themselves. The main reasons for this are that the cold in Germany is really rigorous and consequently the body is covered by heavy clothes most of time during the year, and that German women don't have such a big amount of hairs along their bodies. This way it wouldn't be needed an intense epilatory control. Well, it's really this way that happens. I had an example of this in Italy when I saw a woman with hairs under her arms. It's true that there weren't so many hairs, but for sure it annoys a little bit for those people who see it. Thomas assured me that women that haunt gyms' pools epilate themselves as well as the younger generations.
Germans are aware of everything related to the ecology issue. Discussions about pollution, recycling, etc. are really ordinary. The forests are the major possessions of Germans and they are kept with all attention by them. The recycling system is really interesting. In many places there are garbage bins with several partitions, one for each kind of trash. Aluminium cans or plastics, papers, glasses and organic material are usually these partitions. The litter collection passes through cabins located on the sidewalks next to the houses. These cabins have the partitions described above and also many others. Separating transparent glasses from green or brown glasses is the height of this recycling system.
Humor and Summer
Talking about something that I consider the first thing a Brazilian notices when visits Germany in summer is the sunset time. 22:00, 23:00... these are the times the sun goes down during European summer. This is a wonderful allied for those people who want to travel once you can visit cities and take pictures all day long, without worrying that they get burned because of darkness. But for everything there are advantages and disadvantages. During winter, between 16:00 and 17:00 is already evening. It's not because of a small reason that Germans want to enjoy any single minute of the summer sun.
Thus, when summer comes, people get happy and well-humorous. Everybody go out on streets to walk with their children, their dogs, ride the bike or sun. Especially taking sunbathe. Germans are so eager to the sun that they don't care in sunbathing completely naked in the parks. And you are wrong if you think that in such places are concentrated the boys in order to see the naked women! Nobody looks closely to anybody and each person is worried only about himself. The respect for the individual is really impressing among Germans. And this way they enjoy the summer.
Just to exemplify the truth of what I describe, I was one day resting on the grass of the most famous park of Munich, the Englisch Garten, when I noticed that there was nothing less than a German man completely naked beside me! And the fellow walking around with the biggest tranquility.
The environment during summer is really pleasant. When you walk through the cities parks and see that really green, well trimmed and specially well clean grass, it's impossible to resist to abandon yourself to some minutes of rest on it. It's really wonderful... no worries, no stress, only peace and calmness... being rocked by the sounds of people walking and talking tranquilly, the sounds of the birds as well as the wind caressing the trees' leaves. During these times you value the small marvellous details that life offers us!
Sidewalks congested of tables and benches protected by sunshades... this is a routine scene in German summer. People don't want in any case to stay locked inside closed rooms. Thus, bars, ice-cream shops and restaurants, not willing to displease their customers, take this opportunity and serve people on the sidewalks. It's also really common to find the Biergarten. In those places a great variety of bars serve a big group of tables on the sidewalks and people consume beer simply as it would be water! Or better, water is more expensive! A little bottle of mineral water is more expensive than a big beaker of beer! So everything around you is Germans sitting on the benches with their respectives Maß (big beaker), which are filled up with 0,5 liter or 1 liter of Bier von Faß (fresh beer from the barrel). Boozer Germans! J
As I've talked about summer, I will take the opportunity and focus on another subject about Germans. What I will comment here is more what I've observed in the northern Germans. I can't affirm that this repeats in the same way in southern Germany because the South is 'happier' indeed, with many parties and celebrations. In winter, the northern Germans are completely grave. It seems that everything is unpleasant for them. They talk strictly the necessary and without much geniality. But in summer the situation changes a little bit. Germans get happier, more willing, but I can't say that the coldness changes that much once they are used to behave this way. I would lie if I say that I didn't meet any kind person. Yes, I met them for sure. When I was coming back to Brazil and I had to pass in the duane, a really kind old German tried to establish a conversation when he saw my book for studying the tough German language. J But in general, the treatment is cold. Brazilian and German's kindness are different indeed. In my opinion everything is a question of being attentive, and I think this is a missing trait in Germans. The wish of helping, the interest, these miss there. I guess Germans behave this way because of being afraid of 'invading' the individuality of the other. So the respect for the individual again. Don't think that because of this trait there are no gossips! They are everywhere! J But it is really difficult a German judge a person by his acts. Everybody has the right to do what he wants. Without invading the life of the other, for sure.
Visits and Treatment Forms
I will comment something about visits now. For a German, showing up surprisingly in his house is an affront, a total rudeness. It doesn't solve anything to try to call some minutes before your visit, warning about it. It doesn't solve indeed! Germans like everything well-planned with some days in advance. They don't like in any way to be caught napping. It's really important for Germans to have the autonomy of preparing themselves for a visit, to have their individuality respected.
It's evident this doesn't mean that everybody behaves in the same way. But in general the tendency is like what I described.
Talking about visits, I will comment about the ways of greeting. For someone you've just met, don't try to do as we usually do in Brazil and kiss the face of the person. Germans are much more ceremonious. Shaking hands and sometimes just a wave with the hand are enough for a greeting. Kissing the face, only of relatives and closer friends. It was really funny to see Thomas' reaction here in Brazil where he could kiss the face of all girls. J One day ago I read in an article that Germans take years to change the treatment from formal to informal in professional life. In the formal treatment topic, there is a peculiarity that it's intensively used in Germany but in Brazil is really rare. When you answer the phone, or even in formal talking or letters, the treatment used is Sir + Surname or only the Surname in the case of the telephone. For a man with the surname Schneider for instance, the formal treatment would be Herr Schneider, and for Mrs. Schneider, it would be Frau Schneider. So, answering the phone with 'Hello!' or 'Ready!' as we do here in Brazil it doesn't work in Germany.
Many people say that Germans love cars. But when the subject is dogs, I really don't know what beats. They simply love dogs. They walk through the city together with them and many Germans prefer to have a dog as a pet than having babies. It seems drastic but it's the truth. The thing is so serious that Germans enter the trams (Straßenbahn) as well as stores with their dogs without any ceremony. One day I was in a tram when a German entered it with one of those really perilous dogs. The dog threatened to stand up suddenly and after that I just heard the German shouting to the dog and this one laying back on the floor. I froze in that moment. The German language is one of those perfect languages for giving orders. J
Supermarkets have those inviting plates (meaning mandatory) so that dogs remain outside. After an serious incident where a Pittbull killed a child that got scared with the dog, many of the dogs' owners are obligated to go out with their dogs wearing face protections. Besides, all dogs of those aggressive known races are passing by an aggressiveness evaluation. A peculiarity: in Germany you pay a tax for having a dog. The taxes for dogs of high aggressiveness were increased so that other accidents can be avoided.
But for everything must exist good sense and concerning dogs I think there is a big fault in Germans' behavior. I will enumerate three situations I've witnessed many times:
1) Full summer, times of warm weather and stuffy environment. Germans walking with dogs of winter race, whose have long and warm hairs. Poor dogs with their tongues out, tired out and stressed. Is it so hard to notice that they need to be shorn off at least a little bit during summer time? Trim hairs are wonderful and there is no doubt that the dogs are well cared, but there is also season for everything and suffering in favour of beauty is not worth it.
2) Stores completely overcrowded, parking-lots crammed. Germans carrying their dogs to go shopping together. But when the store doesn't allow the dogs' entrance isn't uncommon that they are marroned inside the cars with closed windows. One day I was in one of those stores and then a voice came from its loudspeaker: 'Owner of the car of certain model and certain plate number. Your dog is non-stop barking inside the car which is with completely closed windows'. Place for dogs is inside their houses having fun in the yard or resting in their dog-houses, and not suffering sufocated inside a car just because their owners think that they like to accompany them. I am sure that this kind of accompaniment dogs excuse. J
3) Inside the stores where dogs' entrance is allowed, or at least there is no prohibition plate. Dog tired and continuosly dribbling laying on the carpet of a glasses shop. Dog being pulled abruptly because is tired and can't follow its owner's rhythm. Dog wants to stop and sit down and its owner pulling the leash, almost hangging the dog. Dog doesn't want to go to the same place that its owner intends to, being rudely pulled and almost hitting its head against a pillar in the store. Is it so difficult to notice that if the dog doesn't want to go or to do something that its owner wants, maybe it's not only whim but also that sometimes the dog gets tired?
A thing that Germans know how to do well is dressing badly. J Those combinations of exotic colors that most of the times don't work so well are really common there. The mixture of leather jacket with cotton pants, the use of socks up to the knees or with sandals and many other strange things also happen. It is funny to comment this because overall Germans do not take account of this. But when you see the store windows or the catalogue of clothes it is possible to notice a sensitive difference in the dressing way comparing Brazil and Germany. It is also possible to verify the difficulty that they have in matching clothes' pieces and accessories.
In my first trael to Germany, my friend Ronaldo's cousin, who lives in Germany, told me that his sister only entered stores where there would be written the magic word Angebote (=promotion). And promotions must be really awaited if you want to buy clothes, shoes, perfums, furniture, etc. in Germany. Normaly there are great sales in the end of winter and summer seasons and these are the best opportunities to buy something there once the price reduction is really sensitive. Normal prices of German products are really expensive. Now I also know the tip: I just search for Angebote and that's that. J
A very interesting book that I recommend reading is These Strange German Ways. This book shows the point of view of an American woman facing the German customs. For more details, take a look at the Favorites section.
Taxis, Traffic, Highways, etc.
Germany is the paradise of vehicles which everybody dreams of having one day in life. Taxis and police cars (with the exception of Black Maria which is in van style) are nothing less than pretty Mercedes going around the city. Considering taxis are expensive alternatives for students, I want to be arrested! Then I can be driven by such wonderful cars for nothing. J The main reason for Mercedes being adopted as cabs in Germany is that the cost-benefit is worth it. The necessary maintenance for Mercedes cars is really low compared with driven kilometers. And as cabs are driven a lot, it's really worth to have those cars even if the initial investiment is high. Here in Brazil I've never seen a Mercedes taxi and I guess I will never see it. It was really funny when Thomas was driven in Rio de Janeiro by a cab model Voyage (Volkswagen) of those which are really old and noisy. And as a remembrance he came back home with a grease mark on his pants. What a difference! One more interesting detail: catholic church in Germany has a dealing with Audi and most of the priests buy their cars for a more than special price. I want to be a priest! J
Another thing I could observe is that usually Germans receive cars from the companies they work for, being able to use them in their family lives as well as on trips. Thus, it's really common during vacation times to see cars with stickers of their companies towing trailers or even carrying the whole family for travelling.
German roads are clompetely flat. Well, Germany is flat at all. Only in South part there are what we can call sheer ramps. In Germany I could really understand why European cars are so low and why they get on badly with Brazilian roads. I remember really well whe I was in Germany and there was a little ramp that would not even tickle the car's parking brake. Well, but even this way Thomas pulled the parking brake, really worried about that ramp prototype. J There I could realize once more how much differences can be even in little details of daily life.
Still on the subject roads, in Germany is expressly prohibited the pedestrians entrance in highways of high speed (Autobahn) and they are protected on their sides for that. It was really interesting to hear Thomas indignate comment when he saw people walking on the roadsides while we returned from São Paulo International Airport. But in Germany this is completely prohibited! And he hadn't seen people crossing running the highways at that time! J Well, it's not possible to compare countries with a big development disparity.
If you see this little plate on the right side in a German highway, this means that from this moment on, you can step on the gas! The following stretch is no speed limit. But beware because it doesn't last too long from what I've noticed. Soon comes another plate showing the speed limit.
What a wonderful thing! Thomas and I in his grandmom's really old little car driving at 120 km/h in the extreme right roadway. Trucks overtaking us. So nice! J In the extreme left roadside Porsches, Mercedes, Audis, BMWs... Ah, but Ferrari I saw only once! J Speed? 250 Km/h must be slow.
When I observe German drivers behavior I get startled. In Germany is forbidden to overtake by the right roadside. Until then, no difference. The difference is that besides this it isn't allowed to be faster than the car on your left side, except if you are going out of the highway. In no case you can hinder a car that is faster than you in any roadside. I got to know that this is taken too serious in Germany. When there is a situation for instance where a car is with 200 km/h speed in the extreme left roadside and then comes behind it a Porsche with 250 km/h speed, the poor first one simply throw itself to its directlly right roadside and breaks violently behind the car that obviously was slower in that roadside. Thus, due to these little rules be taken seriously by any means, the amount of cars zizagging on highways is incredible high. But we are in a highway and not in an ordinary traffic of a city. A simple roadsides change can cause death. Well, from what I saw, they are not so worried. And especially because of this, when it happens an accident in a German highway, it's completely obliterating. If the driver escapes from death, it's a miracle in most of the cases. I could see an accident that had just happened in a highway. The car just became a little sausage. No wonder this result.
And the amount of road-signs then? I've never seen something like that! There are signs for everything and even something else. Germans themselves say that Germany is a Shilderwald (Road-signs forest). So you can verify I am not exaggerating! J I could see three different signs that represented the same thing. In this case was about the level crossing with barrier (crossing the train track with railway gate). There was one that we usually have in Brasil, another with a little train painted and a third with a little train painted in another style. Why not unify the terminology? This kind of thing only complicates life.
Next to the appartment-sharing community where Thomas lives is really hard to park. Especially because there is a big supermakt which serves the region as well as students and local dwellers (elderly and immigrants) need to park in the few free parking places that exist. Searching for parking alternatives, we finally arrived in a parking-lot of another market of the region. So we took a look at the signs in order to see if the parking-lot would be payed and in which period of the day. What a comedy! There was a sing saying that parking was allowed. a second one saying that parking-lot entrance was allowed in certain times of the day. And even a third sign saying that there was truck-load-and-unload place in a range of hours. Conclusion: we parked. Next morning we got to know the foolishness we did. The parking-lot was crammed, trucks were everywhere and our car got blocked by the other cars. We had to go out of there passing over the sidewalk so that we could reach the road. What a thing! J
Germany is a country of population infinitely smaller if compared to the one from Brazil, but in the same way it has a really smaller territory. Thus, we can erroneouly conclude that there is no traffic jam in Germany. Big mistake! Especially at the time children start their summer season school vacation, the run to the highways begins as well. Die Staus, as Germans name their traffic jams, can reach kilometers of extension. But not only on vacation times there is an intense traffic. On weekends, when the weather is sunny (what is a party occasion for Germans once usually the weather is rainy or cold), people want in no case to stay at home. But the most interesting thing is to observe how cities streets get empty on weekends. However, if we enter the highways, how much is the difference! J A traffic law that helps much the weekend tourists is the prohibition of trucks circulation in highways on Sundays. But Monday morning all trucks go to work and traffic and patience are routine items those days.J
A fact that I would like to comment is directly related to my German road-signs analyses in one of the previous paragraphs. A proof that in Germany the signs mess up the mind of any driver is the Geisterfahrer, that is, ghost drivers. They are those drivers who enter highways by the exit, that is, they enter the roadway in the wrong direction. Some of those drivers take a long time to figure out the mistake. They enter wrong and step on the gas! This can be a big danger as well as a subject for upheaval in the so well-organized and sometimes monotonous German highways.
The respect to pedestrians is really well defined in Germany. There are clear rules that are strictly respected. One of them is the zebra crossing (Zebrastreifen) for pedestrians identified with specific blue-colored signs. If a pedestrian just threaten to cross it, the car has to stop. It really must to stop! J In one of my trips I couldn't resist to take a picture of this fact that for Brazilians is an event!
It's simply a great tranquility to drive in German cities. The main reason for this is the simple fact that people respect one another transit. Place for motorcycles, for instance, is occupying the space of a car. No tricks trying to pass among cars in high speed. No doubt it is necessary redoubled attention, especially for a foreigner like me, who is not used to follow all rules. But when we see things being respected and being done in a correct way, the adptation besdies being fast, make us to reprove and disaccostum to the wrong things we practised before.
That Europe is the elderly continent there is no doubt. It's enough just to check the birth-rate and the lack of young workers to substitute and subsidize the elderly retirements. But the funniest thing is the old people's behavior. Many of them take the things extremely serious and even can be really unpolite. I will list two examples of situations that have happened to us.
I was on a trip in Munich with my friend Ronaldo and we wanted to buy train tickets. I was talking in English with the attendant in one of the ticket-office windows. But we were a bit unsecure once the prices varied with the hours of the day. Sure the row grew. Then the attendant suggested we stayed beside analysing. Meanwhile we decided and came back to the row. Then a really ill-mannered old man, who had already been served, showed up to us speaking in English. He told us that row wasn't the information center but for buying tickets. I think he was talking about the Reisezentrum (Travel Center). But there was no need to go there once the ticket we wanted was really simple and it wasn't a trip for which we needed information nor a long distance one. We got astonished, without figuring out what he wanted from us in a first moment. So I answered: 'But I will buy a ticket!' Then he silenced and went away. What a thing! J
As I commented in an item before, the region where Thomas lives is really complicated in the subject finding free parking places. And in Germany it works the following way: first you must occupy the official parking places; afterwards, not having prohibition sign or implicit prohibition rules, police tolerates that you park anywhere as long as you leave around 2,55 m width for a normal car be able to transit. And be sure police measures with tape! J The first time I saw Thomas parking in a place that for a Brazilian would be 'any place', I got a little bit shocked. But I got used later on. J However, if someone gets annoyed and calls the police, the last one is automatically obliged to fine the car's owner. And one day happened that we didn't parke in one of those official parking places, but in on of those 'possible' parking places. As in Germany the amount of unoccupied elders is enormous and the habit of denouncing to the authorities is deep-rooted since war delators times, is it not that an elder called the police to ask for fining us? Detail: the fine came only one week later, proof of a demanded fine, once fines for wrong-parking are normally placed on the car, as in Brazil. But there is something even better: it's possible to solicit fine revision and, as we weren't so wrong, they will have to cancel the fine and the unoccupied elder demand won't work! J German red tape at the service of population!
Wandering calmly through the so well constructed and kept German sidewalks, suddenly a bell that comes behind me gives me a great scare. This is nothing less than a bike. And don't think in getting angry because when there are cycleways in the sidewalks (and the probability is really high), which are identified by strips in different colors from the normal ones of the sidewalks, be sure that the cyclist will pass over you once he is in his designated place by right. Honestly I got tired of getting scared because of this. As Brazilians are not used to observe the cyclists rights, in many situations I didn't remember of this renowed cycleway. For sure it's possible to get really furious! J
What really bothered me in Germany is the commercial timetable. How early they close! Who works the whole day and wants to go to the supermarket at the end of the afternoon finds serious problems. It exists a kind of attempt in making the life of these people a little bit easier. One time per week the supermarkets stay opened until later. To whom is accustomed to malls opened until 22:00 and supermarkets opened until late evening and also Sundays, it's very difficult to get used to it.
Food and Supermarkets
If you want to pay less in food, go to the supermarkets. Especially those ones in wholesale style. Aldi chain is the cheapest but as a consequence there is not that big variety. Marktkauf offers a bigger variety and good prices. Plus chain is not so cheap but it's in the same style, although having less variety as Aldi. Something interesting is for instance those brands created by the supermarkets. One of them is called Gut und Billig (Good and Cheap). Supermarkets ask for big factories bottling their products with those not so famous brands and this way they can be sold cheaper. The most interesting is that many Germans have the impression that paying more for a famous product they will get a better quality. This way many Germans resist buying those cheaper products and in fact they are equal to the famous ones. I didn't think so much, I bought the cheapest. It comes in a larger amount, the quality is the same, only changing the name, and the most important: it's cheaper!
A peculiarity: sodas prices are incredibly high! Here in Brazil we have a relative abundance of them but there a Coke of 500ml reaches the price of 2 dollars in Mc Donalds!! Another detail: if we pay more attention to the soda's cans, we will get to know that here in Brazil they have 350ml while in Germany they have 330ml.
In general, food options in Brazil are not so different from the German ones. Sure the variety of fruits is much bigger in Brazil once climate is propitious for this.
It's not necessary to comment that the amount of brands and qualities of beer in Germany is impressive. But as I do not appreciate this drink, I cannot say so much about it.
The quantity and variety of smoked food is gigantic. It is difficult to resist trying them.
The greatest difference between Brazil and Germany is related to the water. Exactly, water! While in Brazil most of the people appreciates mineral water, there it is the water with gas. Imagine someone who is not used to drink water with gas being obliged to drink it in all places. It is terrible indeed! Ohne Kohlensäure, bitte! (Without gas, please!) J
For the Germans, everything that has pieces of fruit tastes more natural, more fresh. Wow, I really couldn't stand drinking that orange juice filled of pieces of orange rind!
A food that I simply loved was a frozen one called Frosta. It's from a Chef in Germany and has a good bunch of options. They vary since Indian food, passing by Greek food, up to the Spanish Paella. It's so tasteful that it doesn't seem to be frozen food. It's really worth a try!
A food that must be tasted is the Kebab. It's is a typical Turkish food and can be found easily once there are a lot of Turkish restaurants in Germany (therefore people usually joke that is a typical German food). It's a nice sandwich to be eaten after a walk through the city. Kebab is made with a Syrian kind bread, salad, sheep or chicken meat and much much pepper. For those people who love pepper it's really good, but for those that don't like it, pay attention in asking the food without it. There are many levels of pepper amount in this sandwich, from little peppered to extra peppered. There is also an option of the sandwich for the vegetarians, when meat is substituted for legumes sheep's cheese. But it's not the original Kebab anymore indeed
Restaurants and Tips
If you are travelling through Germany and don't want to spend much money with food, keep apart from restaurants. In general German restaurants are expensive because services in Germany are expensive overall. Besides, in many restaurants is supposed your giving a good tip. In the long run this makes a big difference in the trip expenses reckoning. The 10% service tax for the waiters is not included in the bill. Because of this it's expected this tip amount from the customers. But don't think that waiters and waitresses are exploited by their bosses. In fact, in the bill it's already included their salaries. It's just not discriminated in it like here in Brazil. So, all tips might come are profit. J For Germans, going to restaurants most of the times is related to special occasions. Having lunch during the commercial time is related to fast food restaurants. If Germans themselves don't go frequently to restaurants, it'snot difficult to notice that we should pass really far from them if we want to save money.
Something that helps much in times of decideing entering or not a restaurant in Germany is the menus with prices ung on their front doors. This way we get to know in advance which specialities are offered in that restaurant and if it fits in our pocket as well. Wonderful initiative! J
Who wants to save some extra money during travelling without this meaning you must eat in restaurants which sell hamburgers & co., I extremely recommend oriental source restaurants. Chinese, Thailand and Indian food are the most requested. In fact, the real name of those places is not restaurant but a stylized bar, named Imbiss in German. In general cheaper, those houses offer more food quantity and promotional accompaniments as well. Tips are usual, for sure. But it's like I remarked to Thomas. Round the numbers of the bill, reaching the maximum value of 2 Marks and it's good enough. Considering the money we save as we didn't go to a common restaurant, it's reasonable to pay bills of such level. But if all the time during the trip we have to pay 10% extra of the meal, as I commented yet, we will have a big impairment in the end of the trip, which is already expensive.
Don't think that fast food restaurants are much cheaper if compared to Imbiss. We eat much better and for around the same price level, with tip included in all this. It's just important to not abuse beverages once, obviously, they profit from those items.
For those that like fish, Nordsee chain is the right place. It has a big variety of dishes and no doubt is cheaper than a specialized restaurant in this sector.
What wonderful bags! They seem to be much more resistant and bigger than the ones we have in Brazil. Reinforced straps. I want one for me! It's really better to think twice. Besides having to ask for the bag once everydody bring their own from house, it will be necessary to pay for each supermarket bag you catch. The main reason for this is that Germans are really ecological (never forget this) and this was the way they found out to stop with the out of control waste of bags. Paper bags? No problem, you can take as many as you wish. Paper is easily liable to recycling.
My friend Ronaldo and I in our first trip to Europe and, consequently, to Germany. Berlin, inside a supermarket. Let's catch our trolley and then go shopping. Sure, let's go! Until then, no problem. But how to release this damned chain? I don't know. Neither do I. We wanted to wait for a German and see him catching a trolley. We did so. But as Murphy's Law is merciless, no German showed up to catch a single trolley. Summing up: we carried all our shopping in our hands inside the supermarket and we decided to ask Ronaldo's cousin about the how-to-relase-the-trolley enigma later on. Ah, it's a piece of cake! Just place a 1-German-Mark coin on a plate that stays opened in the trolley and when you close it, the chain is released. To catch back the coin it's necessary to place the trolley in its original place and its chain as well. Then the plate opens and the coin is yours again.
Later on I got to know the reason for this, which is common in Brazil too. As formerly people abandoned their trolleys anywhere, in parking-lots, on the streets, supermarkets decided to educate them to bring back the trolleys duly to their original places. And nothing more reasonable than force them by the pocket J
My second trip to Germany, arrival at Hamburg Airport. On guard, I carried a wallet with coins. At the airport, luggage trolleys are also secured by chains. Really happy because I already knew the system, I placed the coin. By the way, a robbery! They stay with the coin, this service is payed. And as the poor passenger needs to carry his heavy luggage somewhere, they take advantage of this situation. Coming back to my trolley now. Really happy that my trolley was released, I tried to move it. It didn't move. How that? Which new trick is this now? Move! Move! No way. Really angry once I was exhausted after a long 15 hours trip, I decided to lift up the trolley and put it in another position. Then I found out what was happening. The trolley keeps breaked and it's only released when the break handlebar is activated. Thus, inverse system. To move it you keep the handlebar pressed down. What a complication! J
Ah! It's Sauerkraut!
I remember when in one of the first chats between Thomas and I we reached the subject typical food. Not losing the opportunity, I asked satirically if Thomas ate much 'chucrutes'. He didn't answer me and I got even a little bit frustrated because he ignored my joke. As we changed subject, I didn't persist in asking him that day. But in another chat I repeated the question. Then I discovered that he didn't understand my question and even thought that I was talking about a typical Brazilian food. Thinking I was joking, he obviously didn't answer me. Thus it started the search for the German translation for the food. 'Chucrutes'? But isn't 'chucrutes' a German word? What a thing... How will I find out that? Looking over a dictionary (I hadn't even started the German course at that time), I discovered: 'Ah! It's Sauerkraut!' Translating word by word: sauer = sour, Kraut = cabbage; so: sour cabbage.
Kitchen and Bathroom in a German Residence
One of the things that astonished Thomas was seeing trucks carrying gas bottles through São Paulo city. For more than 30 years those gas bottles were already substituted for electric ovens in Germany.
Areas in the house reserved for washing or iron clothes are not so common and special sinks (like tanks) for washing clothes are even rarer. Almost all German families have washing machines and if you need to wash clothes by hand, direct yourself to the nearest bathroom sink. If you want to leave clothes inside water for a longer time, either you use the bathtub in the bathroom or you place them inside a bucket. Or simply don't do this! J
Another interesting detail is the toilet-paper in bathrooms. Exactly, toilet-paper! In Germany, they are always thrown inside the toilet, without any fear of clogging the plumbing and suddenly facing all the service done by the house dwellers coming to the surface. It's really funny to observe the cultural differences appearing in such little details. What for a German would be a lack of hygiene signal, for a Brazilian would be a question of surviving. J As incredible as this might seem, I still have the impression that the plumbing will clog!
Kaffee und Kuchen
A really common occasion in German residences is Kaffee und Kuchen (Coffee and Cake) time. Usually between 15:00 and 15:30 o'clock, housewives meet their friends and offer coffee, tea, cake and pie. Most of the times there is an alternance system, where each woman offers her house for one meeting day or there is even that woman who is well-known for offering everyday the meetings in her house. For Germans, pie (Torte) is what we Brazilians understand as cake: with dressing, filling, whipped cream and everything else. Cake (Kuche) for Germans is usually simple, in general sweet and without cream, that is, our sweet pie. Usually it's necessary to take much care when we taste German pies and cakes. Many of them have really different tastes, made with combinations of intensely sour fruit which can have a really nasty taste for Brazilians' palate. Sugar in Europe is made of beet, which has a infinitely less sweetish taste than the sugar made of sugar-cane. At least we don't take the risk of tasting something too much sweet. J
Dinner in Germany
In the first time I went to Germany, Thomas said that we would have dinner at his mother's house. Ronaldo and I got really happy once we were missing that home-made food, especially because we couldn't stand Mc Donald's and limited company anymore. As we were underfed, we were expecting that reception dinner. But what a disappointment when we faced the real German dinner. Bread with sliced food and tea. Alas! German dinner usually consists of cold food. Hot food are served usually on lunch time. What a thing... We expected the turkey and we got the bread and sausage! J It's so weird to drink hot tea on the evening. Interesting how costums are.
Youth, studies and family
A difference that I got to know soon between Brazilian and German youth is how German young people leave early their parents' house in order to live alone. Most of the German young people prepare themselves during childhood and early adolescence for the moment they will apply for colleges or professional specialization courses and will live alone. This is a really marked cultural trait. But this alone means only far from their parents because they share apartments with other people indeed. German youth have a limit of hours they can work while they are studying and usually it's not enough for affording an apartment on their own. Therefore, it's really common to find students' dormitories or appartment-sharing communities, called WG (Wohngemeinschaft). Many of them are offered by the faculties and students pay monthly an amount of money or even don't pay anything if they are doing well in their studies. In fact the government pays. The other WGs are private apartments rented by the students where they share expenses. This allows them to live with known people in the same apartment and avoid possible troubles because of differences of behavior.
Note: The meaning of WG (Wohngemeinschaft) is based on the principle that many people live together in the same apartment/house and they are not relatives. So, students' dormitories are a particular case of WG and not the reverse.
Thus, Germans conquer their independence early, and their responsibilities as well. Here in Brazil is really difficult to try to apply this idea once getting a new house also brings extra headaches, that is, more bills to pay. So, what happens here is the reverse of what happens in Germany. Time after time people prefer more to stay in their parents' house and leave it really later as well.
Talking about rentals, I will comment about something interesting that exists in Germany and it's not offered in Brazil. There they can rent apartments with the expenses included or not. These expenses include water and electricity for example and they are called Nebenkosten. Ohne Nebenkosten means that you pay with everything included. Sure you can't spend as much water and electricity as you want once it's allowed by the contract, because it's also registered in it a limit of expenses. Passing this limit you pay the difference. But in my point of view it's something nice because everything is included. No extra bills to pay.
German eletronic products have frequency and voltage different from the Brazilian ones. While in Brazil we usually have 60 Hz and 110 - 127 V, German standard is 50 Hz and 220 - 230 V. This cause big troubles, not so much because of the frequency, but more because of the voltage. It's necessary the use of a transformer. This one can become really big depending on the equipment current size and because of this reason is possible that you have to buy more than one transformer for each device. Thus, it's necessary to analyse carefully the cost-benefit of each eletronic equipment bought in Germany.
TV sets, no way! German system is totally different from the one we have in Brazil as well as in USA. Many Brazilian television sets have codifier only for the American system. So the TV set won't work with the European system.
Prices of computer devices in Germany can't be compared with the Brazilian ones. They simply beat down the Brazilian prices! They are really cheaper than in Brazil and it's a temptation to buy them. But, as I said, the cost-benefit must be analysed once you won't escape of a transformer depending on what you buy.
Germany as well as other European countries have as peculiarity the restitution of taxes charged in some products. I say some because in the case of books, for instance, it's possible to receive the 7% of taxes charged on them only if we buy more than 100.00 German Marks of them in the same store.
Each store behaves in a different manner concerning taxes restitution. Many of them want to be rid of this subject and designate an official company called Global Refund to take care of it. This company earns a good amount of money by its services from what should be restituted for the foreigners, that is, 16%. Usually we solicit in the store a form (see picture bellow) of this company called Global Refund, fill in our data and annex all bills of the shopping done in this same store. Before boarding the airplane we must show the products we bought in the customs, the form is then stamped and the money is restituted. Therefore it's better to solicit the form only one day before the home-coming so that you annex all bills and don't need to come back again to the store with new bills. Obviously, if you bought something in a store located in a city you won't come back, you must solicit the form in the exact moment you pay the bill. There is a list of prices which you receive your restitution based on it, depending on the amount you bought. Thus, the rest of the money difference goes directly to the company Global Refund. So it's necessary to pay much attention on this form. If it is written on it 'No Cash Refund in the Store', you won't be able to escape that the company takes the commission. However, if this sentence isn't written and you have someone you know that lives in Germany, this person will be able to come back to the store and catch all 16% back. As you see, the whole thing is really complicated. If you are an ordinary tourist, you will lose the money anyway. But it's better something than anything! J
There are other behavior possibilities in the stores. Some give back the money only in a bank account. Others demand that you place your data in all bills and after these ones being stamped in the customs, you can come back to catch all money back in the store. So, for all those cases is necessary someone that lives in Germany.
I still laugh at the foolish role I played with Thomas when we met for the first time. It was late night when we strolled back home on the already not so crowded streets of Berlin. A completely frightening scenery for someone who lives in a big Brazilian city. Suddenly we heard someone shouting at us. I, who didn't understand anything of the German language and already scared by the tone of the own German language, seized Thomas' hand and started pulling him, running away from this person. At a glance it occured to me that could be a robbery or something like that. The fellow started to run after us and Thomas, without understanding anything, only resisted to my movement of dragging him far away. Then I stopped and the guy came with an interrogative face and asked for a lighter. Lighter? Wow, what a relief!J That moment I realized how much the fear is radicated on me, especially because I live in a city where violence is a constant topic.
Thomas took a bit of time to understand my reaction, because obviously he is not used to this kind of situation. I played athe role of a dull person, but it's not possible to change aspects that were passed to us by the own environment we live in. Be always on the safe side! J
Follows bellow a really interesting article from the newspaper Gazeta do Povo, in G Brochure, which points out some aspects of the cultural difference between Brazil and Germany.
German student girl wants to get to know better Curitiba and searches for people that can show her the city
special for G Brochure
'Who would like to go for a walk through Curitiba city and get to know its surroundings, going for strolls and making excursions, making new friends in weekends?' This message was affixed in notice-boards of some city universities by the German student Gesa Busche, who will spend three months doing a tour in Curitiba's Goethe Institute. She is searching for people that could show her the city.
Gesa says that people who search for new friends in her country are used to do this kind of announcement, inclusive publishing them in newspapers. In Curitiba and in Brazil, maybe because of the cultural difference, the initiative can cause such queerness or suspiciousness that after one week, only two people were disposed to show her the city.
The G Brochure got to know about the note affixed in the Rectory of Paraná Federal University and contacted the student in order to present her some sights of the Paraná's capital. In a rainy Wednesday morning, Gesa could know the Ópera de Arame (Wire Opera) and the Bosque Alemão (German Wood), which are main sights of the city, an exhibition from the plastic artist Deise Marin in Alfredo Andersen Museum, the Rua XV (XV Street) sidewalk and also the Vila Pinto, area where the poor people live, located in the district called Jardim Botânico (Botanical Garden). Her impressions about the city can be checked in the box bellow.
Gesa, who is 22 years old, said that she had chosen Brazil because of the diversity. 'There are many different folks living in the same country, many climates, many plants and animals species. It's a really interesting mixture', she affirms. She had news about the country by newspapers, magazines and by Internet, besides a girl friend that worked in São Paulo during a period of time and with whom she started learning a little bit of Portuguese - language that she is learning fastly.
Besides the personal experience, the visit to Brazil will help her in the Sociology course she is attending at Dresden Technical University, her hometown. Gesa has already done two years of the course and broke it for 6 months to be able to do the trip to Brazil.
For arriving here, the student wrote to all Goethe Institutes of Brazil. She got answers from three: Porto Alegre, Salvador and Curitiba. She decided for the last one, because it was the only one which offered her a tour. Another reason that influenced her decision was the city weather, the most similar to the German one. Her work until the end of the year in Goethe will be helping to organize musical concerts and also helping in the internal work of the institute.
The German likes much to travel and get to know other countries. She already visited a good part of Europe and three years ago she spent five months working at a students' house in Namibia, in the African continent. She says that the experience was a little bit hard, especially because of the apartheid climate that still goes on in the country - a heritage from South Africa, which got its independence in 1990.
Gesa hopes to receive still many answers for her invitation. After her spell in Curitiba, she intends to spend more three months traveling through the country. Manaus, Salvador and Recife are some of the cities she intend to visit.
Students from Federal consider the attitude brave
One of the places where was affixed the invitation from Gesa Busche was the Dom Pedro I building, in the Rectory of Paraná Federal University. Some local students, interviewed by G Brochure, said that the German student had an interesting and brave attitude.
"I don't know if I would have courage to do this if I traveled abroad", comments Carlos Eduardo Chiquem, from the Tourism course. He says that he wouldn't have any problem in presenting her the city and that he would take the student to the main tourist places and to his district Santa Felicidade, which has an Italian colonization.
Ulisses de Oliveira, who attends Medicine, tells that when he came from Goiânia in order to study in Curitiba, he felt many difficulties in making friends. "I think that for foreigners must be easier to do this kind of invitation", he comments.
Three language course students, who didn't want to identify themselves, - 'We are mistrustful' - said that they would only accept this invitation if it would be done in an official way, from a German institute to a Brazilian one. If they would be in another country, they wouldn't risk doing the same proposal either. 'Imagine who could show up', they say. They agree that cultural differences have a big influence in those moments. 'What can be normal in some countries, it isn't in others', they complete.
'My first impressions about Curitiba are diverse. On the one hand, I think that this city isn't so different from Germany or Middle Europe, because it has many skyscrapers, a big modern side, with a complete traffic system, some gyms and three big universities. But, on the other hand, I experienced differences of temperament comparing people from Curitiba and the Germans I know.
For example, I wanted to go to the Guabirutuba district in order to buy a second-hand bicycle. First of all, I didn't know where I could catch a bus that could take me to the district. When I got to know where the bus departs, the bus didn't arrive and I waited for an hour.
As I was supposed to work in Goethe Institute later on, I caught a cab and this way I didn't delay so much. When I finally found the place, I didn't buy the bicycle in the end, once it was with the tires empty and I didn't have any equipment to pump them up.
As I don't speak Portuguese so well, I had some problems to come back to Goethe Institute. Happily, I could catch a bus that took me to downtown and then I could find out where I was.
This is a difference between Curitiba and Germany. There is a planning of the buses timetable there and also maps explaining all the courses of the lines. I don't know how it is in the rest of the country, but I don't see as negative not having so much organization here, because this way it opens the possibility to people communicate and improvise. Much different from Germany where each person follow his own way.
One of the points that called my attention was the number of poor people on the streets. When I walk through a city, I like the mixture of people, the differences among clothes, heights, hair colors or skin colors - but not the social difference among people, some with much, others with less.
I like much the city parks. They bring a natural environment inside the big city. I also admire the gym offers of dancing, singing, playing sports or playing instruments. They are really nice to me.
What seemed sympathetic in the city was the big hospitality and solicitude that a foreigner as me could experience.
Curitiba monuments as the Ópera de Arame, some woods, theaters or streets are similar to the monuments from other cities - beautiful to contemplate.
I just would like to lament the few areas for bicycles in Curitiba, especially in downtown.'