On Expectations and Surprises: First Impressions

¡Hola Muchachos y Muñecas!

We’ve made it through our first 2 weeks in our new home, so of course now we are experts on all things German.

Okay, that’s not even close to true, but we have started to get a feel for the area and the culture. Some things that we expected turned out to be accurate – everywhere you look there’s another cool historical landmark,  soccer (which in German is pronounced “Foos-ball” like the table game) is a religion, the bakeries are fantastic, and no matter what kind of restaurant you visit, there is probably schnitzel on the menu. Schnitzel, for the uninitiated, is pork hammered thin then breaded and fried. Its preparation reminds me a bit of chicken piccata.

But of course, you don’t go on a journey like this just to confirm what you already knew about a place, and much about Germany has been beyond our expectations. With Shawn’s help, I have compiled a list of things we’ve learned about Germany in the last 2 weeks:

(1) Tuna fish goes on pizza.

Being the sports-addicted family that we are, the first meal we ate out in Germany was at Paradox, a local sports bar. Nearly everything on the menu had meat on it, and I’m not much of a meat eater, so I was desperate to find something that I was actually interested in consuming. Enter the only item on the menu with seafood – Tuna Pizza. At first I though this was a weird house special, but we’ve been to 4 other restaurants serving the same thing. It was really quite good, once I got over my preconceived notion that pizza shouldn’t taste fishy.

(2) Beer is cheaper than water.

We knew beer would be plentiful in Germany.  We knew beer would be good.  We did not know it would be so incredibly cheap, especially coming from the craft brew mecca that is Sonoma County.  Water is not complimentary with your meal in German restaurants.  We went to lunch today and bought a liter of water for 5 Euro.  Shawn’s beer was 3 Euro, and it was the most expensive beer on the menu.  Also, if you don’t specifically ask for water “without gas” the default water setting is sparkling water.

(3) Germans will put sparkling water in absolutely everything.

Shawn’s new favorite drink is sparking water mixed with apple juice.  There is a Coffee Bike (a bicycle attached to a coffee cart, if that isn’t obvious) that sells cold brew made with sparkling water, which sound too scary for me to try.  We even went to a wine festival in our new hometown, and the wine producers themselves were serving up wine spritzers, which would be absolute sacrilege in the wine country we just left in California.

(4) Kate Gosselin’s Hairstyle Circa 2009 is the German Hotness.

The woman who runs the hotel we’re staying in has this hairstyle. Her 20-something daughter also has this hairstlye. The woman at the nearby bakery where we pick up breakfast has the haircut, but in red, giving her more of a Sharon Osborne vibe. By a rough estimate, at least 50% of female German nationals living in the military community have the SAME haircut, dyed unnatural looking blondes and reds. It’s a bad hair epidemic.

(5) The sun is up approximately 20 hours per day.

I landed in Germany at 8 A.M. local time, which was 11 P.M. California time, so I was already exhausted. However, in an attempt to beat jet-lag, I decided to wait to go to bed until after sunset. Imagine my surprise when the sun still had not set at 10 P.M. At that point I gave up and went to bed. We woke up not long after that to watch the NBA Finals, which were on at 3 A.M. local time. The sun rose half way through the game.  No rest for the weary!

(6) American companies sell better food in Europe than they do at home.

The Starbucks on base has unique flavors not offered in the states. For example, they have pistachio rose water mochas, and accompanying pistachio cakes with edible flowers on top, catering to the Middle Eastern immigrant population. They also sell a lot of shortbread-based pastries due to the proximity to England. I LOOOOOOOOOVE shortbread with a passion that necessitates all of those extraneous Os, so if I get fat while I’m over here, you’ll know to blame Starbucks. We haven’t been to McDonalds out here, because, why would we do that, but I’ve been told they too up their game for a European audience, selling alcoholic beverages and fancying up their fare.

Starbucks Pistachio Cakes

(7) Every 4-way stop is a roundabout.

I’m getting dizzy from all the donuts we drive out here. There must be a mandatory class in German urban planning degree programs that focuses exclusively on the use of roundabouts, because they are positively everywhere.

(8) Germany is not the place to have a physical disability.

The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that buildings in the U.S., especially those serving the public, are accessible to persons with disabilities.  There is no such law here.  Our hotel has 4 stories and no elevator, so carrying our bags up and down is a full workout. If we take the stroller out to a restaurant, it is pretty much guaranteed that we will have to carry it up some stairs to get inside, or just pop a wheelie if the stairs are low enough.  But there will be stairs, and not ramps, of that we can be certain.

(9) Mercedes makes everything.

The moving vans are made by Mercedes. The garbage truck is made by Mercedes. While lost in the countryside last weekend, we drove past a Mercedes tractor. Mercedes vehicles are as common and utilitarian out here as a Ford or Chevy is in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

(10) Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way.

This is technically not true.  I took my German driving test, and, legally speaking, pedestrians have the right-of-way. However, if you try to cross the street when a car is coming, you are definitely going to die. On our first family walk, we had to wait several minutes for a gap in traffic before we could cross the street, and we were walking with a cute dog and an arguably cuter baby. Nobody cares.  You will wait.  But there’s a funny little man wearing a hat on the crosswalk signs!


(11) “Exit” in German sounds like a dirty word.

The German word for exit is “Ausfahrt”, which is pronounced fairly similar to Ass-Fart.  This makes my inner 12-year old giggle at every exit sign on the Autobahn.

(12) Dogs are as welcome as people.

About 80% of hotels and restaurants out here are dog-friendly. If you know how much we love our poodle, you know how happy this makes us. Back home, I convinced a therapist to legally document my subjective, self-diagnosed “need” for an Emotional Support Animal just so I could take my Spencer Paws everywhere.

(13) There are no Queen or King-sized beds.

When I first arrived at our hotel and saw two twin-sized beds pushed together, I thought something must be wrong – had they run out of regular rooms?  Then I went looking for alternative accommodations and found that almost every hotel had this same set up when requesting a room for 2 adults. The largest bed created in Europe is a double, which is akin to a “full” in America. If you want anything larger you have to push beds together.

(14) Every hotel is a Bed and Breakfast, even when it’s not.

The first hotel we went to is in someone’s home in the middle of nowhere.  It was charming, but I found it a little awkward to be in such close quarters with strangers as I’m also getting acclimated to a strange land.  We relocated to what was advertised as a more traditional hotel in the center of town, where we could get out of the room and do things. Turns out, this second hotel is still essentially a bed and breakfast. A single woman runs the hotel and attached restaurant. She lives on site and is super nosy and opinionated about our comings and goings – so it very much feels like we’re guests in her home rather than customers at a professional establishment. I tried to find an Americanized hotel chain to get some creature comforts of home, but there are none to be found outside of major cities, so this arrangement has become another part of our adventure.

Pretty antiques around the hotel.

(15) There is no such thing as German customer service.

I started to get this impression when I got off the plane in Frankfurt and couldn’t find a single airport employee to direct me to baggage claim or shuttle service. Then I arrived at the first hotel and there was no one present to greet me – just a key left on the front desk for me to get into my room. At this second hotel, we had to call a number on the door in order to gain access, and we quite literally get scolded every time we dare to ask for something like breakfast (for which we are paying 10 extra Euro per day whether or not we eat), a change of sheets, or an access to the wi-fi that resets its passcode daily. I said before that I feel like a guest in the proprietor’s home, but perhaps more accurately, I feel like a bratty teenager in a stern parent’s home, that’s how much I am reprimanded here. I looked into relocating, again, but review sites suggest that I will have these issues anywhere I go.  So we’re embracing the comedic nature of the whole situation.  We got scolded for NOT wanting breakfast this morning, after being scolded for wanting it yesterday.   What else can you do but laugh?  Luckily, we move into our new house next week, and if you saw my post about it on Facebook, you already know it’s so pretty it makes my heart sing, and it has plenty of room for guests, so if you visit us, you won’t have to stay at one of these hotels!

Besos, Abrazos, and California Love

Rachel “Reji” Gregoire



3 Comments Add yours

  1. Atlene says:

    I love reading about your adventures and enjoy any pics you post. Keep them coming; its the only way I’ll get to Germany.


  2. Pops says:

    Have you ever considered writing for a living


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