As a first time international traveler, I had prepared for months for my move to Germany. I memorized maps, studied the language, and even attempted some cultural immersion by visiting restaurants that served schnitzel, spätzle, and German beer. In my naivety, I thought that I could smooth over the inevitable obstacles that come with moving to a foreign country by Googling my way through the entirety of German history and culture. Bismarck, Bach and the Brothers Grimm would obviously see me through.
Unfortunately, some things fell beyond the scope of my intense late-night Internet searches. I found out the hard way that no amount of research can fully prepare you for an international move. These are the top seven things I wish I'd know before arriving in Deutschland:
1. The Train System
As Germans are notoriously punctual and practical people, I had expected the trains to be a dream to navigate. In reality, they take forever to understand, especially if you are translating everything on the spot. Everything from purchasing your ticket to finding your seat can be (and usually is) a struggle.
2. Everything Closes Early
I knew about this beforehand, but I didn't realize just how heavily I relied on my ability to go get a milkshake at 1 in the morning before I moved here. If you don't live in a city, you can expect everything to be closed around 6 or 7 with the exception of one or two restaurants.
Germans celebrate so many holidays, especially in Bavaria where religious and national festivities combine to create a calendar filled with holidays happening at least on a monthly basis. This is great because there is always a festival or celebration to attend, but has the unfortunate side effect of giving the restaurants and businesses another opportunity to close. The fast and accessible culture that Americans are raised on has created some real problems for me.
4. Limited Food Options
If you want anything other than German, Italian, Greek or Thai, you are pretty much out of luck. Coming from a country that is literally overflowing with food options, this has been the hardest adjustment for me to make. When I go back to America, my number one priority is to eat ALL the things.
5. Doctors And Cultural Barriers
Going to the doctor here is super weird. They have such different ideas about privacy and the way that the medicine should be practiced. It can feel like a really scary thing to have to go to a doctor that you can not communicate with, so maintaining a solid understanding of their medical system is really important.
I don't know exactly what I expected the radio to be like, but I was so surprised to find that most of the music they play is in English. Not only that, but they play extremely old American country hits on the radio all the time. I'm pretty sure American country music is more popular here than it is in America. I've found that watching German TV and listening to the radio can be really great ways to learn more of the language, so that has been a nice surprise.
7. Quiet Hours
Sundays, holidays, and night time are all designated quiet hours and you can be fined for disrupting the silence. This is nice when you want to enjoy a peaceful Sunday afternoon, but having to constantly think about whether you can or can not make noise can be difficult.