Monday, July 19, 2010

Germany vs. the United States

Last week, I attended a New Spouses' Orientation on base. The purpose of this was meant to teach us some pointers about living in Germany and German culture. The class was led by a German native named Haagen, and it took me a lot of self- restraint to keep my mouth shut. (Even after someone says his name five times, in your mind, the ice cream joke is still funny.) While I am generally not a morning person and had immense difficulty just keeping my eyes open at some parts, a few things from the orientation stuck with me and I thought I'd share them will all of you.

The first thing that struck out was that Germans are a lot more eco-friendly than Americans are. Rather than cutting down on the amount of plastic that is used in water and soda bottles, and making a flimsy product, plastic bottles here are very thick and heavy, and rather than being recycled, they are reused. After you bring your bottles back to the store or recycling facility, they are cleaned, sanitized, and returned to the companies to be refilled. In order to ensure that you do, in fact, return your bottles, the deposit here is high, 0,25€ per bottle (about $0.40). While I don't see this being successful in the United States, this makes a lot of sense. Reusing extends a product's life span considerably and uses significantly less energy and resources than recycling does. In order to encourage their customers to be eco-friendly and only take what they need, German grocery stores don't give out shopping bags. If you need a bag, you can buy one, at our supermarket the cost ranges from 0,06-0,19€, but most people bring their own. (I have an adorable Lilly Pulitzer market tote for just this reason.)

Recycling in general in Germany is a much bigger deal than it is in the United States. We pay a garbage fee of 80,00€ per year and that includes our trash pick up, recycling pick up, and garbage bags. The bags here are color coded. Regular garbage goes in your trash bin, glass bottles are either returned to the store for the deposit or are put in separate bins depending on the color of the bottle. No joke. You can not recycle your white wine bottle and your green beer bottle in the same bin. It's simply not done. Paper is collected into yellow bags that you're given. Once a month, on specific paper recycling days, you leave the yellow bags outside and the garbage collectors get them. This is the one that I am having the most trouble with. While I have always recycled, here it's a whole new level. You are expected to put every.single.piece.of.paper that you have in your yellow bag. It's easy to remember things like magazines and flyers, etc. but envelopes from our bills? That box our Pop Tarts came in? Wrapping paper from my birthday gifts? Not so much.

Even though Germany is completely safe and we should not worry about dangerous snakes, Haagen (see? I told you it's still funny!) felt the need to do a 15 minute presentation on snakes in Germany and which are venomous and which aren't. This did so much to help relax me. Afterwards, he once again pointed out that after snakes in Germany are not, in fact, dangerous and that the most dangerous animal in Germany is a wild boar during mating season. (At this point, I had to stifle a giggle as I pictured a wild board attempting to fornicate with a lamp post in the streets of Frankfurt.)

Also, in order to avoid paying credit card fees, many stores simply won't take credit cards. They will take debit cards, but this does not help us out as we do not have a German bank account. In America, it's fairly common to see a minimum amount for credit card purchases, but here, some stores won't take them at all. Ikea, and Saturn (the German version of a Best Buy) won't accept them, for example. Imagine going to a store to buy a sofa or a washing machine and having to pay for it in cash!


  1. Thanks for sharing. It's amazing how "green" Europeans are. If only we Americans could be that way.

  2. How many new brides were there at the orientation? Any potential preppy friends?

  3. There is a company in the US that renews wine bottles for reuse. The company, Wine Bottle Renew is located in Stockton, California. They take in bottles from material recycling facilties which are investors in the company. They sort, clean and wash them and sell them to wineries at a substantial discount.

    Check them out at

  4. Your paper goes in the yellow plastic bag?! Wow, I guess out here in the villages they do it differently. Our paper goes in a brown bin and plastics go in the yellow bag.

    For future reference when you guys go back to IKEA- the Saarlouis location (about 40 minutes from here) does take credit cards! That's the one that we went to a few weeks ago. It's right on the French border and if you have the time, hop over to the Cora in Forrbach, France. They have a HUGE selection of wines for under 4 euro! =)

  5. Popping in to say hello and give you an award;

  6. You'll get used to recycling the paper. We even pull the paper out of plastic egg cartons. It's amazing how much you can recycle and reduce your trash when you really try hard at it.

  7. Wow! All the recycling would be a switch for me (I do try but...). This post makes me feel guilty I don't try harder.
    Good luck adjusting to your new life. Keep writing about your adventures! :-) XOXO

  8. That's so interesting! I guess its good they recycle!