I have lived in Germany and enjoy giving advice on living in that country.
Brexit. Germany. Two words. To some, one brings pain and the other solace. For me, they're probably the other way round. I thought red tape was bad in the UK, then I went to Germany.
Expatriating is never an easy decision to make - no matter how you try to paint it. You have to pack, sell your things, move, pay, learn a language, find somewhere to live, find a job, make new friends, and leave loved ones behind. They say that when you move abroad, you go through the grief cycle all over again. You'll have to go through the culture shock. Then apparently, when you return to your home country, you start the cycle again. So why would anyone do this?
For me, I moved to Germany because I married a German. It was a difficult decision to make given I had a well established life in the UK. Then Brexit happened. And all sorts of chaos began. We were forced to talk about marriage way sooner than we were ready to. Suddenly we weren't sure how the UK leaving the EU would affect us in the future; did we want to live in Germany or the UK? How would it impact our families and the family we planned to start? I didn't even speak German. Yet after many intense months of conversation and trying to find a compromise, off to Germany I went.
German schools put a lot of effort and emphasis in learning foreign languages. As such, their society is far better equipped to speak English compared to the UK with our embarrassing attempts at European languages. The English language is everywhere in Germany. On everyday items, on the TV, at the gym, and in the music. It's everywhere; they grow up with it. I can count on two fingers the amount of German words I grew up with; uber and Scheiße.
Thus from the very beginning, the Germans are better equipped to comprehend English. Although they enjoy showing off their linguistic skills, they kind of resent it simultaneously. Foreigners in Germany will often boldly be told, 'Speak German - you're in Germany!' Whilst German isn't as difficult a language to learn as they might like you to believe (German is one of the closest languages to the English language), it does take time and effort to learn the endless grammar structures. And if you make a mistake, it's likely they'll let you know about it. There is definitely a sense of unfriendly pride here that made me even more desperate for the self-depreciating wit of a Brit.
2. Casual Racism and Discrimination
I remember that time during the 90s when the UK had an influx of immigrants. For the first time ever, there was a girl from Sri Lanka in my class called Tharanee Witchiwatcha, and her skin wasn't white. Well since then, the UK has welcomed millions more from all backgrounds. That's why I love London. You can hear so many accents and see such a diverse group of people. Growing up this way, I am accustomed to foreigners. Germany struggles here. When I first moved over, It took me six days to meet a non-white person. Coming from London, that was a crazy experience for me. Yet here it seems to be the norm. There is definitely a sense of white privilege here. Casual racism is very much an everyday occurrence, especially directed towards the recent influx of Syrian refugees. A lot of Germans believe Brexit was a direct result of Angela Merkel's decision to allow Syrian refugees into Germany. What they initially saw as a noble response to tragic events has now turned quite sour, as they realise the impact of this decision within their communities. I do not believe Germany will welcome Brits with open arms.
Germany is definitely a few years behind in terms of modern society. Women are expected to breastfeed and stay at home once children come along. Germany is a very family-friendly country, so it actually makes it easier for mothers to stay at home. However, if you do decide to bottlefeed and work when your children are still small, you will be frowned upon. Finding a job is difficult here, they definitely employ their own before a foreigner. You have to give a photo with your CV and they can ask if you have children, how many you have and how old they are. I'm a university educated white woman with seven years of experience working for the NHS. I struggled to even get an assistant job role in Germany. This is apparently because in Germany, documents really matter more than experience. You need to have the right qualification for the job and there is no room for deviation here. In the UK, this appears to be a bit more relaxed so long as you have the relevant experience. Not so in Germany.
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Buying a house here is often left much later, often buying from your 50s onwards. Germans spend a lot of time saving. They often put down huge deposits on their homes to avoid a large mortgage. Being in debt is considered a faux pas here. So until then, they rent. Rent is affordable compared to the UK. But because everyone rents long term, properties are hard to come by. We were one of 350 applicants for one house in Munich. And even if you do find one, expect to buy your own kitchen. Germans take their kitchens with them when they move. Why? Just because. Landlords are also allowed to discriminate. If you're a foreigner with young children and a dog, forget about it.
The school system here is not too dissimilar to the UK. However, it is more affiliated with the US school system. Home schooling is not an option as it's not allowed. Instead of an 11 plus exam at the end of primary school, teachers are expected to recommend what further education is best for the pupil. This choice usually determines the course of the child's future and the employment opportunities available to them as an adult. The Gymnasium here (grammar level) is considered the best option and parents often pressure teachers sometimes quite aggressively about their child going down this road, regardless if it is suitable or not. Because of this, pupils often fail as they're unable to meet the educational standard. Students can have any haircut they want and wear whatever they feel like to school. They also have the freedom to change between schools to continue their education at varying academic levels. University education is free. Because of this, Germany is over run with academics but there is a lack of skilled workers. Overall, not too bad. However, the UK education system is definitely more flexible in that someone from a state school can still go on to qualify to be a doctor. Unless you attend a Gymnasium in Germany, it is unlikely that would still be an option. Once you're pigeon holed, it's unlikely you will deviate.
3. Cultural Attitudes
What I really missed when I moved to Germany was the British wit, sarcastic humour and people who actually smile at you. Germans, for all their (perceived) faults, are direct and honest people. They say what they mean even if it hurts your feelings, which can come off as cold and detached. I often feel like I have to explain and validate my choices and decisions here. In Germany, people will only listen to you and respect your view if they can understand why. And they are vocal about getting that understanding. The UK culture is as such that we don't pry. We don't give opinions freely, unless we know the person really well. Germans are the exact opposite. They ask what would be considered rude or intrusive questions to try and gain understanding, even if they barely know you. They do this because they actually care. It took me a long time to realise this, as with Brit culture, this behaviour is just disrespectful and rude. This alone has caused so many misunderstandings with the German folk.
German men are generally respectful towards women. However, many hold an old school chauvinistic attitude. They don't flirt. If you're dating a German man, you'll never really know if he's in to you. You will most likely have to make the first move. And forget chivalry, open the door yourself. Germans and romance do not collide. The same goes for common courtesy; German's rarely think of those around them. Queuing doesn't really exist, they think nothing of pushing in. Even if there's a woman with two large heavy suitcases waiting to get on a train first, they will shove past her to get on first and leave her to carry her bags herself. If there's a pregnant woman standing on a packed train, she will stay standing.
A couple of expat acquaintances shared that they were once shouted at by an older German woman for eating ice cream in public. Another shared that she wanted to buy a pair of shoes in a charity shop window but couldn't, because it wasn't 11 AM on a Wednesday. You're not allowed to cross the road until the Green Man appears, and if you do, people will shout at you, even if the road is clear. You may have to wait another working day to sort out that bureaucracy because someone was 'at lunch' when you called. German efficiency really is a myth.
These are the kind of idiosyncrasies that makes Germans German. They are very much concerned with the details, whereas the UK seems to care more about the bigger picture. New Years Eve is a time when the well respected German will literally throw fireworks at other Germans. But heaven forbid you cut your grass on a Sunday.
If you're able to get over all of this, Germany is a beautiful country. It is clean and they're very active overall. You must wear slippers indoors at all times, even at your friends house. You can ride your bike without fear of being run over. Recycling is basically a national sport. There is less crap in their food. The winters are brutal but they still manage. There is a big emphasis on family and living in balance, shops are closed on Sunday's for this reason. Life in general is a bit less stressful here; they work less hours. They pay very well for the right jobs, but expect your monthly pay to have health insurance, insurance for the sake of insurance and church tax deducted unless you decide to opt out. (Cue the days of bureaucracy because they're 'at lunch') and be prepared to pay your own taxes.
So before you decide to pack up your UK life to escape Brexit, seriously consider if you can wait til Wednesday at 11 AM for the shoes in the window. It could be more difficult than you think.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2018 Kitty Rochester