Six months ago today, we boarded an airplane at Ramstein Air Force Base to return to the United States. For the past three and a half years, Brandon and I had been stationed at USAG Hohenfels in Germany. While adjusting to life in the United States has not been as difficult as it was originally moving to Germany, it has still been challenging at times. We tried to embrace the German culture while we lived there, and the differences between Germany and the United States really became obvious when we returned. What follows is a list of the major differences between German and American life that required us to readjust.
- Carbonated Water: In Germany, this was the default when you purchased water. While we were there, we learned to like “bubble juice” (as one friend’s daughter called it) and now it’s a challenge to find it! I can’t order it in most restaurants and haven’t been able to find it at gas stations when we’ve stopped. Instead of paying a fortune to buy bottled water, I gave Brandon a SodaStream as a belated birthday gift. For a time, we were going through a 60-liter carbonating bottle every week! While we’ve tried some of the soda flavors, mostly we just drink the plain carbonated water that we became accustomed to in Germany.
- Beer: As expected, Brandon went through a German beer withdrawal when we moved back. You just can’t beat German beer. While you can get some German beer here in the U.S., it’s not the Bavarian regional specialties of Winkler Bräu Kupfer Spezial, Plank Hefeweizen, or Weltenburger Kloster Anno 1050. (Supposedly, even the Pope has to have the Weltenberger beer specially delivered to Rome. Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of pull to get it here to Kansas/Missouri!) Brandon shipped a three-month supply of beer with our wine shipment, so he technically didn’t have to adjust until October. Thankfully, there are some good microbreweries here in the United States, so Brandon is finding something to drink. At least he hasn’t had to start brewing his own…yet.
- Shopping: When we first moved back, I couldn’t believe the selection at the grocery store and big box stores. Bed Bath & Beyond was beyond overwhelming! We needed a washer & dryer at our new house, so we stopped at Nebraska Furniture Mart to look. Silly me, I thought there would be about three options: cheap, expensive and middle of the road. Boy was I surprised to find multiple rows of washers and dryers! I didn’t even know where to start. Luckily, we ending up finding a nice used set on Craigslist! It also took me a while to remember that stores are open more hours here. I had to remind myself that I could shop on Sundays and after 6pm during the week. We even went to Lowe’s after 9pm one night…crazy!
- Restaurant Service: Surprisingly, we had to adjust to eating out in the U.S. again. Eating out in Germany was an entire evening event. Once you had a table, it was yours, even if you were just lingering over a beer or coffee. No pressure to leave, and you had to ask for the check when you were finally ready. Now we often feel rushed when we eat out here. The food comes out so fast that Brandon doesn’t even have time to finish a beer before dinner. And as soon as we finish or decline dessert, the check simply appears at the table. It is remarkable that we can order, eat, and leave in under an hour! I also have to admit that having free soda and water refills is nice again.
- Driving: It was difficult adjusting to driving in Germany, and it has been equally frustrating coming back. We got used to driving 100+mph on the Autobahn! Cruise control is now our friend. Many American drivers also fail to observe the “keep right” rule that generally states on multi-lane highways to keep right except to pass and move right if blocking overtaking traffic. While this “rule” is not “law” in most U.S. states, it is the law in Germany and it is actually illegal to pass on the right. Brandon and I are trying to break our German habit of driving super close to slower cars in the left lane until they move over to the right! Finally, roundabouts create some problems here in America. We have a new one right near our house that we have to use to get to and from FT Leavenworth. Needless to say, most people don’t know that you are supposed to yield to anyone already in the roundabout and signal when you are leaving the roundabout, not when you enter it, so there have been some interesting close calls!
- Mail: For some unknown reason, I love getting mail! This has been one of the benefits of moving back to the U.S. My mail is no longer at the mercy of the Military Postal System. I receive my Real Simple magazines before the issue month begins instead of after the month is over, and packages arrive in days instead of weeks. Also, instead of having to stop at the Community Mail Room on post to pick up everything, and inevitably wait in line to pick up a package or anything else that wouldn’t fit in the small box, my mail is delivered directly to my house, even on Saturdays! It’s the simple things in life that give me the most pleasure!
- Recycling: The Germans recycle everything!! When we moved into our quarters, Housing gave us a whole packet explaining what could and could not be recycled and how to go about it. Paper of all kinds in the paper bin that was picked up once a month; plastics, aluminum, Styrofoam etc. in the yellow bags that were picked up every other week; glass of all colors could be dropped off at the facility on post or at the collection site in our little town; yard waste and hazardous materials (including batteries, electronics and light bulbs) were collected on post. It was quite the system to learn, but soon it became second nature. Brandon was trained to wash almost all food packaging and throw it in the yellow bag. While we are fortunate to have some recycling here, it is definitely not as comprehensive! For the first month or so, I’m sure we threw much more in our recycling bag than we were allowed. And I still catch Brandon rinsing out packaging that has to just be thrown away!
- Post Gate Guards: This didn’t require a major adjustment, but I was surprised at first by the ease of getting onto Fort Leavenworth compared to garrisons in Germany. In Germany, our military IDs had to be scanned and there was a process to sign in guests that didn’t have military IDs. At Fort Leavenworth, we just show our military ID and the gate guard generally lets on on post. Our visitors have only needed to show their driver’s licenses when they have been with us. I guess it’s a lot easier when the Force Protection level is Alpha! (It never went below Bravo in Germany.)
- Language: Unfortunately, we never became fluent in German while we were stationed at USAG Hohenfels. This made even simple things complicated in Germany. Google translator was one of my favorite web sites, but it has its limitations, especially when you are not near a computer. When we first moved back to the U.S., I still hesitated to ask questions in stores because most of the time I didn’t know how to ask for what I needed when we were in Germany. Or if I did know how to ask, I usually couldn’t understand their response. Of course, unclear responses are still sometimes an issue here in the U.S., but at least I know how to ask follow-up questions! Understanding the language is a huge benefit to being back in the U.S.
While moving to Germany and now back to the United States has had its challenges, the overall experience is still one of the best of our lives. And we would do it again in a heartbeat!
If you’ve lived overseas for any length of time, what were some of the challenges/differences that you faced when you moved back to the United States?