14 December, 2011

Little Differences - Part 1

Germany and The United States of America are similar on many levels. They are both developed, modern, western societies where the freedoms of speech and religion are highly valued. There are some differences in the way the two Governments are structured and how they function, but in the end, they are both democratic. I'd say quality of living is about the same, at least compared to what I'm accustomed to. However, there are lots of little things that remind me every day that I'm not in America. These little things are not life-changers, but they are peculiarities that I would like to bring to the attention of my American friends. Disclaimer: I've spent almost all of my time in Germany in the southern part of the country, so some things that I find normal may be specific to this region. I'm not claiming to be an expert on all of Germany.

I've decided to split this list into multiple parts because I keep thinking of things to include. I will do my best to accompany every item with a picture or a video even. The links below the pictures will take you to the respective picture on my PicasaWeb Album where you can zoom in and examine every last detail.

Light switches and Outlets
Light switch and outlet with Sharpie for scale
The light switches are all rocker switches. I find this very convenient because it's a rather large target and it's easy to simply give it a whack to turn it off. I'm not sure I entirely understand the outlets, however. I can't see any way to make a polarized plug with such an arrangement because the holes for the terminals are the same size. The recessed sockets are also hard to clean and tend to collect dust.

Hole punches
Hole-punch with Sharpie for scale
Now, this one is brilliant in so many ways! This is a picture of the most basic hole-punch that you might find in Germany. Some of them have sliding guides that help you align the sheet, but that's not really necessary. If you look closely right in the middle of the two punches and just above where the paper would slide in, there's a little mark in the plastic. The idea is, you crease one sheet of paper by folding it in half (hamburger style) and then you line the crease up with that mark. This way, if you always use the standard A4 sheets of paper, the holes will always line up with each other. Another perk of the two-hole design is that you can fit both holes on the edge of a half sheet of paper, so it's a lot easier to put smaller-format documents in a binder alongside full sheets. One less hole also means one less dimension that needs to be controlled while manufacturing the hole-punch, so there should be much less variability between hole-punches from various companies.

DIN A4 Binder - Exterior

The binders compliment the brilliance of the hole-punches well. Some key things to notice about the exterior of the binder are: metal protecting high-wear locations, hole on the spine to facilitate removal from shelf, slots on cover so that it can close all the way. Germans take their binders seriously.
DIN A4 Binder - Interior
The inside is also worth noting. The rings are not stupid and round, the locking mechanism is well-built, and that piece spanning the two ring-posts snaps down on top of the papers to keep everything from flopping around when the binder is closed. Binders are a very small part of life, but they are so completely different than ours in the US even though they serve the same basic purpose of holding documents together. Amazing, right?

Volumes written on drinking vessels
Volumes on drinking vessels
This is a difference that you might not notice at first. I'm pretty sure it's some sort of law that you have to have a marking of volume on any beverage you sell in Germany. The three vessels pictured have examples of these markings. Whenever I order a drink in America I felt like I was getting ripped off because there's no way to tell how much you've been given. If the mark is on the glass, at least you know when you're being swindled.

I know, right? Something so simple, so straight forward, you might ask: how can it be so different? You'd be surprised at how fundamentally different windows in Germany are as compared with those in the States. First of all, they don't use screens here. I don't know if it's because bugs aren't a problem or they think it's a waste of time to put in screens, whatever, I've never seen them here. Second, they put the blinds on the outside of the window. Crazy, right? I actually like it better that way because you drastically reduce the amount of surface area capable of holding dust in a room when you take out the blinds. Also, blinds on the outside can prevent a little bit of rain from getting in. Third, windows here don't follow the two-pane, slide-the-bottom-up model that we're used to. No, they do this crazy thing where the window can either tip into the room from the top:
Window - Tipped open
 ...or swing into the room like a door:
Window - Swung open
Both of these functions are controlled with the same single handle you can see on the left side of the window.  (In these pictures you can also see my outside-the-window blinds.) This design has it's pros and cons. In the tipped position, rain can't get in unless it's accompanied by heavy wind. When you swing it open, you're opening the entire window, not just the bottom half like with US windows. However, either way, you need free space inside in order to open the window. With the sliding model, this is not an issue. Again, they're still windows, but they're just different enough to make an impact.

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