15 December, 2011

Little Differences - Part 2

This post is part two of a series in which I am explaining little things that make life in Germany different than in the US. I'm trying to stick to physical differences rather than cultural differences because culture is rather difficult to take a photo of and put it in a blog.

Toilet flushing mechanisms
Toilet flush buttons
This took a couple of tests before the significance of the two buttons truly sank in. It's pretty self explanatory: press the big button for #2s or the small button for #1s. This is one of the standard designs that I've seen all over Germany. Also, you'll notice that the tank is concealed in the wall; also something you don't see in the States.

Traffic light cycles

Watch the above video so you'll know what I'm talking about. The traffic lights in Germany when cycling from red to green include a momentary glimmer of amber. Besides that, it's the exact same set of three lights you'd see in the States arranged in the same order even: red on top, green on bottom. But that one slight difference is enough to remind me that I'm still in Germany. I have a hunch that the momentary "warning" before turning green is so that you can put your car in gear. Which brings me to my next point...

Manual vs. Automatic transmission
Unfortunately, I'd have to take a lot of pictures in order to prove this personally, but I can safely say that the majority of cars I've seen and been in here in Germany have been manual transmission. Even most of the charter buses I've been in were stick-shift. In fact, driving an automatic is almost looked down on. This works well for me because I love driving stick-shift and I wish more people in the States would share my opinion, but when I'm in Germany that's not an issue. I did just a quick search on www.autoscout24.de which has a listing of 930,000 used cars of which 708,000 are manual transmission. That's 76.13% according to Wolfram|Alpha!

Sorting the trash
From left to right: plastic, garbage, glass recepticles
This is one little thing that is often frustrating for Americans when they first come to Germany. Some of us might be accustomed to separating recyclables at home, but not in every single building and residence! Germans are very serious about separating garbage. I heard, if you put something in the recycling which doesn't belong in the recycling, you could get fined. The rule that always works for me: when in doubt, Restmüll.

Exit signs
A standard exit sign
Okay, sorry, this one isn't very interesting, but it's worth noting. This is what exit signs look like here. It's a lot more universal than our exit signs.

I'm going to stretch my self-declared criteria of physical differences for this next point. I might be getting a little into language differences, but I'll let you be the judge of that.

How to write dates and syntax of mailing addresses
These are two things that are very easy to get wrong if you assume that the way we do it in the States is the universal standard. I don't know why the Germans do this differently, but they do. In Germany, dates are written DAY.MONTH.YEAR, no exceptions. This is very confusing if you're used to writing Month/Day/Year and can cause some major problems if you are trying to express any date during the first 12 days of any month. I've gotten in the habit of writing out at least an abreviation of the month as often as possible e.g. "15 Dec. 2011". That way I know that my meaning will be clear whether my audience is German or American. Also in Germany, you write the house number after the street name and the zip-code in front of the town. For example, the mailing address of the International Office would be written like this:

Reutlingen International Office
Alteburgstr. 150
72762 Reutlingen

Whereas the International Office at Valpo is:

Office of International Programs
1509 Chapel Drive
Valparaiso, IN 46383
The numbers are in the exact opposite position as we write them in the States! I'm pretty sure your letter would still arrive if you wrote it out the wrong way around, but it would probably be a little delayed.

First floor = Second floor
Button panel in the elevator in my dorm
If you ever find yourself in a German elevator (bzw. einem amerikanischen Aufzug für meine deutsche Leser), you might want to think twice before you mash those buttons. See, in Germany, the first floor of a building - that is, the lowest level with a door to the outside - is called the Erdgeschoss or "ground" floor. Then floors above the ground floor, die Obergeschosse, are numbered starting at 1. So, if you enter a building by the front door and go up one flight of steps, you're now on the "first floor" (for you linguists out there it makes a little more sense if you say it in German, "erstes Obergeschoss" which literally means "first upper floor"). In America, we skip this small technicality and number the ground floor - the first floor you would find yourself in if you entered by the front door - 1. Therefore, if you're at the top of a multi-story building in Germany, you would have to press "E", rather than "1", to get to the bottom. Otherwise you'll feel exceedingly silly waiting for the elevator doors to open and close on the second floor - which is actually the first floor. Again, to avoid confusion, I usually end up describing the floor I live on as the ground floor because that should also be understandable by Americans and I don't have to worry about getting the numbers confused in my head.

Keys go spiky side down
The lock to my room
Talk about mundane details! But it's different, right? In the States I'm pretty sure all locks are installed such that the spiky side of the key is on top when properly inserted. This difference will probably make you feel dumb the first couple of times you go to unlock a room when you come to Germany, but I guarantee you'll get the hang of it pretty quick.
So, there you have it! A few more things that make life in Germany just slightly different than life in the States; not better or worse, just different. I hope you've enjoyed reading. I may come back to this theme later if I think of enough little differences.

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