Home is where the heart is. –Yet, I have two homes, but only one heart.
Note from me to you: In this article, I mainly state my opinion. The article presents my ideas of the American culture in a stereotypical way. Please keep in mind that these are just my impressions and I acknowledge everyone being different and precious in their own way. If you feel attacked by this article, I am incredibly sorry. It was not my intention.
With all the knowledge about the country before I traveled to the land of “stars and stripes” came from an all-time classic American family show, The Simpsons, my idea of the US was highly stereotyped. D’oh! –Donut eating policemen, people with creativity that knows no limit (Some might also refer to it as “crazy”) and a country that highly values family.
Obviously, the culture shock was bound to happen!
I am a Wisconsin Cheesehead. And you are …?
What was supposed to start as an exchange year abroad in 2012, became a lifetime of adventure. After one year being a junior in high school, I have returned to the US many times. –You can probably consider me a Wisconsin Cheesehead by now.
After many visits, I have learned one thing or another about the American culture that go beyond the impression of donut and pancake loving people.
A German in America
So there I was: 16 years old and for the first time in the country where dreams happen. (Apparently)
“The fact is: It’s true what they say about the United States. It is a land of opportunity. It is too various to get bored with it.”
I got there with no luggage –Imagine a fresh start without fresh knickers! – not knowing the family I was staying with for the following year and without any clue of what the heck my life would look like. Yet, a rush of adrenaline kept me in a state of mere confidence. Come what may, I was ready for it! My adapting skills compare to the ones of a chameleon and I was so excited to discover my new colors. (Maybe my true colors?)
“The Constitution only guarantees you the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”
And guess what? Life across the ocean is not quite the same!
Everything is bigger. That was the first thing I noticed. Some cars compare to little trucks that drive on wide roads that could easily fit two cars on one lane!
Also, adults drivers, like my host parents, aren’t the only ones buzzing the streets. Even 16 years olds try to peak over the steering wheel!– City roads, country roads, highways –They drive everywhere you drive!
And I get that. The feeling for distance is a completely different one in the US compared to Germany, as places seem to be more spread out. Driving down country roads for an hour to go to a nice restaurant or to the movies? –No problem. Buckle up! In Germany, places are very close together and can easily be reached by public transportation, biking or even walking. So yes, teenagers in the US probably need their cars.
In Germany, it is less common to see teenage drivers on the streets. Instead, 16 year olds probably experiment with liquor for the first time as it is the legal drinking age. Prost! At the age of 18, Germans are also allowed to drink hard liquor. Prost, again! –But honestly, if you’re an American and have to wait until 21, let me tell you, you aren’t missing much.
Even though Americans, unlike Germans, don’t enjoy paying regular visits to the fitness center, there is one thing they practice as if it was an Olympic sport: chit-chat! Germans have no chance to compete with the chit-chat nation. But don’t think Germans are rude in any way! They simply like to keep to themselves.
After burning many calories from all this talking, it’s time for the American to re-fuel. And what place is better than a restaurant? The eating-out culture knows no limits. First of all, there are so many choices. Second, the food at a restaurant is definitely cheaper than in Germany (but not any less delicious!). And third, people just enjoy the social call!
As a German, I’d rather stick to my kitchen at home. –Even a two star pasta a la Worldpal can still be good food after all. So since I barely went out to eat when I as younger, it was a pure luxury to me. I definitely came accustomed to good food very quickly. After all, who doesn’t like to get pampered with deliciousness once in a while? And if I didn’t finish my food, I could just take it home with me in a doggy-bag. This is really untypical for Germany. I have noticed that some German restaurants now provide this service if you ask politely, but it’s still relatively few.
Good food is not the only luxury Americans enjoy spending their money on. In general, Americans spend their money rather quickly on things they want. Germans, instead, are suckers for saving. We Germans rather cut back on the things we really want, and either get them later or not at all, because we forgot all about them. (It happens. Oh well.)
Shopping in the US always comes to me as a shock. Taxes are not added on the prices you see on the tags! Can you imagine how many times I doubted my math skills in local super markets? Even when you add all the prices on the tags together, you are going to spend more money total for sure! In Germany, the prices on the tags are the definite prices. No nasty surprises there.
And how can you tell an American from a German at a supermarket? The American pays with card and the German with cash! –Even if it’s just a milkshake for $2!
I was lucky enough to attend high school as a Junior in the USA. The one thing that struck me immediately is that national pride starts in the classroom. There was an American flag in every room and before the first class began, the class would recite The Pledge of Allegiance. And before a sport’s meet began, they would sing the National Anthem. Needless to say, I got to see the performance many many times. Germans don’t show this sense of pride for their country (unless it comes to soccer or within Oktoberfest celebrations).
In high school, I also noticed that the schools set the focus on the arts and music. They are accepted as any other class in the curriculum. In Germany, science and math classes are definitely prioritized.
Lastly, higher education in the US is incredibly expensive! Going to university in Germany is highly affordable. Yet, before you think it’s easy to get into a German university as a foreigner (I feel this myth is out there), you couldn’t be more wrong! Not every high school diploma compares to a German high school degree. Often, they are equivalent to a tenth grade high school degree and that’s no degree that will get you into a university!
I didn’t go home empty handed after I left the US one year later. I was in love and still am with the boy, who would grow to become my husband four years later.
Now, I am happily married to a man who means everything to me, and have family across the ocean, who couldn’t have welcomed me any more into their arms.
What do you think are differences between the American and German culture? Let me know in the comments below!