The Nuances of Living Abroad

It has been about 3 months since I officially moved. That really doesn’t feel like that long of time, especially considering I will be visiting Canada in a week for two weeks – so it really makes the three months feel short. Perhaps while I’m abroad in Canada I will have certain reflections on living here in Germany and what has come thus far.

Also, as I continue to write my articles and posts, I will work to write less comparative notes between Canada and Germany. Perhaps that will simply come with more time, and hopefully my integration and adaptation.

Everything here is smaller.

The streets, cars, shopping centres, supermarkets, items located within shopping centres, Kühlschrank, apartments, and so on.

I know that I was living a pretty affluent lifestyle in Canada: I enjoyed local eateries often once a week, purchasing and enjoying a ‘fine’ wine particular to my tastes, fancy cheeses and other specialty food items, and even traveling to another country (usually once a year). I am now reminded of what living on a ‘tight’ budget is like. I am living with the consideration of how much it would cost to eat at a restaurant one night and what that would do to my monthly budget. I stop myself from going to the movie theatre simply because I want to eat movie theatre popcorn. I haven’t gone to the lakes yet on the outskirts of the city because it would (for two of us) cost 11.20 Euros just for transportation, and normally a beach day also involves food and drink spending.

In Germany there are additional costs I hadn’t ever had to consider while living in Canada. I went from living with my parents (and not paying) to living in all-inclusive apartments within houses. Here, there is monthly Strom, Warmmiete with the threat of possibly having to pay more at the end of each year for Heizung und Wasser, health insurance, and a radio broadcasting fee to factor in. I have been encouraged to buy third-party liability insurance, what?! Why is that even a thing? I have no idea.  Also, since I’m not yet so confident in my German language, I have anxiety about anything health related.

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Since Kuehlschrank here are often the size comparable to bar fridges in Canada and kitchen cupboard space is at a premium for lack of more space, grocery shopping happens at least 3x weekly, sometimes, every day — except Sundays, because EVERYTHING is closed. This I don’t mind, Sunday as a quiet day, it’s nice. I already preferred smaller and more frequent grocery shops in Canada because I would walk and I find it creates less waste. But again, it’s one of those adjustments to daily living and routine creation.

I will say that the grocery shopping experience sometimes confuses me. It can be a challenge to find cheese in a chunk, one that is not already sliced and pre-packaged. Not only does the second option hike the price, but it only allows slices.  I eat a boatload of cheese, I want to grate it on top of my food, mix it into a sauce, or simply eat it with crackers or a fresh baguette. To find cheese in a chunk, you basically need to hit up a speciality cheese section of the bigger stores or visit a vendor of an outdoor market (which I have come to realize, the food in these markets isn’t necessarily cheaper). Also, meat is quite expensive here. I was spoiled I suppose: the region in Canada I lived in had a number of local farmers, so the markets would stock meat from these farms. Although they would be on par pricing with the grocers, I knew exactly where my meat came from and that it wasn’t mass produced, I accepted the price difference. Here, however, I’m not comfortable or familiar with cuts of meats in German, and the few butchers I have wandered in to tend to be even more expensive than the supermarkets. 

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If only one could live a diet on beer: truly the cheapest product to buy in Germany. In the store, you can buy singles, or cases. There is a deposit on the plastic case (so you better return that too with your empties).  Wine bottles here have no deposit, but plastic juice and water bottles DO. In Canada, beer cans are extremely popular, especially in the last decade with the surge of craft beers offered. In Germany, they are not. You buy bottled beer, basically unless you’re going to a festival.  Strangely though, the deposit on cans is 25 cents whereas beer bottles are 8 cents. What, doesn’t make sense to you either?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am happy to be living in Germany as it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long-ass time. I just can’t help but laugh at myself, a lot. I must be doing something wrong when buying groceries. I have switched to buying frozen peas as a vegetable much more often than ever before. When trying to stick with a budget, and wanting nutrients, frozen peas here are one of those ways to reach it! I despise cabbage, but that’s another reasonably priced vegetable in this country. Eggs? Also not cheap, and I’m used to eggs always being in the fridge. Oh wait! Eggs aren’t found in refrigerator sections here! They’re found in aisles (just as most milk is). Have no fear, they’re totally safe to eat that way, it’s just a different process than in Canada (or the US for that matter).

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Let’s go back INSIDE the Wohnung. In Germany, it’s often customary to buy a kitchen. By that I mean, your cozy little space comes with an empty room, probably some backsplash and water hookups. To have a kitchen included, EBK (Einbauküche), you will pay more for rent. I did not want to deal with the stress of organizing and ordering a kitchen for purchase (when you’re looking at at least 2000 Euros) on top of trying to situate myself here when I first arrived.  I opted when searching apartments only for ones that included a kitchen. I have the smallest amount of counter space I could imagine and the generic stove set-up – but, it’s a kitchen. Stoves here remind me of a mini-one in an apartment during one’s Bachelor’s degree. The washing machine water hook-up is either in the kitchen or bathroom – mine’s in the kitchen, so I do laundry while cooking sometimes.  

Although not really my personal style and taste, I really appreciate the free furniture culture.  I have a shelf unit, (standard) Ikea coffee table, a small kitchen counter shelf, and two night tables – that were all found on the street! I am also part of a Facebook group called “free your stuff” where I was able to procure a bunch of dishes for the kitchen. There are flea markets at least once a month here that have an abundance of items to purchase for pretty cheap too – get your haggle hat on! It’s pretty common to see items outside of apartments on the sidewalk, free for the lucky person/people who walk by first and could benefit from the free stuff.

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Essentially, if you’re moving to Germany from North America, I imagine you’ll feel some of these mini-tensions and experiences as well. It simply takes time to make changes and adjustments to what makes you feel at home or comfortable in a space.  This reflection has reminded me of how many unnecessary items I owned in Canada, and why did I live in a three-bedroom house with just two people? I would totally appreciate a larger kitchen here, but it works, food gets cooked and stored, laundry gets washed. I’d love a soup ladle too, but again, it’s not necessary. It is a constant renegotiation of lists of what is necessary versus wanted as items for the apartment. Next up: ein Kleiderschrank (I need a closet to hang clothing items in, especially when half my clothes are still in a suitcase as I rotated out summer clothes to storing winter).  

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Life items you think you couldn’t live without? Look around and think about what’s the most important to own and how many creature comforts help to make your home.

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