Contrary to what most people tell you, everyone in Europe does NOT speak English so don't be surprised. If you are near a tourist attraction, an airport or a U.S. military installation, you typically do not encounter any problems. However, if you live in or are visiting a small town, be ready to do a lot of talking with your hands. You should also have some basic foreign language vocabulary skills. You will be looked upon more favorably if you attempt to speak the native language.
Housing prices tend to be a little more expensive here than in the U.S. Also, most homes are fairly old, although relatively modernized. We looked at about 25 different homes, before finding one that was built in the 20th century.
The houses themselves are also very different. For example, don't be surprised to find that most homes do not have built-in kitchens. When Germans move, they take their complete kitchens (appliances, cabinets, wallpaper) with them so a home with a full kitchen is a rarity. And, of course, do not expect to have any closets as Germans use large wardrobes known as Shranks. In our home, we converted a small child's room, the "kinder zimmer", on the third floor into a typical American walk-in closet. Most of the other rooms in our house are four walls and a floor, although we were fortunate enough to also have light fixtures.
Air-conditioning is a real luxury in Germany, and houses are no exception to this rule. Even our heating system was not centralized - the house used hot water radiators. By American standards, this is an old-fashioned system, but it must be fairly energy efficient as the same type of system is used in old and new homes alike.
Stores and shops close early during the week and are never open on Sunday. Don't be surprised that you can't run out to the 7-11 for those last minute items to make dinner with. Also, most family owned businesses close for one or two hours around lunch time.
The grocery stores are small - about the size of our convenience stores and bakeries and butchers are typically separate stores. Germans shop on a daily basis so their food is always fresh. Groceries are not bagged at the store; in fact, you don't even get bags unless you purchase them. It's really odd to watch Germans buy their groceries; they take them out of the cart, get them checked out, put them back in the cart, take them to the car, and pile them in their trunk using no bags or boxes.
As for the clothing stores, clothing and shoes are typically expensive throughout Europe. There are two sales per year - one at the end of winter and one at the end of summer. Bonnie bought a couple of items, but to experience shopping at its European best, you really need to travel to Paris or Milan.
When you go into a restaurant don't be surprised that you have to seat yourself - just walk in and take a table. The wait staff does not hover around, so if you want something you'll have to flag him/her down. The up side of that is that you can sit as long as you like and not feel like you are being rushed out the door. The tip is included in the bill, however, for smaller amounts, the custom is to round up your bill to something that is easy to make change for. For example, if the bill is DM 18,35 you might say "machen zie es zwanzig" (make it 20). For larger bills, a 5-10% gratuity is appropriate.
Don't be surprised that you cannot walk into a restaurant and simply order "ein beir bitte" as most travel books will tell you. Such a statement will be met with a very long question in a very foreign language. They will be asking you "what type of beer do you want", i.e., pilsner, export, weissen. What they are not asking is "what brand of beer would you like" since typically restaurants carry only one brand. However, each brand name makes several types of beer.
SMILE if you like to drive fast. Most of Germany's autobahns (main highways) do not have speed limits . If you want to drive fast on the smaller roads, keep smiling because you will probably get your picture taken, followed by a speeding ticket in the mail. Germany uses mobile cameras with radar sensors as speed traps. Tickets are issued to the owner of the vehicle, as identified through the license plate on the automobile. You better wear your seatbelt too, because if you are photographed without it, add it to the bill! So don't be surprised when you open your mail and a vision of a bright flashing light comes to mind (speaking from personal experience, of course).
Driving is actually quite different in Germany. There are very few stop signs at intersections and there are many "rules of the road" that you must know. It is mandatory for German drivers to attend a very thorough and very tough (also very expensive) formal driving school before receiving their license. They are aggressive, but skilled drivers and they tend to follow the rules, so you know what to expect in all situations.
Dogs in Europe are very well trained (Caitlin was the exception, of course!) and go everywhere with their owners. They go to restaurants, to the grocery store, on the bus and on the sidewalk (watch where you step).
Always carry some local coins with you or you might be forced to go on the sidewalk too. (Lots of pay toilets)!
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