As I’ve said before, there’s a lot about being in Germany that isn’t all that different from being in the US, especially since I’m in a large (half a million people, roughly the population of Toledo) university/tourist town. Even many of the folks I meet, shopkeepers and such, speak some English. Sometimes I even find it hard to practice my German, since many people hear my American accent and immediately start speaking English to me!
That being said, there are a few things I miss. The similarities make some differences jarring. So here is today’s list, “Top 10 Things I miss about the USA”…
Number 10: My Car.
Now don’t get me wrong… most of the time I love not having to deal with a car. Gasoline is about 1,5€ per liter (over $9 per gallon!) and I can only imagine what insurance, parking, and such would cost! We spend around 120€ per month for our VGN passes (bus, U-Bahn, regional trains), which gets us everywhere we need to go, as much as we want, and we don’t even have to travel together. My pass is more expensive, since I have to travel to Erlangen for classes (it’s about a 20km commute). We’ve mastered the art of vehicle-free shopping with our rolling market tote and the portable dolly for big dogfood bags (a monthly purchase!). I also like not having to drive… I can read while riding the bus or train to Erlangen, and I don’t have to worry about parking.
Once in a while, though, it would be nice to have a car. When we bought our bookshelves for the living room, I had to rent a van—again—and it was stressful, to say the least. They gave me an “upgrade” since they were out of smaller vans, so I got a HUGE transport van, even BIGGER than the Vanzilla! But more on that in another post. Anyway, once in a while it would be nice to have a car. It’s not really possible to carry a bunch of plants, or a bookshelf, or such bulky things on the U-Bahn. Times like these, I miss my car.
Number 9: Peanut Butter, and other “American” foods.
I can buy peanut butter here, but it’s a gourmet item, hard to find, and really expensive. And it just isn’t as good as Jif. We have two jars left from our shipment, and when they’re gone, that’s it.
I’m slowly learning how to either do without or substitute for American foods:
- Bisquick: flour, baking powder, and vegetable shortening I found at Karstadt. I can buy Bisquick, but it’s about 5€ for enough to make 1 1/2 batches of biscuits. Um, no. (UPDATE: Have come up with a substitute, and a great biscuit recipe!)
- Kentucky Colonel Seasoned Flour: I discovered this a few years back, and it’s great for breading and making gravy. It is supposedly based on KFC’s “Famous Recipe.” (We’ve got a KFC in town, but they don’t serve biscuits! Boo!) I’ve figured out the ingredients (salt, pepper, MSG, and paprika) and proportions for my own seasoned flour, and now I’m happy.
- Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough: Again, can get a mix really expensive at Karstadt. I’ll have to start making cookies, muffins, and biscuits from scratch.
- Stevia: I like to use the herbal sweetener Stevia for my yogurt, but you can’t buy it here. It’s not even considered a food item. So I’m using Apriva instead. But it won’t last forever.
- Breakfast Sausage: Jimmy Dean, where are you when I need you? Bacon, I can get. Sausage, not really. I mean, there are lots of sausages here, but not American-style breakfast sausage. I’m working on a recipe using ground pork. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
Number 8: Splenda (or Apriva).
Apriva, the Kroger version of Splenda, is my diabetic sweetener of choice. And they don’t sell it here. It’s even hard to find packets of any sweetener—most are sold in tablet form, which are hard to dissolve in coffee. I’ve been using Apriva to sweeten my yogurt, and when it’s gone, I know the tablets won’t work in it. We brought nearly 500 packets of Apriva in our shipment, but I don’t think it will last past Christmas (hint, hint!).
Number 7: Shopping Hours.
I’m not really the kind of person to head to Kroger’s at 3 am (although it has been done…), but the stores here close at 8 pm every day, and are completely closed on Sunday. Therefore, shopping requires some planning—especially since both my market bag and my kitchen are too small to keep more than about 3 days worth of food at a time.
Number 6: Central Heat / Air.
We don’t really need AC here, it doesn’t really get warm enough. But I liked running my AC on “fan” for the air circulation. Our apartment has two gas heating units—one in the living room and one in our bedroom—and we just bought a small space heater for Sheridan. We just turned the heat on (low tonight of 2°C!) and they heat fine, but you can’t put anything near them, which wastes floor space.
Number 5: A Backyard.
We had gotten really spoiled in Athens with our fenced-in backyard. Siggy loved playing out back, and it was really easy to just let him out when he needed to take care of business. We also had the patio with chairs and the well-used grill. Here, we’re on the third floor, the courtyard is mostly paved, and there’s no real grass for several blocks—there’s a park a couple blocks away, which is great, but it still isn’t our backyard. Even in Ohio we had a yard.
Number 4: Our Bicycles.
We sold our bikes in Athens, since shipping was so expensive and we planned to buy new bikes when we got here. Had I known how EXPENSIVE bicycles are here (200 – 500 € just for entry-level cheap bikes, and used are hard practically impossible to find), I would have gladly paid the extra couple hundred bucks to ship ours.
Number 3: Stuff I can find, just really expensive.
I think sometimes it’s worse to find your favorite things but then realize they’re prohibitively expensive. It’s just teasing at that point—like the peanut butter!
I’ve already written about having to give up the fingernails because of the expense. Next to go will have to be my Clinique skin care. It cost more in euros her than in dollars in the US. For example, a large bottle of Clarifying Lotion is $18 at Belks, but 25€ at Müller. I can’t justify it.
Number 2: Medications.
With my health issues (diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high lipids—Syndrome X, they like to call it), I take a handful of prescriptions and supplements every morning and every night. In Athens, my prescriptions were expensive—more than my insurance covered. Fortunately, the supplements weren’t too bad, since ins. wouldn’t cover them at all. I would stock up when I found them “BOGO” at Kroger’s.
I brought enough of everything for about 3 months, figuring I’d be able to work out an alternative by then. I even had my doc at the UGA Health Center write new scrips and a letter describing my diagnoses for me, so I’d be prepared to find a doc and pharmacist here. So when I went looking for refills, I was surprised to find that several of my meds—namely, my two diabetes meds—aren’t available here. I’ve been taking Metformin 750 XR, which doesn’t make me nauseous (it’s extended release)—here, it’s 850, non-XR. But much cheaper. Glucotrol isn’t even available here. The pharmacy had to special-order it for me from the US at 105€ for a 6-week supply. So now I have to find an alternative before it’s gone.
Many of my supplements, too are either unavailable or different here. I think I have it all worked out, but it involves ordering some things from the British version of Vitamin World. It was trying, however, getting it all fixed!
And the number one thing I miss from the USA:
Of course, all my friends and family! It’s tough, especially with the time difference, to keep in touch well. And I miss impromptu hallway chats and lunches. I’m sure I’ll make new friends here, once classes start, but it’s not the same.
I miss you guys!