Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Zara's Winter sale has begun

Zara Winter Sale

Zara pink sweater, €33 / Zara sweater, €41 / Zara kimono, €33 / Zara coat, €125 / Zara lined jacket, €98 / Zara zip jacket, €98 / Skirt / Zara mid-rise jeans, €41 / Zara short skirt, €25 / Zara handle handbag, €98 / Zara handbag, €49

Just a reminder that everything is on sale right now at Zara in stores and online.  Hopefully you all aren't like me who already way overspent my clothing budget for like the next five years.  Happy shopping!  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Extrovert vs. Introvert expat experience

Lately I've been longing for all things back home.  It's going to be Christmas and I miss my family.  I miss my friends.  I miss America.  This feeling of homesickness has been so strong that a couple of times I found myself fighting tears while sitting in lectures.  It's weird.  Why now?  I'm well into my eighth year as an expat.  I'm not even sure I remember what living in America is like.  

Someone posted an article about introverts on Facebook and I realized my expat experience is different from other people's because I am an introvert.  I don't like parties, crowds or lots of noise and activity.  You'd find me happier doing solo activities like reading or running or walking my dog.  I really like people, don't get me wrong. I find them interesting and amazing but I have a finite amount of social energy.  If I don't know someone well then being around them is draining and a little anxiety inducing.  My family and people that I've known for years have the opposite affect.  Being with them is relaxing and fun.  I start to get stressed out and worn down if I'm always expending social energy and never recharging it.

My problem is that my social energy doesn't get a proper recharge in Germany.  Expats are always moving and we're always moving.  I haven't gotten the chance to build the kind of strong friendships I have back home.  There are a handful of people in Germany who I can say really got to know me but of course they moved or I moved so those people aren't in my life except via social media.  The longest I've ever been friends with anyone is four years but it's usually much less than that.

By the time I got to Berlin I'd probably cycled through at least six times of making all new friends for various reasons and I was socially exhausted.  I put myself through the motions but my heart wasn't in it anymore.  I didn't feel like telling people I buzzed my hair in high school (that ended up being a traumatic social experiment) or that I like dogs.  What was the point when we'd be moving in a couple years anyway?  I was tired of the the whole thing.  All of my social energy was being expended dealing with the neighbors, hanging out with my inlaws and taking on toddler tantrums.  I have nothing left over to put forth building the friendships that will give me energy instead of take it. 

An extroverted person would probably fare much better being an expat.  Extroverts thrives on being around people and are happy to constantly make new friends.  They like to be where the excitement is, a face in the crowd.  A lot of my expat friends are extroverts.  They're easy to talk to, easy to get along with and they have a social calender that makes me tired just thinking about it.  These kinds of people who are charismatic and sociable.  They form friendship groups and always go places together.  If you are an extrovert expat I envy you.  It sounds super fun.

Right now I'm craving stability.  I don't want temporary homes, temporary friends or temporary circumstances.  I am even starting to hate my IKEA furniture.  I look at it and think that at this point I'd like something permanent, something that I truly like and not it's just-for-now.  I want to be in a place where I can put down roots, finally take a deep breath and relax without thinking about how moving again is going to factor into my five year plan. 

I've been lucky to work in Germany and now to be able to go to school.  I'm grateful I've gotten the chance to carve out a life and not just be a trailing spouse.  There hasn't ever been a time when I wasn't able to pursue one goal or another.  But living in Germany at all costs has never been my dream.  I love this country but there are other things I want more than to live here.  I was professional success in my chosen field and I want to be a part of effecting social changes in the US.  It's something I've always felt strongly about and it's impossible to do while I live in Germany.  My identity is strongly wrapped up in the work I do and without that my life would feel diminished.

My theory professor was giving a lecture on Parsons yesterday and he talked about how individuals leave their parents and friends to go into the world and make their own lives.  The theory says that when we leave those people we retain the abstract values that they have given us.  This is very true for me.  I lost a lot of people but I kept the value, the truths that they taught me.  I can't stay in Germany and ignore my convictions.  If I'm ever going to effect any kind of social change I have to go back to my own country.  In addition I'm really really tired of the only constant in my life being change.


P.S. 16 year old me with no hair, I thought I was so hardcore with my inverted rosary (maybe now would be a good time to apologize to Catholics?)  Sorry for defacing your religious artifact to seem cool, guys.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

German Apothek: cold and flu

In honor of being sick for the millionth time this month (darn you Kindergarten full of germs!) I thought I'd write an informative blog post about over the counter cold and flu medication.  

Chances are if you are an expat in Germany at least once you went to the Apothek miserable with a cold and walked out with some kind of homeopathic medicine that didn't seem to help at all.  I haven't met any expats who don't miss the over the counter medicines from back home.  For a long time I thought cold medicine didn't really work here.  That's not so.  Germany has pretty much the same cold medicine we have in the States, you just have to know what it's called and ask for it by name.  Don't trust the pharmacists to tell you what to take!  They always recommend the more natural homeopathic treatments.  Even better is having the doctor write you a prescription.  Our health insurance covers almost all prescriptions, even over the counter stuff. 

First things first, a daytime decongestant that actually works!  Just be careful you don't take it with paracetamol. 

Wick DayMed Erkältungs-Kapseln
For night time cold and flu suffering I love this cough syrup.   It is slightly less effective than the green flavor but it tastes so much better.  If you need something stronger buy the green death flavor, it has a couple of extra ingredients (mainly alcohol) that make it taste horrible but also work better. 

MediNait Erkältungssirup = cough syrup
These throat numbing cough drops are fantastic.
Halstabletten = cough drops

If tablet decongestants aren't working well enough try this nose spray.  They also make this nose spray for toddlers but good luck administering it!  Sometimes if we do it super fast we can get it up our child's nose before she has time to make a plan of resistance.  It really does help, but sometimes it's not worth the fight with a cranky sick kid :)

For regular pain relief I like Ibuprofin.  Beware, it has the same name in Germany but is pronounced differently.   Also called Ibu-ratiopharm.

 Tylenol goes by the name Paracetamol in Germany.  Remember, German pronunciation means it sounds nothing like how you would say it in English.
For babies and small children liquid pain relief is the way to go.  Some pediatricians will always prescribe suppository medication for babies so I always ask for Saft (liquid) medications.  Depending on the age of your child you can get 2% or 5%.  Sometimes is comes with a spoon or a Dosierspritze (syringe).  I found that the Dosierspritze works way better for babies and toddlers. 

Ibuprofin in liquid form for for babies.
Paracetamol (Tylenol) in liquid form for babies.
Histamine blocker for those with allergies.  They have all different types, this is just the one we happened to have on hand.

Lastly kids cough syrup to help toddlers get rest at night.

This covers the basics for over the counter cold and flu treatments in Germany.  If you are looking for a particular brand of medication but don't know the German name you can easily find out the name online.  If you Google the English name most common drugs have a Wikipedia page that will tell you name of the drug in different countries.   I usually use this when my doctor prescribes me something I'm not familiar with and I want to read about the side effect etc. in English.  

And if you really hate going to the Apothek know that most over the counter medications can be bought cheaper on Amazon.de, sometimes even in bulk.

Gute Besserung,


Friday, August 29, 2014

What I would buy for Fall 2014

Since you like shopping so much (the shopping post shot to the top of this weeks posts overnight) and since I haven't posted anything about clothes in forever, let's shop some more. 

Fall everything

Zara asymmetrical top, €53 / Zara top, €45 / Zara duffle coat, €210 / Zara jacket, €98 / AG Adriano Goldschmied slim fit jeans, €235 / Steve Madden steve-madden shoes, €60 / J Crew bracelet, €7,21 / J Crew belt, €30 / Women's Bags & Accessories | J.Crew Factory - Accessories & Bags / TRIPLE STRAP HEELED BOOTIE | Express, €53

For some reason I want to wrap myself up in giant sweater coats and real coats and wear blank skinny pants.  Last week I was freezing in the mornings and overheating later in the day.  I don't know what is up with that.  Usually I love color but not this Fall.  This year I keep gravitating towards things that are not a color.  I think Pinterest is to blame for my rapidly acquired desire for tiny gold earrings.   I thought long and hard and decided if I buy anything this Fall/Winter it will only be three things: black skinny pants, a magic unicorn scarf, and super comfortable black ankle boots.

I had a plan to look for a scarf at Zara today.  I was just going to look because I am a frugal responsible soon to be graduate student who had to be in the city for something else anyway.  The whole thing fell apart when traffic on the loop decided to stop forever and never ever move again.  That forced me to exit the autobahn and drive through the city, possibly the worst thing to do on a Friday during rush hour.  I was so late! The scarf I had my eye on was perfect in every way but it wasn't the right shade.  It washed me out, a big no-no for something I was planning on wearing by my face all winter. Sadly I put it back and in my stress/ disappointment I totally forgot the entire reason I had planned this the way I had was to visit the big TK Maxx.  FAIL!  My shopping game was way better in Hamburg when I sat down with friends, drank Starbucks and they reminded me to go to TK Maxx.  

The end.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

It's Fall, let's shop Zara

Zara Fall 2014

Zara pants, €45 / Zara cargo pants, €45 / Scarve / BOUCLE BLAZER WITH ZIPS / COATED SLIM - FIT JEANS - Trousers - WOMAN | ZARA Germany / FABRIC SCARF / SOFT SCARF / LARGE JACQUARD SCARF

I didn't really write about going to the US this year.  The thing was bitter sweet.  I was so sad to leave my family, my friends, my home.  I still don't want to talk about it. 

Before I went I had promised myself that I was going to be very careful and only buy a few things.  That didn't happen.  I bought ALL the things instead.  Sigh.  I keep going through events in my head trying to figure out how my careful shopping plan derailed so disastrously.  I ended up with several new pairs of jeans, more dresses, a handbag, sandals, tanks and ts and hoodies and leggings and a ton of sweaters, etc, etc.  The answer is that walking into a Banana Republic to 'just look' when they are having a 50% off sale is stupid. I shouldn't order things online.  I shouldn't start to get carried away with 'it's only $25! That's like €17!' logic.  

I upped my game this year and only shopped at proper adult stores for people in their 30s.  That was easy, I haven't bought anything at Forever 21 in forever.  Shopping with girls half my age in the juniors department?  No thanks.  

After all that spending I promised my husband I wouldn't buy anything else for about two years.  (If you know me feel free to laugh uncontrollably at that last sentence).  And I sort of truly mean it.  Things that I do not ever need to buy again in Germany:

1. Jeans- I have boot cut, skinny, cropped, high rise, low rise, mid rise in every wash and every size I will ever be.  

2. Sweaters- I have a million and one sweaters in a million and one styles and cuts.

3. Button downs- I am still looking for the magic unicorn* slouchy white button down but I don't need any of the regular ones. 

4. Ts, tanks, tops- I am covered for at least two years.

5. Dresses- I'm pretty sure unless it's a magic unicorn dress I can live without it.

6. Leggings, lounge and work out- I cleaned out the VS sale so I'm good for years to come. 

That covers a huge swathe of things I would normally be tempted to look at.  BUT there are a couple of things that caught my eye at while browsing around on Zara's website.  

I would love a mid weight neutral gray scarf for Fall.  My scarf game is pretty bad right now and I really want something that will go with everything.

Really super comfortable ankle boots.

Black or gray pants.  I have my eye on the gray coated jeans at Zara.  I missed getting a pair of coated jeans years ago and regretted it.

A blazer.  Black is more practical but I love that textured white one so much.  

On a totally unrelated note, I was disturbed to see I can buy flare knit pants, flannel shirts and stirrup leggings.  What is going on Zara?  These hideous what the hell shoes look like they jumped right out of my closet in 1998.


Your financially frugal and responsible friend,

 *magical unicorn clothes are clothes I rarely find which are so prefect and wonderful that I absolutely have to buy them even if it makes no sense or is expensive.  I always end up loving these things forever and forever.  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

How to do graduate school in Germany

I'm so happy all the confusion surrounding applying to a German university has dissipated enough for me to write about it.  I went into this business with zero knowledge.  I have always wanted to get my masters but I met someone and predictably chose love over staying in the US and continuing my education.  You can tell I learned the lessons well from American romantic comedies.  I thought I could go back to school in Germany but the universities in Kiel and Hamburg only offered International relations completely in English at the time we lived there.  I felt very meh about getting a masters in international relations.  I'm sure it's interesting but it's not my passion.  I gave up hope and figured if I ever went back to school it would be in the US, hefty student loans be damned.  

I had given up hope but my husband had not.  After we knew we'd be going to Berlin he found my program.  Lots of super awesome husband points scored with that one!  I was so surprised and really thankful he'd thought of it.  Since I missed the application deadline I couldn't apply that year but I emailed the department and they told me to apply next year.  A super boring six months of waiting and mulling over the decision followed.

I think the hardest part about going to school in Germany is finding a program you want that is taught in English.  If you are like me and came here without knowing any German it can take a huge investment to get language up to the required level to attend university.  Even then most people can expect to spend a lot of time looking up words then don't know and translating texts.  That's wasn't really something I wanted to take on for various reasons.  People who speak German need to produce a certificated from an approved school or test that says their German is the right level and then they can apply for any program. 

The university had an open house for my program.  I registered to attend and was very happy I did.  I fell in love with pretty much everything.  They had us attend a seminar that was really interesting to me.  I knew I was in the right place.  

I poured over the university website reading everything about the program and application.  Since I got my degree outside of Germany I had to apply through Uni-assist.  Uni-assist verifies all foriegn documents for universities in Germany.  If I was sending a copy and not the original document I had to go to our town Burgermeister offices and get official copies.  In order to get an official copy I had to have an official translation.  Thankfully I already had official translations of my BA and high school diploma.  I didn't have to have original documents that were already in English translated so I was able to request my transcripts be sent to me in Germany.  I attended both community college and a regular university so I had two transcripts. 

I sent all these documents off to Uni-assist and waited a long, long time.  Finally they sent me an email letting me know that they had verified my documents, calculated my final grade from the two universities, checked that my credits equated with the number of standard European credits needed for the program.  I was now approved to apply for the grad program.  Uni-assist would forward my application to the university who would then decide if I was accepted.  Six more weeks for fun, fun waiting followed. 

I got my acceptance letter.  The letter stressed now I had to enroll within three weeks or my acceptance to the program would be revoked.  I was a little confused about the enrollment requirements since they were general for all students and not just for grad students.  I was scared I might have to send another complete application but I called the university and they said no, I didn't need to send all the documents a second time.  Anytime I had a question that couldn't be answered by the information on the university website I contacted the university and found them super nice and helpful.  They also spoke English.  That was great since my German vocabulary is specific to familiar situations.

I sent off my enrollment application and waited some more.  Waiting is really not my favorite thing.  Anyway, at long last I got my confirmation letter, student identification and papers explaining how to register for classes.  I found all the program information on the website and now I know what classes I need, how to register and starting in October I'm officially a full time student. 


My advice to anyone who wants to apply for a school in Germany:

1. Read everything regarding the program you want.
2. Apply early.
3. Go to the open house if they have one.
4. Don't be afraid to call or email if you have a question.
5. Use Google translate for long documents in German or have a native speaker help you.
6. Make sure you follow the specifications to the letter.
7. Accept a certain amount of not knowing/ waiting/ confusion.
8. Don't give up hope.

I hope someone finds this helpful!


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Kindergarten clothes

Back to school toddler

3/4-Sleeve Print Dress Carter's, €12 / Sateen Fox Print Dress Carter's, €14 / Sateen Print Skirt Carter's, €9,85 / Bottoms Pants, €8,06 / Sparkle Star Tights Carter's, €8,21 / Sweater Knit Cardigan Carter's, €16 / Toddler Girl Dresses | Carters.com, €11 / Toddler Girl Tops & T-Shirts | Carters.com, €11 / Toddler Girl Shoes & Slippers | Carters.com, €17

Sadly Sophie aged out of Zara's cute baby clothes.  Their children's section is a lot darker/more serious/ more grown up than the baby clothes.  I'm not ready to but my 'baby' in a 90s inspired maroon flower print dress quite yet.  Plus Sophie doesn't understand why she can't stay in her pajamas all day.  Occasionally she flat out refuses to get dressed in the morning.  She's going to Kindergarten in the Fall and I want to have as few morning power struggles as possible.  I was so happy and excited to see Carter's has really cute animal print dresses and clothes for Fall.  Coaxing Sophie into a cat print top or skirt is way easier than flowers or stripes.  She adores animals and I think she'll be thrilled to get a couple animal things to wear to Kindergarten.  

What do you think?  Do you dress a toddler like a mini adult or stick with more childish things like these colorful animal prints?  


Thursday, July 31, 2014

For whom the bell tolls: socialism and society

My brain got going after writing the quality of life comparison.  I didn't mention the social market economy and the important part it plays in equalizing German society.   I realized that I had a passion to write about the socio-economics of Germany and America.  I feel like these economic systems are misunderstood by many Americans.  First I am going to define socialism and some of the socio-economic models used in Europe and the USA.   Not because I think you're stupid, just so we're on the same page.

Socialism has a couple of different definitions that make talking about it very confusing.  It can be a transition stage in Marxist theory between capitalism and communism (communism is where the means of production are owned by the people as opposed to owned by the state), the abolition of private property,  communism and similar theories or when society allows the means of production to be owned and controlled by the state.  The most accurate definition for what I'm going to be talking about it the last one.  
b :  a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state  source
The social market economy model in Germany combines free market capitalism with regulation and state intervention to promote fairness and equality.  It's not socialism but the word is social is thrown in there because some important things are owned, run or regulated by the state since they can't be trusted to direction by the economy.  Please note the difference between everything being controlled by the state and just some things. Americans tend to grossly misuse the word and throw socialism out there any time they talk about government intervention in the economy.  Those people don't know what they're talking about. Type 'Obama a socialist' into Google and this is one of the first things that pops up. 

The US has a mixed economy model.  This means that some things are run, controlled and regulated by the state.  Instead of having a goal of taking care of its citizens the American model focuses on trying to influence the economy, keep unemployment down and keep financial collapse at bay.  Why?  It turns out that Laissez-faire capitalism (capitalism that is not somehow controlled or regulated by the state) can result in some very ugly things.  When I think of unregulated capitalism I think of the Bolivian water wars, trickle down economics, The Jungle, workers that were exploited by being paid in scrip, the Irish famine, and child labor.  There is a reason not a single country in the world has a purely capitalist economy.  The model is not sustainable. it would result in abuse and collapse.  Someone has to protect workers from exploitation and that responsibility usually falls to the government. 

To explain why this responsibility falls to the government we have to go into the theories of society, the state and the social contract.  Why do we have states and governments in the first place?  What happens if the central government collapses?  The theory of the social contract is the idea that left to our own devices there is nothing to stop people from killing, raping, and stealing.  Therefore society needs government to regulate society.  Individuals give up certain personal freedoms (the freedom to rape, pillage and kill), they agree to obey the government and pay taxes in exchange for protection and grantee of their civil liberties.  The American state does all kinds of good things for me, like making sure food and drugs are safe (FDA) or making sure the people driving on the road are qualified (DMV) as well as some not so good things like taking military action against nations with which I don't personally have any conflict.  It is super important to note that the social contract does not benefit all members of society equally but more on that later. 

It might be hard for someone raised in modern society to believe that the only thing keeping us from savagery is the state.  What about religion?  What about the moral compass?  Ancient and modern history can give us plenty of examples of people doing terrible things to other humans the second they are no longer prohibited by government or society.  This phenomenon crosses all races, religions, gender, age, education and economic status.  It usually happens during times of government disruption like war or conquer.  In no particular order: the Holocaust, feudal system, Kosovo, Conquistadors, Somalia, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Portugal's age of discovery, Belgium Congo, Nanking, My Lia, Katrina, modern day Iraq, Haiti and Dakar, historical and modern day slavery. 

I'm not saying that governments are always benign institutions. They need to be regulated and are just as capable of evil as individuals.  Some societies and governments don't offer citizens civil liberties or abuse the social contract.  That's why democracy and republics are held as the best forms of government.  Government for the people by the people.  Right.

I think one of the flaws of American thinking is that America's focus on the individual doesn't take into account the role of society and government in maintaining the individual.  Society can continue without one person but one person would find it mighty difficult to go one without society.  That doesn't lower the value of the individual, it just puts it into perspective.   This is the part of the post where I throw poetry at you because who would I be if I were combining sociological theory with art?

For whom the bell tolls a poem
(No man is an island)

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

by John Donne source

The resounding cry of Americans is 'why should I pay for someone else?'.  The answer is because you live within the benefits of society and the social contract.  Those at the top of the income bracket essentially exploit those at the bottom and is therefore responsible for their wellbeing.  Anything less is robbing the less fortunate of their civil liberties for your own gain.  Denying poor people health care, food, shelter, paying them unlivable wages, these things that happen in the US make the social contract skewed towards favoring the wealthy and exploiting the poor.  If the social contract works against a group of people they probably aren't going to follow it.  That's one explanation for crime in the US.  Denied equal access to resources people are more likely to seek income in illegal areas like selling drugs, prostitution, or theft.  Right now the US deals with the symptoms of inequality by passing tougher prison sentences and building more prisons to house people pushed to the fringe of society.

If you don't believe America exploits the poor try to imagine what would happen if the lowest paid workers went on strike.  That would be the people who prepare and serve food, cleaners, cashiers, farm workers, and those who care for the elderly and infirm.  I don't think middle class and wealthy Americans would be too happy planting, picking, processing and preparing their food, cleaning their cars and houses, and changing the bed pans and sheets of their elderly and infirm relatives.  Some things, like shopping, would simply be impossible without lowly paid cashiers.  Now I want you to think of what would happen if fertile women refused to get pregnant.  How many sectors of society are dependent on the birth of children?  How long would it take before there was a collapse?  Do you still think American women shouldn't have maternity leave and child care?  American society is dependent on the groups it seeks to exploit which just makes the exploitation more egregious.  We've tricked ourselves into devaluing valuable members of society.

Every time an American labels something like universal health care socialism I feel completely frustrated.  Not only is it inaccurate fear mongering, it casts something that would promote equality in a negative light.  I can think of a couple of things in the US that are owned and controlled by the state: k-12 education, the US mail system, the Army, police, social security, some banking institutions, unemployment, student loans and subsidies.   In comparison things I can think off the top of my head that are controlled by the German government: subsidized housing for low income families, daycare, k-12 and university education, state mandated vacation and maternity leave, health care and welfare.  These state run programs allow Germans to live a better life on less money.  Low wage earners can go to work because the state subsidizes things like child care.  These programs promote autonomy whereas America leaves single parents in a bind.  Parents can't work if they don't have affordable child care.  Germany has a more equal society and they mostly finance it by taxing higher earners.  Germany still has wealthy and middle class people.  They have the biggest economy in Europe.  What is America so afraid of? 

If you've managed to read this far my conclusion is this: social is not the same as socialism, poetry is wonderful, Obama probably isn't a socialist, equality makes the world a better place and we should work together for a better world.  Sorry if this post geeked out too much.  I had a lot of fun writing it.



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

USA vs. Germany: quality of life

It's hard to write a post about the quality of life in Germany vs. the US.  For one thing, I didn't spend too many of my independent adult years in the US.  I moved when I was 25 but I had decided to work a string of low paying office jobs right after graduating high school.   I didn't get serious about getting a university degree until I was in my 20s.   Most of what I know about the economy I learned while stuck in the low bracket of pay reserved for young women with a high school diploma.  I didn't make enough money to live alone and spent many years alternately dependent on student housing or living with my parents.  I know it's not possible to live a good life on 20,000 a year which is why I decided to go back to school.  Few things are more depressing than working 40 hours a week and not being able to pay rent, buy groceries and pay your car loan in the same month.  This period taught me to respect people at the bottom of the money making totem pole.  The amount of disrespect and abuse I saw was unbelievable.  And I won't even get into the sexual harassment and discrimination because it's too depressing to dredge up after all these years. 

This post is going to be so biased it's not funny, so read on keeping in mind the point of view I'm writing it from.  If I were still a person with a high school diploma and limited earning then Germany would be a much better place for me.  The US is a terrible place for people close to the poverty line.  It's also not a great place to live if you get laid off or disabled or have serious health problems that keep you from working.  The USA has a very limited social safety net and not everyone is granted equal access to social services.  Most of those services are most beneficial to middle class people facing a temporary lay off.  Germany does a better job of taking care of it's citizens though both countries have social problems.  I understand the fear Americans have of creating a welfare state but I see Germany developing more American-like social problems as it moves more towards profit based policies.  These changes were glaringly evident when we were looking at the housing market in Berlin.  You can read more that here and here.  

To compare quality of life I took the most current statistics I could find on basic things like: cost of living, health and health care, happiness, the environment, equality, infrastructure, freedom, safety and my own personal biases.  Some specific things like child care and maternity leave I'm not going to cover.  Obviously deciding which country you like better is a completely personal choice that entails all kinds of things not covered by statistical data.  I put this data together more for fun than as a real analysis of each country. 

The first thing I'm going to look at is the unemployment rate.  These rates don't tell us much about particular regions in the country.  I would imagine that it would be somewhat worse in Berlin and somewhat better in Chicago.  Germany beats out the US, but not by too much.   Probably because the US is still recovering from a recession.  Germany 1, USA 0

Unemployment rate-
Germany 6.6%
USA 7.2%

source source
Gender equality
Do I have to say that gender equality is a problem dear to my heart?  Probably not.  I am a feminist with a daughter after all.  Germany kicks the US in the teeth on this one.  American gender equality is just too depressing.  Germany 1, USA 0

Smallest gender gap
Germany 14
USA 23

Infant mortality rates
Infant mortality rate (Infant mortality rate is the number of infants dying before reaching one year of age).  Once again the US gets kicked in the teeth.  I have a feeling that the quality of care in the US probably depends a lot on having good health insurance so there might be difference here if it was controlled for income.  I can only speculate because I don't have that data.  Germany 1, USA 0

Germany 3 per 1000 births
USA 6 per 1000 births


Maternal mortality rate
The same as above, Germany 1, USA 0

Germany- 7 per 100,000
USA- 21 per 100,000

Health care 
Comparing health care is difficult because in the US the quality of health care depends a lot on if a person is insured and what kind of insurance they have, how much it covers and so forth.  When I was doing research on this the thing that I read over and over was 'The U.S. ranks behind most countries on many measures of health outcomes, quality, and efficiency. In part, that’s because the U.S. does not have the kind of universal health system common in most wealthy nations'.  Burn. The US health care system is in transition right now so it's impossible to know if health care is going to improve.  The most striking thing to note is that Americans pay almost twice as much for health services than Germans.  That's just crazy.  For most of my time in Germany I've had private health insurance which is both expensive and fantastic.  So far I have absolutely nothing out of pocket for my health care.  source  source Germany 1, USA 0
Cost of living and income

Consumer Prices in Germany are 10.61% higher than in United States
Consumer Prices Including Rent in Germany are 1.74% higher than in United States
Rent Prices in Germany are 17.83% lower than in United States
Restaurant Prices in Germany are 13.19% higher than in United States
Groceries Prices in Germany are 9.17% lower than in United States
Local Purchasing Power in Germany is 17.25% lower than in United States  
It's overall hard to say if the cost of living in Germany is higher or lower.  That's because the things that you absolutely have to have to survive like food, shelter and beer cost less but everything else is more expensive.  Another thing worth noting is that Americans get paid more than Germans.  Americans average monthly disposable salary after tax is $3,298.14 compared to $2,776.56 for Germans.  Americans are making 15.8% more and they pay less taxes.  Things like basic utilities cost 60% and going to the movies 20% more in Germany than in the US.  This is probably why even when Germans have clothing dryers than prefer to hang clothes on a line to dry. Germany 0, USA 2  source

The US ranks 37 and Germany 47 

So many issues probably play into this.  Good customer service?  Friendlier people?  More buying power?  An overall more positive attitude?  Even thought Germans say they feel more a part of their community, get more exercise, live in a better environment and have better work life balance they aren't as happy.  USA 1, Germany 0


General quality of life

Quality of Life Index
Purchasing Power Index
Safety Index
Health Care Index
Consumer Price Index
Property Price to Income Ratio
Traffic Commute Time Index
Pollution Index

United States 187.79 125.63 49.84 68.15 76.97 2.41 36.20 35.97
Germany 186.61 105.80 70.87 76.66 86.82 6.13 31.44 30.33

I find it funny 'traffic commute' made the list.  I think there needs to be a category for 'not enough cabinets' and 'angry neighbors'.  Anyway, the USA barely made it above Germany here.  source   USA 1, Germany 0 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Consumerism in Germany and the USA

How much stuff do you need to live?  How much stuff do you need to be happy?  How do you benchmark those needs?

I'm not even going to lie, I like shopping.  Everyone knows I like shopping.  But I only like shopping for fun things, like clothes or toys for my daughter.  I hate buying things like hair dryers, which is why mine is over ten years old and held together by packing tape.  There is no point in buying a new one because I know I will drop it in the first week and it will end up just like the one I have now.  But anyway, back to the point.   Like a typical American I always believed that more and bigger were better.  Success is defined by money and the big house full of stuff you can buy with that money.  Love and attention are shown with gifts and the more you spend, the more you love someone.  Buying things is good because it helps the economy, makes the world turn and so forth.  Stuff shows your character, individuality, and defines you.  You are the car you drive, the dishes you eat from and the house you live in.  That's the driving message behind consumerism.

But it's not just about stuff, it's also about winning.  Societies balance delicately between a need for cooperation and competition within the society.  We need each other to create great things like roads and cars and jobs but we also compete with each other for resources.  When some people gain an advantage they try to hang onto it and pass that advantage to their children.  In societies with great inequality, like the US, the deck is stacked grossly unfair.  If one person wins it means someone else is going to lose.  You reap your success from the disadvantaged. 

I am going to suggest something a little bit radical that not very many people may understand, but I would rather pay more taxes, have less money and live in a society with greater equality.   I am not about to take you on a little ego trip of my own self righteousness.  There are actually logical reasons for this: while acquiring things does make people happy, that happiness only lasts as long as the desired object is new.  To keep that level of happiness they must keep acquiring more stuff, locking a person into a never ending cycle.  That kind of happiness is not sustainable.  Material goods take up time that you could be spending with people. Inequality also trends toward more violent crime and less stability.  Nothing good has ever come from hungry children and homelessness.  What if you choose not to be defined by the things you own, but rather the things you do?  Maybe, I am not my Coach purse and J brand jeans?    Maybe I am a mother and wife and friend and pet owner. 

There is consumerism in Germany but it doesn't feel as all consuming as it does in the US.  A good example of this is the difference in attitudes about engagement rings.  In the US having a large expensive ring is an important sign of social status for many women.   It shows the world that you have the disposable income to conspicuously consume a frivolous piece of jewelry.  A large ring is also equated with partner devotion, since one partner has chosen to spend a considerable amount of money on this piece of jewelry that is then displayed.  In contrast, many Germans don't buy engagement rings at all.  If they buy a ring it will later double as their wedding band.  The rings tend to be simple with a small setting or no setting at all.  The focus of the engagement is not on the ring and it's unlikely that the ring will be displayed in the same way it is in the US.  Seen from the outside American engagements start to seem driven more by consumerism than by the monumental task of choosing a life partner.

I only had a vague idea the pressure to consume was so relentless until I stopped living in the US.  It is a relief to live in a place where strangers are not engaged in a senseless competition with no end and no goal.  Stores are mostly closed at least one day a week.  Holidays are more about spending time with people you like.  If I'm going to be judged on anything, it's probably the car I drive and that is something I can live with.  Sometimes I spend a few spare minutes hating on the curtains was inherited from the last tenants and imagining what it would be like to actually invest time into personalizing my living space.  But I don't have enough desire to invest any resources knowing I'll likely be moving again in a couple years.  This kind of unattached living is working out great with a toddler and a dog.  I really don't care too much if they spill juice on the carpet or if I've washed the sofa covers so many times they have faded unevenly.

I am always going to struggle with guilt for having white middle class privileges.  I grapple with finding a balance between my desire to succeed and my desire to live in a fair society.  I want to win but I don't want there to be homeless kids in the world or hungry people.  Europe does equality better for now.  I hope that American influence doesn't seep too much into German society.  Sometimes we can be a bad influence.


Two articles worth reading if this topic interests you-

Mother's Day surprisingly dark history
Concern for Equality Linked to Logic, Not Emotion

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Types of Expats

I totally lied to you guys.  I'm so sorry.  I can't help myself. 

I'm not going to stop writing right now.  Mostly because my brain will not shut up and if I don't write this post my brain is going to keep going blah blah blah and I have grad school applying stuff to do.  Why do I do this to myself?  Procrastinating is bad.  Anyway.

In our little blogging community there is a debate about who is and isn't an expat.  I have to say I agree with both bloggers.  I think military expats have perks the rest of us don't get.  I wouldn't go so far as to say they aren't expats but they are not exactly living in Germany the same as everyone else.  Do you know how much money access to US postal service would save my family!?  That got me to thinking about how different all our experiences are.  There are lots of types of expats.  All different but all living abroad for different reasons.  Some only stay for a short time.  Some people (like me!) consider staying indefinitely.  Our experiences overlap and some are not at all the same.  Let's look at who makes up our eclectic group.

1. Tourist visa expats- people who live in a country for a couple of months on a tourist visa.  They stay long enough to soak up the culture but they won't go through the immigration process.  They also don't technically live in the country but they stay for a while so it's fair to include them.

2. Students- I've never been in a foriegn country on a student visa so I have no idea what it's like.  I imagine the university helps them out a little but really, no idea.  It does sound like it wouldn't be too lonely since school is a great place to make friends.

3. Expats for work- if you manage to get to Germany on a work visa then you are lucky!  They don't give out many.  Sometimes this can be the hardest visa because companies don't always help their employees with things like housing, moving, getting kids in school.  Families and singles who come in on work visas usually don't speak German.  Some work visas are only for a couple of months but others are here for the long haul.

4. Expats for love- by far most of the expats I meet are expats here to be with their significant other.  Having a spouse who speaks the language helps but you get to deal with cultural differences in a relationship, foriegn in-laws, and navigating a new culture without any official help.

5. Expats for adventure- some people pack a suitcase, get on a plane and then arrive in Germany hoping to find a job and land a visa.  A lot of my former English teaching colleagues braved the unknown for adventure and managed to thrive in Germany. 

6. Military and government expats- I have only met one or two expats who were here with the US government so I can't comment too much on what they experience.  There are some good posts on them here

7. Hipster expats- you know who you are.

8. Artist and athlete expats

9. Foriegn retirees.

10. Refugees- I knew several refugees when I lived in the US.  I think it's only fair to include them in the expat group since they have lost their homes and go through the immigration process.

11. Trailing spouses. 

That's all I can think of, do you think I missed any?  These categories are fluid.  I find myself to be an expat for love who has also worked in Germany and I hope to go to school here, though I won't be on a student visa.  In a way I am a trailing spouse because we move all around the country for my husband's work.  If I had to pick one identity it would be difficult, but just 'expat' covers everything.

I already talked about the difference between an expat and an immigrant in this post.  Do you think the term expat should be inclusive or exclusive?  Do we have more in common than we have differences?  Please, let me know your thoughts.


P.S. sorry for lying to you.  You have Shannon and Deanna to thank for my speedy return.  I'm a sucker for a good debate :)

Friday, March 21, 2014

I'm starting to ❤ Berlin

As soon as my husband walked through the door on Wednesday I jumped off the sofa and announced I needed to run errands in the city, by myself.   Sophie had the stomach flu since Saturday.  Aside from going to the doctor and pharmacy I hadn't left our apartment all week.  It was nothing but endless loops of children's programing and washing out one set of pajamas after another.   I was about to go crazy. 

It's been months since I went anywhere without my daughter.  Getting things done with a toddler is not as easy as I imagined.  I thought toddlers would be easier than babies but no, they present a new set of challenges.  Babies don't have opinions.  Babies do not throw tantrums or refuse to wear their coats.  Babies don't hide their shoes or attempt to run in front of moving cars.  They don't refuse to sit in their strollers or hit the dog on the nose when they get sick of playing tug-of-war.  You will never find yourself negotiating with a baby or pleading for two more minutes of good behavior so you can check out at the grocery store. 

Every activity revolves around my daughter.  All my social interactions happen at her classes, play dates, groups and doctor's appointments.  I can't go to any restaurant or cafe that doesn't have some type of play area.  I spend most of my time with my family in our apartment.  Some days I would like to go places but her nap time is too early or late so we don't go.  When I get time off it's usually late in the evening.  By that time there isn't much I can do besides read, watch tv or surf the Internet.  Those things are fun but they aren't fulfilling. 

Minus child and stroller, my baby bag lighter by ten pounds I got more accomplished in one hour than I normally would in three.  Potsdamer Platz in the evening is great.  It has a big city vibe.  The weather was cool and the pavement was wet from resent rain but it was still mild enough to feel like Spring.  Without my husband or child to define me, I was just another woman running errands.  It felt really, really good to be in the city alone.  I started to kindle a little spark of love for Berlin.  It didn't hurt that it was the first time I went downtown without needing the navi or making any wrong turns.  :)


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Berlin learning curve

Dear Internet,

I have nothing to talk about but my child went to bed at six o'clock so here we go.

Sophie is sick and the weather is bad so I spent all day watching Youtube clips of Baby Einstein and I felt like part of my brain might have died. Then we watched the Little Mermaid and the patriarchy made me uncomfortable.  I started thinking about the roles of black actors in Disney cartoons and I just don't know if there is going to be any more Little Mermaid in our house.  My daughter is probably going to grow up thinking I am an anti-fun politically correct tyrant.  Don't your best intentions always somehow backfire?  If anyone has any suggestions on how they plan on handling the Barbie, Disney, and Princesses please let me know.  At least we live in Germany right now.

For some reason, despite being super busy, I seem to have found time to watch a lot of tv lately.  I loved the first season of Vikings so hard and now I'm watching the second season and waiting to see if it's also awesome but I don't have any feelings yet.  Also, True Detective!  Woody Harrelson being Texas and serious and scary.  And I am trying to love House of Cards but meh.  I guess it's ok?  Sometimes the Walking Dead is fantastic and sometimes it's just so awful that I feel cheated out of Zombie Monday.

My hair is a little better but the highlights I got to cover my gray are super light.  The rest of my hair is super dark so... yeah.  Not very many women are sporting natural looking in Berlin these days.  Did I hop in a time capsule and go back fifteen years?  When it comes to hair color I did.  I am struggling not to feel embarrassed every time I have social interactions with people.  Are they judging me on how I look?  You betcha.  So if you don't know me and you meet me for the first time, please know I did not choose to have Brandenburg village highlights.  Sometimes these things just happen.

I went to the Zara at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin for the first time.  The sales associate projected so much condescension and dislike that I got a little freaked out.  Why was she being so rude to me?  Was it my hair?  My age?  My child?  My accent?  The fact that I was returning some stuff?  All of the above?  Anyway she tried to find reasons why I couldn't return my items.  She even tried to claim my receipt was a copy and not the original.  She managed to look disgusted and personally offended that one item was slightly wrinkled.  In the end she couldn't refuse me service because the tags were on and everything was in order.   I love Zara but it's not like they are a luxury clothing retailer so I don't understand why their staff is so awful.  It's times like this when I miss home. 

The weather has been so nice!  One day we were too tired to walk to the park but it was too warm and sunny to stay inside.  I remembered that we have a big balcony I've been completely ignoring since we moved in.  I moved some of Sophie's toys and we got to be in the sun for hours.  It was great.  We ordered her a little sand/water play table and over the next few months I'll be thinking about making it into an extra sort of room.  Some days I just want to stay home.  Let this be the year I plant flower boxes AND remember to water them. 

Since moving to Berlin I seem to plagued by stressful mistakes.  Like not being able to find my exact parking garage, getting ridiculous parking tickets, getting lost, driving into tunnels where there's no way to turn around (seriously beware of the Tiergarten tunnel!), missing my turns and other silly things that make going anywhere and everywhere a pain.  I never know where I'm going, I don't know where anything is and it makes life hard.  But it's ok, because that's part of moving to a new city.  One day I will get the hang of things.  It's taking a long time because Berlin is big and confusing.  Until then I just have to deal with not knowing.  And now that the weather is nice I'm going to rethink taking the train places.  Is changing trains with a toddler in tow more stressful than driving into a tunnel by mistake?  I am going to find out.