We swapped countries: Germany vs. California
Lorelei from CaliGlobetrotter and I swapped continents. We moved to each others’ former homes completely on our own – me to study, her to work. She’s originally from California and moved to Germany in 2012, whereas I was born and raised in Germany, but relocated to Los Angeles in 2008. We decided it was time to hit each other with questions we always get asked when we tell others about our lives as transplants. Now you get to read about our direct comparison of both places. Her answers are in regular font, mine follow in italic, but are shortened. You can read my detailed answers on her blog by clicking this link.
When did you move?
Technically, this is my second time living in Germany. From 2007-2008, I studied abroad in Heidelberg and knew then it wouldn’t be the last time. After a string of unlucky events in the winter of 2012, I made the audacious decision to move back to Germany to teach English in order to travel. By September 2012, after getting my TEFL Certificate in London that summer, I was officially living in Germany and landed my first teaching job in Regensburg, Bavaria.
I moved in mid-August 2008, one year after being out of high school, at age 19.
With whom did you move?
I moved back to Germany completely ALONE. I had no family in Germany and only one friend. My German friend was nice enough to let me crash with her for two weeks as I sent out hundreds of job applications throughout Germany. Many people couldn’t and still can’t believe (me neither!) that I moved alone. I might have moved alone, but within a few months, I would meet my future husband and stay for him.
Nobody. All my family and friends stayed back in Germany. I only knew my exchange family in Orange County.
Why did you choose Germany (California)?
Since the age of 13-14, I have had a love affair with all things Germany. It all started in middle school, a charter school I attended which offered different “houses”. I began my middle school career in “Spanish House”, where obviously, I learned Spanish. Two years in and a couple of mean girls later, I switched to “German House”. It was there that I learned that my name, Lorelei, was actually German. That following summer, my family would venture out on a one month European holiday to track our family history, with a visit to Germany. That was the summer I truly fell in love with Germany.
My life path would bring me back to Germany several more times. When I was 17, I did a month exchange program through my high school in Wiesbaden and lived with a host family. Then again in 2007 as I studied abroad. So, it came as no surprise, when I was looking for an escape route out of Montana, I resorted to heading back to Germany.
At 16, I scored big time in a high school exchange program and landed in Orange County, where I met my lovely exchange family. They showed me around, and L.A. snuck its way into my heart. Also, I’ve always wanted to study abroad, so L.A. was the first choice.
What was the hardest thing to adjust to?
The strict rules by which Germans live by. There are very strict rules, especially depending on where you live in Germany, that dictate when and how you can do something. It was hard to adjust from being able to do laundry, vacuum or even blow dry my hair whenever I wanted to only certain hours of the day. It was hard to transition from many stores in America being open extended hours, on weekends or even 24/7 to all stores closing ridiculously early on Saturdays or closed on Sundays. This made it hard to accomplish any shopping when Monday-Friday you work during the same times which the stores are open. Saturday shopping is like the end of the world is coming as everyone in Germany tries to accomplish their shopping in a few short hours.
People. Crazies, homeless, gang members, weirdos – L.A.’s got it all. Also the more relaxed attitude towards time. As a German, punctuality is (now it’s more a “was”) in my blood.
What was the best thing about your move?
At first I thought it was the food and travel. However, I wouldn’t know it till much later, but moving to Germany would be the best decision I have ever made because it led me to my husband. It was because of him I stayed in Germany for much longer than I intended. Because of this, I believe in fate and making your own destiny.
The people and my personal growth! Can you believe I was extremely shy and didn’t know how to have conversations?
What do you miss?
Only a Californian would say this, but I miss In’N’Out like crazy! Don’t get me wrong, I miss my family and friends, the shopping, the restaurants, the big cars and trucks and so much more. But I miss having a GOOD old school style burger and some mouth-watering Animal-Style Fries! After that, I miss the beach and cruisin’ down PCH.
European food and its quality!
What do you not miss?
In no way do I miss California traffic. It was horrendous and I wasted so much of my time getting anywhere because of traffic. At all hours of the day! Naturally, Germany also has traffic, especially when driving anywhere near any big city. But, as I don’t have to drive every day anymore, I’m not exposed to wasting my time sitting in traffic.
The uptightness of Germans (read my explanation on Lorelei’s blog).
What is your biggest pet peeve about Germany (California)?
The staring!! It’s so annoying, nerve-wrecking and awkward. Stop it! I find many Germans, possibly just Bavarians, who stare like crazy ALL THE TIME! Growing up in America, we learn not to stare because it’s rude. Here in Germany, I don’t think they got that memo. Most of the time, I would say they’re staring because they’re curious either because I’m speaking English or wearing an interesting dress. Either way, staring more than just a few seconds is just rude, and I have had to directly ask people, “Can I help you?” to break their stare. Then they feel all awkward for having been caught staring.
Capitalism – it’s all about the money! And something else. But you can read about that here.
How did your friends/family react to your move?
My mother has always been super encouraging and always supported me in ALL of my dreams. At one point, even when I wanted to quit my German studies, she forced me to continue. She knew deep down, I was meant to live in Germany. Thanks mom!
Other family members probably didn’t think I would succeed in my dreams and and thought it would turn out to be one big expensive mistake, but at the same time thought I was absolutely fearless in tackling my dream. I don’t think my family thought I would still be here almost 5 years later and they have probably had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that we will now only see each other during the holidays.
Many of my friends supported me and were excited that I was doing this, probably because it gave them a couch to sleep on when they came for a visit! 🙂
Dad was a bit shocked, but supportive and proud later, mom was supportive, and friends were sad, but also happy for me.
What can you recommend to others who want to move to Germany (California)?
Travel wise, don’t just go to the big cities. To truly get a real understanding of German history and culture, you need to go to the smaller villages. Here, you’ll find authenticity, traditions and culture waiting to be explored that you wouldn’t always find in larger cities.
Food wise, try everything! My first time living in Germany, I only ate schnitzel, bratwurst and döner. The second time around, I discovered just how delicious German food is and what I missed out on!
Visit the city or place you want to move to, stay there for a bit and see if it’s for you. And please don’t go to L.A. without anyone who know their way around because you may end up disappointed! Feel free to ask me!
What’s better about Germany (California)?
It’s not necessarily what’s better about Germany specifically, but what’s better about Europe as a whole. Europe is incredibly old and there is a ton of fascinating architecture, history and traditions that the US just doesn’t have. The US is too young and as the big melting pot that we are, the traditions of many of our ancestors have been lost as we were blended into the America we are today. For example, why do we not wear Pilgrim outfits on Thanksgiving Day? I would totally rock that! Here in Europe, you can find that traditions dating back hundreds of years are alive and well. You can feel the history as you walk down the streets here and this is what I truly love. Not to mention, how cheap it is to travel in Europe because it’s smaller than the entire US.
The beaches. The diversity. And the attitude. Why? Read here.
Will you ever move back?
Eventually. When the time is right, or after I’ve traveled to all the places I want to go. This is a daily struggle as I feel guilty all the time for having left my family. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish the two countries were closer together. I would like to say I would move back to California, but it’s so expensive there, so much traffic, it’s incredibly hot and just so crowded. I don’t know if I could do it again, forever. However, wherever my mom is, when the time comes, we would likely move to where she was!
Fun fact: I’ve said I will NEVER move back to Germany AND that I will NEVER leave L.A. Both have happened. Lesson learned: Never say never.
Did you have issues regarding language?
Yein. (Yes and no for you English speakers). I had studied German since I was 14, so I had some knowledge in the language. You’d think I would have been fluent, but I wasn’t. I was good at German, but not great. Then after moving to Montana, I started to lose it after not using it for almost 5 years. So when I moved back, it was sink or swim and I quickly had to learn a lot of new vocabulary. Today, I can hold a pretty good conversation (on a good day), but I still struggle with the language. There are and always will be jerks out there who treat non-native speakers unfriendly, and while that is incredibly demotivating and frustrating, I have to remember that they will always be jerks. Don’t even get me started on Bayerisch! However, I am proud to say I recently read the first Harry Potter in German!
Yup! Did you know I failed an English literature class in my first semester, but a couple of years later I switched my major from Graphic Design to English!
Where would you recommend others to visit in your former home and in your current home?
When it comes to California, it’s amazing how many people have never actually heard of San Diego. When I ask any German students where they would like to go, should they mention California, it’s always either San Francisco or Los Angeles. But that’s it. San Diego is a gem and it’s so incredibly beautiful and gets easily overlooked, but there is definitely a lot to do there! Going to Balboa Park will definitely be worth your time!
The same goes for Regensburg. When many people travel to Germany, they only go to the big cities like Berlin, Frankfurt or Munich. But Regensburg is also easily overlooked because it’s between Nuremberg and Munich. It too is a charming gem, filled with beautiful alleys and colorful buildings.
For Germany, I’d recommend Berlin (culture, architecture & history), Hamburg (culture, architecture & history), and Munich (nature, culture, history & architecture) if you love big cities, Schwaebisch Hall or Bacharach if you want to experience small town life, and The Castle Road! For nature, Saxon Switzerland or the Black Forest.
What’s your favorite thing to do in your current vs former home?
Going for long bike rides along the river. It was never something I did in the US either because there were no biking lanes and there are crazy drivers or because I didn’t have a bike. You can’t just easily ride your bike into town in the US unless you live in the city. It’s impractical. Here in Europe though, it’s easy to ride a bike anywhere, and I always feel pretty safe as there are clear bike paths in many cities. We will just hop on our bike and ride until we can’t anymore and I love that freedom!
In California, it’s driving along the PCH, people watching at Venice Beach, and cruisin’ down PCH. In Germany, I love historical architecture and forests and eating!
Which one do you call home?
Both. They will always be my home as I’ve left a part of my heart in each place. When I am in Germany and I talk about home, I’m talking about the US. When I’m in the US, home is Germany. To me, they are one in the same. But home is always where the heart is, and if I look at it from that point of view, then the US because my family is my heart. I may have made a life here in Germany, but I’ll always be an outsider and never feel 100% at home. As long as my husband is by my side, no matter where we go, I’ll be home.
Home is where the heart is – and my heart is definitely in L.A.!
For my detailed answers, please visit Lorelei’s blog post about our country swap here.
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