Saturday, March 24, 2012

Myths of Moving Overseas

I have been working on this post for awhile now and think it's finally ready to hit the web. :-)  Please leave your feedback at the bottom of the page or message me personally through my contact me page.

Myth #1:
Everything overseas, on and off-post, are more expensive than living in the states.

Honestly, if you are shopping on-post, your costs are going to be fairly similar to what you pay in the states.  That being said, Germany has a 19% tax on all items if you're shopping on the economy.  Add in the exchange rate and a higher cost of living and off-post purchases can be quite cumbersome.  If you plan on making a large purchase and you must go off post to do so, shop around for the places that accept the VAT form.  The VAT form is a stack of papers that will basically let you get away without paying the 19% tax.  You pick up the VAT forms on-post and generally cost about $4 a pop.  Please read my article on VAT forms for more information.

I've heard many people mention that shopping at the commissary and PX have hurt their pocketbooks as well and just so there's no confusion, let me explain why.  Living in Europe, especially on a post that is considerably small, means that your selection is going to be limited when it comes to brands and products.  Imagine the Christmas section in an average sized Walmart, the amount of space that Walmart dedicates to one holiday season is about the equivalent of the number of aisles you'll get at the PX for all your household goods minus clothing and make-up.  What makes shopping on-post expensive isn't because the cost of the items are higher than in states, but rather, the selection is so limited and the PX and Commissary only carry the "top sellers", you're often forced to purchase name brand items.  If you can't find an item at your PX, which I can guarantee WILL happen at least a couple of times, you'll be forced to shop on the economy.

As an example of the "top seller" system I want to share a short little story.  I needed a new ladle for the kitchen.  I went to the PX but all the ladles were very shallow and wouldn't be able to scoop much in terms of sauces and soups.  I went to the commissary where they only had one brand of ladles and ended up paying $5 for it.  A week or two ago I went to Ikea with my husband and I found a bin of generic, simple ladles for .74 euro cents.  I didn't need a fancy ladle that costed $5, these .74 cent ones would have worked perfectly fine.  In this case it was cheaper to go off post because of the "top seller" that was available in the commissary.

Myth #2:
Culture shock is minimal and easy to overcome if you prepare for it enough.

"The base is a mini-America".  I don't know how many times I heard this phrase before we actually moved overseas.  It is true everyone, or almost everyone, on post speaks English.  It is also true that your favorite American foods and products will be carried at the Commissary, most of the time.  But even while living on post you are constantly reminded by where you are.  While facing the dark side of culture shock, it's difficult to go hibernate in a house when you're faced with difficulties like: speaking to friends and family that are literally 9 hours behind you and are often sleeping while you're awake, connecting local phone lines when you don't understand the German lady talking on the other end, assembling furniture when all the directions are written in German, etc.

You cannot hide from culture shock, if you are susceptible to it, it will find you.

Myth #3:
Everyone speaks English and it's easy to communicate with the locals.

It is true that the majority of the younger population speaks German.  I have however met several younger individuals that did not know English and several older individuals that did. That being said, you are not going to go your entire tour without meeting someone that does NOT understand English.  There are a lot of people that are willing to work with you and try to understand what you are saying but you need to be patient with them as well.

Don't do the typical American strategy and start talking extremely loud when a German says they don't understand you, they are not def.  On the contrary if you talk slowly, elaborate your words, and maybe try to use your hands to demonstrate, you may have more luck.

Myth #4:
You will get to travel all the time while in Germany.

Although you will see more of the world than many people even dream about, don't have the misconception that every weekend will be a new location.  You have to remember that your husband was sent here for his job first.  After arriving in Germany, we were informed that my husband was on call and would not be able to drink alcohol or leave town for a month.  Then, immediately afterwards, he left for the field.  There are going to be times when you won't be able to travel because the Army said your husband needs to stay behind.

BUT, although I wouldn't expect a trip every weekend, it is completely possible to make the most out of living here.  We have not left the country yet as we are waiting for our tourist passports still, but have visited several neighboring cities that we were able to visit for the day.  You just need to learn to balance travel with everything else in your life.

Myth #5:
Driving is difficult and passing the driving test is nearly impossible.

I'm not going to lie, the first time I got behind the wheel after passing my driver's test I was a frantic mess.  I was freaking out about the smallest things and was terrified that I was going to break the law.  Why was I so nervous?  Because there was all this pent up stress about driving here that I developed from reading forums and posts from other German wives.  After driving for about 3 months, I have no idea why I was so nervous in the first place.

As for the driving test, you know how well you regularly do on tests.  Before moving, I studied like crazy.  I studied on the plane ride over to Germany, when they gave the road book manuals after arriving, I studied more, and when we had to watch 3 hours worth of educational videos before the test, I paid close attention.  I missed 2 on my test and was the first one done.  My husband on the other hand, barely glanced at the traffic laws and just paid attention during the educational videos and missed about 4 on his test.  If you know that you do really well on tests and can retain information without much work, then there is really nothing to worry about.  If you need that repetition in order to let the information really set in, I would spend a bit of time before hand studying the rules.  A lot of the rules are common sense and many are even parallel with the US driving laws.

Myth #6
Having a second car is just as essential as it is in the States.

Before moving, my husband and I seriously considered purchasing a second car after arriving here.  Upon arriving though, it's apparent how unnecessary a second car would be. 

Within the post, there is a shuttle that takes you to and fro places.  So if you need to go to the PX but live on the other side of post, it's not a problem.  On the days that my husband has the car for work, I take the shuttle to the gym near the end of his work day and he picks me up on the way home, or I take the shuttle back.  The shuttle is a great resource that can not only save you money on gas but is a stress free way of getting from point A to point B.  Although sometimes it is easier to have a car, say when going to the Commissary to purchase a month's worth of groceries, it is easy enough to arrange an occasional trip like this.  I would understand though if both people work and there is no way to compromise the sharing of one vehicle (i.e. taking public transportation, dropping your spouse off at work, walking, etc.)

The transportation system on the economy is much more intricate and developed than most US cities.  Most US cities are designed so you have to drive.  My entire life before arriving in Germany I had never been on a train or subway.  Here though, taking a train to a nearby town is so much easier than driving.  The bahnhof is usually within walking distance or a short taxi ride and then a short and cheap train ride to the destination of your choice.  Upon arriving you don't have to worry about navigating streets, looking for parking, or worrying about how you'll get home.  Just hop back on the train and voila!  

Myth #7
There is a lack of large department stores.

The US is known for having everything large.  Large stores, large portion sizes, large everything.  It is true that there is significantly less department stores here.  There is nothing like Costco where you can get warehouse prices and bulk items, but there is a store that is comparable to Walmart, it is called the Real (pronounced "re-ahl").  In the states you also have department stores like Target, Sears, Kmart, etc. etc.. But here you have the Real and specialized stores that are large but only focus on one "department".  For example, a very large and amazing store that is very prominent is Ikea.  There are Ikeas in the states but it is much more popular here in Germany.  You'll also find large pet stores similar to Petsmart or Petco (sans pet grooming area though), home improvement stores, shoe stores, etc. etc.. You'll find everything you need here but be prepared to have to go to more than one store to get it.    

Myth #8
Fast food is absent in Germany.
True, to an extent.  Upon first arrival my husband and I were shocked at how far we would have to go to get to fast food and then we could only find a McDonalds, but about a month ago I had an epiphany.  Fast food in the states is the equivalent of bakeries and donners here.  If you go into any downtown district every couple of shops you will come across either a bakery that sells pretzels, breads, bagels, etc. or a donner which is a type of food all in it's own.  (As a side note, I highly recommend trying a donner when you arrive, they are delicious!)  So although there may not be Taco Bells, Wendy's, Burger Kings, etc., you will find a plethora of other places to get your fix.  Not to mention that the posts will have food courts that will have American fast food restaurants.  Ours has Subway, Baskin Robins, Taco Bell, Burger King, and Popeye's Chicken.

If you are already in Germany, what other myths have you encountered?


  1. Myth #3
    "Don't do the typical American strategy and start talking extremely loud when a German says they don't understand you, they are not def." THANKS for mention that. :D If someone speaks louder to a german they consider that as very rude.

    Travel by train. "Deutsche Bahn" offers a variety of passes, called "Bahn Card". There are Bahn Card 25, Bahn Card 50. If you buy them you will get 25% or 50% of the train ticket every time you travel. I would recommend it, if you will travel far away or often. Bahn card 100 means you do not have to pay for a ticket again. Business people who commute between bigger towns often use that card. If you book your train tickets earlier you will get discounts. There are special treveler tickets for tourist who want visit 3,5 and more countries by train.
    Here you'll find all offers in englich:
    Hotel: Under you'll find special offers (you can change the language on the top of the site). Another and cheaper way are the youth hostels. Almost every youth hostel in Germany is very clean, modern and safe. It is not an 5 star hotel. You will get the essentials, like a bed, closet, bath: Youth hostels are everywhere in Europe. But in some countries they are loud and dirty - be carefull! Or book private rooms by people at home:
    A really good thing in german hotels are (what I miss in the US) that breakfast is almost included in price. And german breakfast - o boy!! Getting hungry again! :D

    Myth #5
    I felt so sorry when I read that... I took my driver test in CA and it was way easier than my test back in Germany.


    If you in Germany on military order you can buy cars waaaayyyy cheaper on post (e.g. Ramstein). Volvo offers they will ship your car back to the US for free!! Not sure about other brands. Best thing is to sell the second car in the US and buy another on post in Germany. After 12 months you can re-sell your car to the Germans and make money. :D

    Myth #7
    Costco in Germany: There are chains you can buy bulk items. It's called "Metro" and "Selgros". But to become a member of them you have to own a business or work for a business that is a member. :( Then you will get a member card. By the way, the price there are not cheaper as in normal stores. On this point Germany needs really an improvement!
    There are 2 huge department stores for electronics: "Saturn" and "Media Markt".
    Similar to Target:"Galeria Kaufhof", "Breuninger" (around Stuttgart), "Karstadt", "Kaufhof", and "Woolworth".
    "Marktkauf" is similar to Walmart and carries more than food.

    MYTH #8
    Almost true. Germans like delicious food and fast food taste like nothing. I am in the US and miss all the small family owned restaurants, bakeries and Cafe's. Especially the Cafes there you can meet with your friends, sitting in a comfortable atmosphere and have a cup of fresh brewed coffee/ tea together with a delicious piece of cake... getting hungry, lol.
    You'll will find a lot of "street food" in bigger towns, there you can usually buy fries, Bratswurst, Wiener, potato salad, Currywurst, Doener etc. to go. I found that only in NY and I miss that in the US as well.

    1. Thanks for your input. You make a couple of good points.

      One thing to keep in mind when you buy cars on post is that when you get back to the states you may have to pay taxes on the car that you purchased tax free. It's up to the state that you register your car in, but definitely something to keep in mind.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.