Friday, June 7, 2013

Hello, Maastricht, Our New Home!

The past two months have been very busy. We had a visitor for a little over a week and the rest of the time was spent preparing for our big move. We are now proud residents of Maastricht in The Netherlands! We are only a 30-minute drive from our house in Germany but it feels worlds apart. We are very fortunate to be able to experience life in two different countries. Though they share a border, we are already noticing little differences here and there. We spent a lot of time in Maastricht before the move so we're lucky we can just focus on relaxing and settling in rather than wandering around aimlessly, trying to figure out where everything is in the new town.

With that said, I feel like I'm already losing some of the German I spent a few months learning. It looks like I'll have to keep current with it on my own since I won't have daily interactions with the language anymore. Dutch is very different and I know some of the basic words and greetings, but it seems like people here just prefer to speak English. And their English is excellent.

I'm looking forward to new adventures in Maastricht! Before my attention turns to all things Dutch, here is a list I compiled for a blog contest a few months ago about living in Germany.

Things Americans Should Know Before Moving to Deutschland

Forget about personal space. Get accustomed to strangers standing close enough to breathe down your neck and skip you in line before you can say, "Entschuldigung."

Be a good hausfrau. The sidewalk in front of your house is directly correlated to your social acceptance in the neighborhood. Shovel and salt it before 8am if it snows and make sure it's swept clean of miniscule dirt particles at all other times. And wash your windows, too.

The weather is completely unpredictable. When I first moved here I thought people were being rude when I asked for a description of typical German weather because they always replied with something like, "Well, who knows! Maybe this morning it's sunny, maybe this afternoon it snows!" Take their "advice." You should always have a jacket, an umbrella, a scarf, possibly gloves, and rainproof shoes.

Unless you are moving to a region time hasn't touched (which might seem the case but probably isn't), know that most people speak English and they are offended if you ask, "Sorry, sprechen sie Englisch?" Once I made this mistake and the man indignantly bellowed, "Of course I speak English! It is the international language!!!"

If you are American, people know it. I don't know how they know; they just do. You can stop wearing Nikes everywhere, throw your elastic-waisted pants in the garbage, and take off your baseball cap but they will still see you coming from a mile away. Inexplicably, after several months of living here you will also be able to distinguish other Americans in a crowded place before hearing them speak.

Learn to love recycling. Some villages actually weigh your Restmull/Restabfall (everything that can't be recycled/composted) and you can be fined if you go over your allotment. It's easy to get the hang of it. You'll live by your Waste Calendar and your days will be classified as Glass, Paper, Bio, Recycling, and Regular Trash. Before you know it you'll be happily recycling everything from wine bottles to toilet paper rolls. You're such a good German!

Water is served in tiny glass bottles with their own special designer cup, typically at room temperature. Don't ask for tap water unless you want to be forever shunned. The good news is that beer is usually either the same price or cheaper than a dainty little bottle of water. This results in guiltless day drinking.

Ice cubes are nonexistent here. I've read some theories as to why but haven't discovered any concrete reason for ice-less beverages. I suggest you purchase some old-fashioned plastic trays and munch on the nostalgia in the comfort of your own haus.

Carnival is as exciting as you imagine! It's like Mardis Gras and Halloween on steroids. There are endless parades with intricate floats, everyone wears painstakingly-crafted costumes, and all of the candy thrown from the floats is washed down with beer. Lots and lots of beer. There isn't a bad place to participate in the Carnival festivities. In fact, you can attend lots of different celebrations because there are so many villages and each has its own parade. Just be sure to use the right salutation: In and around Koln, it's, "Alaaf!" Almost everywhere else it's, "Helau!"

Driving is an adventure whether cars are whizzing past you on the Autobahn or you're zigzagging around haphazardly-parked cars on a one-way cobblestone street in a quaint village. Always yield to pedestrians and don't hit the cyclists. Don't worry; you'll become accustomed to the whiplash.

Don't leave home without your shopping bag/basket. German grocery stores do have bags available-- for purchase. If you want to avoid buying and amassing lots of oddly-sized plastic bags, just bring your own. And hone your bagging skills because there's no friendly teenager offering paper or plastic. German cashiers are extremely efficient so all of your purchases will already be waiting for you at the end of the conveyor belt while you're clumsily fumbling for money and everyone in line behind you is sighing and glancing at their watches. Move out of the next person's way as fast as possible, even if that means throwing all of your items into your bag, breaking your eggs and crushing your bread, and awkwardly yelling, "Tschus" to the cashier as you run out of the store. Grocery shopping will eventually become less traumatic.

Do you love asparagus? You will during spargel season or you just might starve. Germans are obsessed with white asparagus and as soon as spargel season arrives (usually mid-May), roadside stands pop up and it dominates restaurant menus. Spargel soup. Steamed spargel. Spargel with Hollandaise sauce. And don't forget to peel it. I only made that mistake once but once was all it took.

The most important thing to know before moving here is that you'll become accustomed to everything. As long as you embrace your confusion and learn some common German phrases, people will be receptive. In no time, you'll be zooming down the Autobahn, cycling everywhere, and complaining about the weather like any good German. Viel gluck!

Sunset from our Apartment in Maastricht

1 comment:

  1. I had to laugh about some of your advice for Americans, although they are not wrong. Still, it's always interesting to see what others think about us. Will be curious to hear about your experiences in the Netherlands. And if you want to practice your German .... you know where to find me. :-D
    Marianne from Let's Read