Sunday, January 13, 2013

My bags are packed, I'm ready to go

In case you somehow missed it between my upteen tweets, facebook posts, and, if you know me in real life, conversations, I am OMGSOEXCITED over the moon to be going back to the States tomorrow finally for vacation!

Sometimes, it's really the smallest things/creature comforts of home that you miss most when you're gone. Here are yet some more things I'm looking forward to on our trip:

1) ICE! (ice baby)- Ice is seriously some kind of American delicacy. Most restaurants in Europe won't serve it in your drinks. Last summer, when I had surgery in like 90-100 heat in a building with no air conditioning, I was beginning the nurses for ice cubes. Only to be told that there wasn't a single one in the entire building.
2) free refills- To be fair here, this is more of a suburbia thing. In NYC, I don't think any restaurant I ever went to had free refills on soft drinks. When I was in college, it was a big excitement for me to eat at Applebee's because they had free refills on sodas and for me that was practically unheard of. However, soft drinks in Germany are generally tiny. And expensive. It is usually the same cost to get a 0,5L beer as it is to get a 0,2L of Coke. If not cheaper.
3) shopping, on a Sunday- I've covered this on here before but the entire country pretty much shuts down on Sundays. I want to be able to just walk into a store that's not on base on Sunday just because again. And this brings me to my next point
4) paying with a credit card- Credit card fees in Germany are insane, so a lot of stores will not accept credit cards. It's either the German debit card which we don't have. Or cash. There was one time when the Ikea near us did not take credit cards. Can you imagine buying a bedroom set with all cash?
5) free shopping carts- Most grocery stores here charge a deposit for use of the shopping cart that you get back when you return it. I know a few stores in the U.S. do this too, but it's the exception not the rule over there as it seems to be here. I have a shopping cart token that I always have to remember to bring me whenever I go shopping to make sure that I'm not clumsily fumbling around for a euro coin in my purse at the last minute. Ultimate not a big deal, but still annoying.
6) not having so much change- Our smallest bill is 5€ (roughly the equivalent of $6.68 based on today's exchange rate) so change tends to accumulate quickly and your wallet gets heavy before you realize it. And yet you still don't have the euro you need for the shopping cart when you're in the grocery store. Murphy's Law, I tell you.
7) cheap manicures- My last one over here cost 23€! And this was for a plain manicure with polish. Nothing fancy, no gel, no shellac, no acrylic, nothing. With prices like that, you can imagine how often I get manicures over here. Yea, not very. When my MIL told me that a manicure near her costs somewhere between $10-15, I wasn't sure if I wanted to cry tears of joy or jealousy. Also, nail salons over here charge anywhere from 4-7€ extra if you want a manicure with polish. Considering I always bring my own nail polish, I think that's just outrageous. (Don't get me started on the one time a lady in a salon told me it would be 10€ more to get a manicure using OPI polish over there.)
8) throwing things out- Germans can be real, well, insert uncomfortable WWII German stereotype here, when it comes to recycling. You can't just throw something out. You have several trash bins. One with yellow bags for plastics, metals, foil, etc. One with white bags for paper products. One for regular garbage. There will also be several glass recycling bins in towns with one receptacle for clear glass bottles, one for brown glass bottles, and one for green glass bottles. The look on my father's face was priceless when I had to explain to him in Berlin that all three giant dumpster looking things outside of the apartment we were staying in were to be used for glass and only glass. And that he couldn't just throw the empty wine bottle away in whichever bin he felt like it. Priceless. I think that recycling is important and it's important to be eco-friendly, however, it is nice to be able to throw away a beer bottle top without thinking "did I put that in the right bag?"

And two things about Germany that I will miss in the States:
1) tax (or lack thereof)- The European tax system is called the VAT (Value Added Tax). The tax is figured into the final price of the item and that list price is all that you have to pay. It makes shopping so much more convenient. While the 19% VAT here can be outrageous at times, I love the European system so much and am not looking forward to having to go from a country where you don't get charged any more tax that's visible to you as the consumer, to going to a country where they like to charge tax on every.little.thing. (And then, if you're in New York City, it seems like they just tack on taxes to the taxes you've already paid them. Just for the fun of it.)
2) tipping- Europe has a very different culture about tipping than America does. Part of your VAT from the cost of your meal goes to cover a reasonable living wage for your waiter so things like server minimum don't exist. You are not obligated to tip, and if you choose to, the idea of something like a 20% tip is unheard of. Since a 5€ bill is our smallest note, the unofficial tipping rule is to just leave the coins on the table if you want to. If you don't, that's ok. Your waiter won't be terribly offended. If your meal is 20€ and your Coke costs 4,20€ (ouch, I know), it's perfectly acceptable to pay 25€ and call it a day. This is a huge benefit because when you go to a restaurant, you know exactly how much your meal is going to cost based on what you order. In the States, you have to figure out tax and tip and after not having to do that for well over a year, I've grown to like not having to deal with that. (If you eat at the restaurants on base with servers, you do still tip there. Or at least I hope you do. No tax however.)

So now it's your turn- no matter where in the world you live, if you were to be gone from your home town or country for over a year, what small things would you miss the most? If you currently live abroad or have in the past, what do you think your host nation(s) does better than America?


  1. Have a wonderful trip!

    I've travel abroad to Italy, China, and Spain but since it was for a short amount of time, at most 3 weeks, I didn't have time to really miss home. I know being away for a year I'm sure I would miss something but I can't think of it right now!

    Any way have a blast back home!


  2. Safe travels, I can only imagine how excited you are!

  3. awesome! have fun in NYC and enjoy your vacation :)

  4. When I was in India, I missed being able to drink tap water.

  5. Hope you are having a great trip

  6. Hope you had a safe and fun trip!

  7. When we lived in Atlanta, I missed pizza and bagels so much. They just couldn't make those right there at least not that I found. Now that we are back, I miss the soft southern voices of my friends, cheap parking, warm weather and smaller crowds but nothing beats living near NYC. But you knew that.