An Alien in America

An alien's perspective on life and everything else

Week 4 – Germany

Posted by nickxyz on March 13, 2008

Closing in on the end of week 4 in Germany. The novelty is about to wear off and things are starting to go their regular order: get up in the morning, go to work, come home, eat dinner, sleep and start over.

I have spent the last weekends house hunting. All sorts of houses, all kinds of locations, all kinds of odd landlords… why should it be any different here??? Nothing so far that really catches your eye or holds your breath. And everyone seems to be on the edge as soon as I mention I will be bringing two dogs with me. As if their sacred hardwood floors would take irreparable damage when crossed by doggie paws… Ever heard of little children dropping stuff, playing matchbox on the floor, driving their bobbycar, spilling food and drink,… I guess not.

Starting to pay a little more attention to the cultural transition and the cultural details. One example that just floors me is Aldi. When I lived in Germany last, Aldi was the discount store that one went to in order to pick up the basics, like milk and some cans. Now, Aldi seems to be THE store of choice for most people as it carries almost anything at reasonable prices (boy, did I ever mention the DMark to Euro conversion before???). There are special flyers every couple weeks that list the specialties that will be for sale in the coming weeks. Depending on the season, it could be running shirts, grass seeds or school supplies. And guess what? As soon as the stuff is officially on the shelves, the stores experience this huge run. As soon as the doors open in the morning, a huge number of people already waits to get in and get first dips on the ‘stuff’. By 9 or at the latest 9.30 am, the specially advertised items are gone; zip, zero, zilch left.

Since the conversion to the Euro (or the Teuro, which is a play on words for ‘teuer’ = expensive), everyone is so intent on saving money. Not because they would want to for any exzessive rational reason. No, because they really have to. The absolute price tag remained the same, say 1.50 for a stick of butter. While before it was in DMark, it is now in Euros. Not much of a deal, you would think. All that changed was the unit symbol. Well… far from the truth. When the conversion took place, 1 Euro was set at 2 DMark. So in effect, everything had doubled in price over night, while salaries and wages got split in half, nominally. While I am not sure that this is really completely accurate (I haven’t been in Germany for the last 10 years, other than for vacation), it is the strong perception of a lot of people I met. Both my age group as well as older generations. From my limited perspective, I would tend to agree with the perception personally. I used to pick up Focus quite regularly when I still lived in Germany. If I remember correctly, it had run at 4.50 DM or there abouts. Nowadays, it runs 3.20E. Perception…..

Anyway, it is now just amazing how cost conscious everyone has become. Not sure if it had made the front page of all international papers. But the OECD has just published a study of income vs tax burdens within the EU. Germany ranks right up there, but behind Denmark and Sweden, I think…. According to the study’s calculations, German workers receive about 48 cents net for every 1 Euro gross earned once all taxes and other required contributions had been deducted. Interesting…..

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2 Responses to “Week 4 – Germany”

  1. Megan said

    Hi Nicole,
    Hope you’re settling in ok. After reading this post I had to give my “two (euro) cents” worth of opinion on it:

    Weren’t Germans always cost-conscious? I mean you know I love Germans, but let’s be honest, for a culture that will shell out big bucks for a washing machine, they are extremely cheap by nature. Value words (wertvoll, edel, preiswert, hochwertig, günstig) are always tacked onto descriptions first instead of other attributes. They will walk an extra four blocks to buy the milk that’s five cents cheaper… and then they will tell people about it. 🙂

    …and then their friends will go there too!

    True, most people felt that the Euro was more expensive, but I didn’t get the feeling that they felt it was double. Most were suspicious that extra cents had been snuck into the new prices and often this was true because stores rounded up to an easy number, especially in cafes and restaurants where the waiters were calculating in their heads (1.50 vs 1.48). This made things slightly more expensive.

    People did have trouble adjusting – there was film footage of old ladies swearing they wouldn’t let go of their DMarks for months on TV after the changeover – but it didn’t sneak up on them entirely overnight. In the years leading up to the change, the euro value was always displayed on cash register receipts so people could start to understand the value of the new currency. Having not worked at that time, I have no idea if they did that on paychecks too. But it was discussed, visible and transparent.

    People did feel disoriented about the new currency and just as in any country where the value changes from two to one, you feel like it’s more expensive. But I really can’t agree that it was double the cost and half the income. And these days when people bring up the ‘teuro’ I think we also have to factor in that they are thinking about prices as they were last in Dmark… which was, what 8 years ago?

    That’s about where my understanding of US prices is stuck as well. When I go over it’s always a bit of a shock, it all seems so expensive when in fact it is just inflation (except gas, which has skyrocketed fantastically, but still cheap to a German!). I’m sure things feel expensive to you too, coming back to Germany after several years in the US. Visits just aren’t enough to update one’s feeling for the cost of living, it takes a move to really feel it.

    I actually feel like the “Geist ist Geil” is finally calming down and people are caring more about what they’re buying than just the price. Maybe this was a backlash from the Euro that is slowly ending, I don’t know. One thing I do know is this: Although I rarely get in there, Aldi has really upped its offerings from even a few years ago, I feel like they’re trying to apply some of their Trader Joe’s chain concept over here, albeit with the addition of flip flops and lawn chairs. 🙂

  2. nickxyz said

    Hi,
    First off, thanks for the comment! Certainly appreciate it 🙂 Makes for good conversations!
    Watching the conversion from afar and only being exposed to it via the phone through various relatives’ experiences, the national marketing plan for the introduction was not bad, indeed. As it is with most ‘disclaimers’ or add on information, people look at it, but don’t necessarily read or understand it or pay attention to it (I am guilty of that, too). People I have been talking to knew it was coming, but since it was still ‘far off’, they really didn’t pay much attention to it yet. Only as the income actually had transitioned and the absolute amount deposited into one’s account had changed, things came more into focus. That is when the perceptions of ‘double, but half’ were made in conversations quite often.

    Overall, I think it is a matter of personal perception and personal situation more than anything else as it is with any (forced) major change in someone’s life and circumstances. Granted, my personal experiences are someone shaded or biased in that matter as well. When I lived in Germany, I remember certain prices of certain goods and how much I could afford those on my meager student income 🙂 Coming back to Germany in between internships or during vacation episodes, the relative curve of cost adjustment was noticeable, even for the ‘sporadic’ German like myself.

    Making ends meet today is more of a challenge than it was before in my opinion.

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