The German market has become a very enticing spot for young American footballers. For some, it’s become a stepping stone to bigger or different football stages. In a previous post regarding our first trip to Germany, I started to list a few peculiarities about visiting and living in Germany so this is more of a follow up hoping players, and families alike find it useful when their footballers (or any professionals) visit or make Germany their temporary home. Beware, some of the characteristics listed below apply to other European countries as well.
There is always the obvious nuances: culture, language, weather (for us Texans), currency, location, football style of play, etc. However, there are some specific aspects within those nuances that us Americans sometimes take for granted. Having spent half of the last three months living in Germany, I have noted a few peculiarities that I would like to highlight and share.
There’s a very important aspect that I would like to point out about Germans; they are known for their pursuit of perfection. They adhere strictly to a set of pre-established rules and values (and expect the same) such as: respect, efficiency, honesty, punctuality, social awareness, and other textbook characteristics. Most of their activities revolve around these values. Thus, in order to create a first good impression, it’s important to understand and honor these traits. After all, you are a visitor in their country.
For example, it’s important to adhere to punctuality because it could quickly work against you. A 5 PM meeting doesn’t mean 5:03 PM or 5ish. Be on time (early if possible); at first, it may be difficult because most of us Americans are very loose on punctuality. Also, as a environmentally friendly culture, Germans rely heavily on public transportation, and chances are you will have to use it when visiting. Despite city size (big or small); public transportation runs like clockwork so always be on time. Note: Uber is not available everywhere.
In bigger cities like Berlin or Frankfurt, English is more predominant, but don’t be fooled, Germans expect foreign nationals to attempt to learn their language. They value continuous learning and knowing a few common phrases can go a long way. Invest the time to learn something new everyday or prior to your arrival, if possible (reading this post counts).
- Danke – Thank you
- Please – Bitte
- Guten Morgen – Good morning
- Excuse me – Entschuldigen Sie, bitte
- Sprichst du English – Do you speak English?
- Ich spreche kern Englisch – I don’t speak English
- Nimmst du Euro – Do you take Euros? (Important in Prague)
- Ich bin Amerikaner – I’m American
- Wo kann ich ein nei taxi nehmen – Where can I take a taxi (they don’t have Uber service in a lot of cities in Germany)
It may sound ironic that despite being surrounded by multiple countries, Germany is not as much of a melting pot as the US. It also depends the city you will be visiting or living in. Therefore, don’t assume everyone knows English given their geographic location. You may be in for a surprise especially in the smaller cities like Zwickau in East Germany.
At home we speak Spanish mostly with some English sprinkled in at times. That constant practice of multiple languages has enhanced our ability (verbal and written) to learn any Latin-derived language. Johan is fluent in Portuguese, I can read and write French pretty well, and Italian is extremely easy to understand for us. An outsider could think that we have the “learning a new language” skill down but that’s not the case with German…at least not yet. It’s not rocket-science but just like English, there are several regional variations of the German language. In my two trips to Germany, I have discovered that most older folks do not speak English -which forces me into conversational scenarios; seemingly, the older folks are not as good stewards as the younger generation to those of us trying to learn German. Be sure to have an translation app. or a dictionary handy when traveling.
After seven months of living there, Johan is now able to get by conversationally. Okay, he IS my son but he’s indeed a very smart young man. He recently started taking German classes (with Nico Carrera’s aunt) and will continue to improve everyday. He’s now acclimated to the culture and language. His teammates all speak English which has helped and of course, his coach Joe Enochs is American who is also fluent in German.
A lot of Germans live in apartments; that is because on average, Germans are more risk averse than Americans and are more comfortable leasing. Whether you own or rent, homes are not just smaller on average than in the US (I get it, everything is bigger in Texas) but they are also built differently. They are made of masonry which makes organic modifications to the building (interior or exterior) an elaborate task. Homes have to be designed efficiently from inception.
Most homes are not equipped with a central HVAC unit. Therefore, each room has its own heater (aka radiators). AC units are not common even in cities close to the sea (summers are very pleasant). It’s good to learn how to operate these units as the winters in some parts of Europe are harsh. Germany’s coldest months are January and February.
Most homes do not have dryers. Thus, the player may need to learn how to hang dry clothes after washing them. The winters may pose additional challenges to hang dry clothes indoors. There are several reasons why dryers are not popular in Europe (not just Germany):
- Energy hoggers: Dryers are appliances that consume a lot of energy. Germans in general are very environment-conscious plus, the cost of energy is high.
- Fines: Some German cities impose hefty fines to high energy spenders; Germans not only try to keep energy costs low but also avoid legal fees.
- Clothes last longer: Clothes fade less when not machine-dried and thus typically have a longer lifespans. Hang-drying is very common even indoors
Most home windows open inwards: longways or sideways. Not only are they different but they are more energy efficient than US windows due to their triple or quadruple panes. Also, they allow better ventilation and are safer. It takes some getting used to with their multiple turning positions.
German drivers are required to have extensive training before they acquire their driver’s license. This training equips them for a spectrum of situations and as a result, driving in Germany is safer than in the US. It is hard to imagine having an autobahn in the US. Most Germans own manual transmission cars; however, this could be a trend in other western Europe countries as we experienced the same in Spain and Portugal. Leasing, purchasing or simply repairing an automatic transmission car is more expensive than a manual transmission one. Thus, it also makes financial sense to learn how to drive a manual transmission car before heading to Europe. You don’t want the young footballer to have to worry about learning to drive a manual transmission car, getting a driver’s license and on top of that, learning the traffic laws all at the same time.
Traffic lights are different. The transition to a green light goes through yellow (amber) first. Red->Yellow->Green unlike the United States and Mexico. Always be alert, there are traffic cameras everywhere. Be sure to honor speed limits; otherwise, you can quickly rack up speeding tickets fines. Speed limits do not have much margin for error (like in the US +/- 5 Mph). This is especially true in smaller cities (just like in the US) where speeding ticket revenue is relied upon heavily.
There’s nothing significantly different from the police other than they are present but their presence is not intimidating at all; I have never witnessed anybody getting pulled over. That being said, the “polizei” sirens are unique. They don’t really wail like our patrol cars; they have more of a pleasant sound. When I first heard them, the sound reminded me of the many Pink Panther French inspector cartoons I watched in my childhood.
Gasoline is really expensive even compared to the most affluent areas in the US. A liter of gas in Germany (about 25% of a gallon) costs about the same as a gallon of gas in Texas. A few months ago, the average gas price in Southeast (Saxon) Germany for a liter was €1.65. With those prices, one has to make each trip count which brings us to their environmental awareness and their heavy reliance on public transportation. There are some cities in Germany where certain car models are not allowed entry. They have high car emissions standards.
Germany ranks in the top 10 in the world for green countries. Germans are very environmentally conscious. One can see wind mills everywhere; the stored energy is used for multiple purposes.
Unfortunately, as green as the country is and as environmentally conscious as Germans strive to be, if you are a non-smoker like me, it will be difficult to get away from second hand smoke. A lot of public places are setup to be very inclusive and it’s inevitable to avoid second hand smoke. Thus, having a meal outdoors to enjoy the awesome summer weather could require some getting used to.
Speaking of public places, WiFi access (especially free) is extremely difficult to find unlike the US. Not only that, you will have to adjust your network provider’s data plan before you travel to Germany in order to get some decent cellular upload/download speeds. Otherwise, even playing a Twitter video will be impossible when not connected to WiFi. If you will reside in Germany, consider purchasing a phone and its corresponding data plan which gives you the benefit of having a local phone #.
Germany is beautiful. There are plenty of historical places in and around Germany for which you will want to take pictures and videos. Whether you are visiting or staying, make sure your data plan (and phone battery) is ready for all you will experience. We didn’t talk about the shortage of public electrical outlets in this post but those are also difficult to find so having an extra power bank is a good idea. You can revisit this post about “Going to trials, training stint? Checklist of what you may need Part 2” for additional peculiarities when traveling to Europe.
We will surely be visiting Germany (and other European countries) again soon. As we do that, we will continue to learn new “peculiarities” and will share them here. Until then. #theGomezway