I made scrambled eggs for breakfast this morning. I opened the carton and realized how accustomed I’ve become to the German way of life. These eggs were straight from the chicken’s free-range butt, spotted with chicken poop and feathers. I just cracked them open and whisked them into the pan. Baby has come a long way. When I first arrived in Germany, I figured the hardest thing I’d have to deal with was the language barrier. I mean really, how hard could it be to live with Germans? They are just like us, and by us I mean Americans. Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong if I had been dropped in North Korea.
I felt like I had moved to a third-world country. It was like sky diving without the initial pull-this-thingy-here lesson. I just packed up and got on a plane. I brought two boxes of pharmaceuticals. I brought language tapes and cute, comfortable shoes. I brought my cats. But I did not bring an ounce of knowledge about how to live in a foreign country. I was Eva Gabor on Green Acres. Goodbye San Francisco, hello Hooterville.
My first week in Germany, I bought and disposed of 30 eggs, sacrificed 3 pairs of socks and walked 4 blocks home from the grocery store carrying all my purchases in my arms sans bags.
Germany is so quaint with its dorm-sized fridges and its shops just around the corner. Everyone walks or bikes everywhere. After 2 days I realized that also meant me. I’d have to walk to the store and carry home anything I bought. With the size of the fridge that fit under the kitchen counter, it wasn’t going to be a big shopping trip.
Off I went, taking my time, reading or trying to read labels, searching for any familiar product. I stood in line and paid in euros and waited for my stuff to be bagged. After standing at the end of the check out counter for a few minutes too long, a fellow shopper explained, in English, that I would have to bag my own groceries. Since I did not know this, I had not brought bags. This was humiliating on so many different levels; so obviously being American was not the least.
The eggs. I’m one of those paranoid eaters. If something is near an expiration date, I won’t touch it. If it gets warm and its supposed to be cold, forget it. I hit the trifecta with German eggs. Germans sell eggs on the shelf at room temp, not in a cooler case. Since everyone was buying them, I figured, I’d be okay. At the time, I couldn’t read more than menu so I had no idea about the expiration date. I just had to trust. Trusting is not an easy task for me.
Every single egg was filthy, from all three packs. All poop smeared and feathery. So I washed them. What’s a little poop among friends? I was working on the “trust the German market”-thing. Poop was minor.
Upon cracking, the yolks were a dark orange with dark red spots. All of them. Every pack I bought. Egg upon egg. I figured they were all salmonella riddled because they were sold at room temp, filthy and I had no knowledge of the expiration date. My step-dad had to explain to me that orange was the correct color and the bloodstains were normal and since eggs come from the chicken butt area, chances were the poop was normal too. He said I had been eating hormoned and caged chicken eggs for so long, I just didn’t know a real egg when I saw one. How charming.
Then there was the laundry. German washers are front loading and believe it or not, all the little words that explain the cycles are in German. It took me three months and loads of gray, smelly clothes to figure out that it wasn’t inferior German laundry soap, but rather an inferior American mind. I put the detergent in the wrong slot. FOR 3 MONTHS!
Another quaint little quirk of the Deutsch Hausfrau is the preference of air-dried laundry as opposed to say, a dryer! We did not have nor did we have access to a dryer. Did I mention it rains ALL the time here?
Come on, not so hard. I’d hung laundry to dry all the time at home. I’d even hung laundry on business trips. And we had this cute little rack I put out on the balcony to let everything air dry. Well, three pairs of Markus’ socks later I realized why people used clothespins. The wind swept those socks away one by one until I realized it wasn’t just a washer-ate-my-sock moment Since we were on the 3rd floor, which is Deutsch for 66 steps, those socks were goners. Markus commented later about the poor guy who lost socks in the parking area. I said nothing.
And here I am almost 2 years later, I can eat a poopie egg, I know the pre-wash slot from the wash slot and I bought a dryer. I not only bring bags to the store, I’m a pro at the grocery-bagging gig. As long as I don’t go to Aldi, I can keep up with the checkers and watch the prices. I can drive a big car through the little streets of the nearby villages and I’m no longer afraid to go over 100mph on the autobahn. Well, I was never really afraid of that. I can talk to a two-year-old fluently. And I still haven’t bought a pair of putty colored shoes.