Pillow Size and other things you take for granted

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April 20th 2007
Published: April 20th 2007
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No matter who you are or where you live, there are certain things you take for granted. Sure, you know that every country doesn't have Safeway open 24 hours a day, but there are also things that you take for granted that you likely have no idea that you take for granted. Here are some of the things we now realize that we took for granted while living in the United States...

Pillow Size
In Germany, they use huge square pillows instead of small rectangular ones, it's as simple as that. In Turkey, France, Spain, and probably other countries they have pillows the same "regulation size" as in the US, but in Germany the standard size is a US pillow times two. So if you have sheets you brought from the States and pillows you bought in Germany, you have a problem. Or if you buy new sheets here, your pillows will float around in their pillowcases like a child in adult's clothing. Apparently, at some point in the past, pillow sizes in various countries were standardized and the German standard is different. If anyone cares to enlighten me on the origins of pillow standardization, I'd be very interested.

German Pillow with Standard Pillowcase on top

Stop Signs
Of course they have stop signs in Germany... just not as many as in the US. In the States, where there is an intersection, there is generally a traffic light, a set of stop signs ,or a roundabout. You don't just have two streets intersecting with no signs telling the driver what to do. Here, when two streets intersect and there are not signs telling you who has right of way, the car on the right has the right of way. This seems straightforward, but when you've been driving for 10 or 15 years with one set of rules, it's really hard to break your habits. So you're driving along on what feels like a main road with smaller side roads intersecting it and suddenly a car jumps out in front of you from a street on your right. You're just not expecting it because you are on the "main", i.e. larger, road. In smaller neighborhoods, like the one we live in, there are countless "side roads" from which cars could appear at any time, and the drivers coming from the right expect YOU to be cautious because they know they are coming from the right. To
Face MasqueFace MasqueFace Masque

Yes, I know this is face masque, but I don't really know what it's meant to help with.
me, the concept of stop signs all over the place makes more sense, but I do see the logic of not having them. In the States, plenty of people drive past stop signs without stopping, and this right-of-way system means that at least somebody has to be driving cautiously. Still, it's going to take some getting used to.

Cable TV
Tell me, where, other than houses in the absolute middle of nowhere, is there not cable tv in the US? Cable companies are chomping at the bit to be your provider and cannot wait to send a technician out to set you up (if you want to cancel your service, however, it's amazingly difficult to find a customer service representative who will help you). No cable in your apartment? No problem, the company will get it there. Here in Germany, it's a different story. We didn't have cable in our first apartment here, which was rented. Kabel Deutschland was happy to set us up with an account and send us a receiver and start billing us, but it took us over a month to figure out why we didn't have cable in the apartment itself and who was responsible
Not FertilizerNot FertilizerNot Fertilizer

This is not plant fertilizer. Do you know what it is? It's cough syrup.
for getting the cable into our apartment. Not knowing German didn't help but come on - Kabel Deutschland offers lots of foreign-language packages for foreign stations, yet does not provide any customer service in those languages? In the end, we learned that WE had to pay to have the cable brought from the basement of our building, where there was some sort of cable router box, into our apartment. The cost? 300 Euros. And now? Well, we live in a small town on the outskirts of Munich (but important enough to have a station on light rail)... no cable TV. Not on our street, anyway. If we want TV, satellite it is.....

How do you answer the home phone? In the US, the standard is to say "Hello". I have spent a significant amount of time in Turkey, Spain, and France, all of which have some version of a greeting when answering the phone. I happen to know that in Japan it's the same, as I am confident it is in many other countries. In Germany, people answer the phone by saying their last name. For example, if we were to call the home of the President of the United States and he answered the phone by German standards, he would pick up the ringing phone and say "Bush". I have heard more elaborate versions, such as (in German) "Hello, Franz Heimlich here", but the important thing is to mention your name, so many people don't bother to say much else. It takes some getting used to hearing it, and I don't know if I will ever be able to do it myself... just one of those things. I actually enjoy letting the caller know that I'm foreign, but I think they are often slightly disturbed at having to ask for my name. Rumor has it that the reason for this is that phone calls used to be astronomically expensive in Germany, so the caller wanted to make sure he/she had dialed the correct number before entering into a lengthy conversation or explanation. In a sense, it is a nation-wide unspoken agreement to help the fellow nationals not pay for unnecessary calls. I don't know if there's any truth to that explanation, but it does make sense. The question is, will it change now that calls are cheaper?

Food & Medicine Labels
Yes, of course they have food and medicine labels in Germany. The problem is, I can't really read them. I am getting better, but my German course ended just before the unit on medicine. Fortunately, most doctors and pharmacists here in Munich not only know how to speak English, but they are happy to. Still, I really used to enjoy going to Walgreens and choosing new shampoos or creams or whatever, but here I don't really know what I'm choosing. Since we've now been here almost two years, and I used to go with a dictionary (going with a toddler makes looking things up in a dictionary more dream than reality recently, though), I can now understand a few words here and there so I can get shampoo for dry hair or foot cream, but I don't really know what special properties the products have. Marketing is certainly lost on me unless it involves pretty packaging. It helps you understand what it feels like to be illiterate. Far more important, of course, when you're choosing medicine or trying to figure out dosage, than trying out a new shampoo. I hope that the first thing I learn when I start up German lessons again is how to understand labels 😊

The Yellow Pages
Sure, they have yellow pages here. They are even yellow. And entirely useless unless you know the categories you're searching for. I found it hard enough in English, even being an English teacher who had to teach how to use the Yellow Pages. Our Munich Yellow Pages sit on the shelf and stare at me, wondering why I don't open them.

Baggers at the Grocery Store
I know that not all places in the world (and not all states in the US) have baggers at the grocery store. And in case you don't know what they are, they are the people who put your groceries into bags. "Paper or Plastic" is an important phrase to learn in those places, as they will always ask you what kind of bags you'd like. Have you ever tried to put your cart full of grocieries into bags while your toddler tries to escape from the cart, and while the next customer's groceries are piling up on top of yours as everyone stares at you? If you have never tried it, you have surely never wondered how it feels. It is simply the last straw; a mother's trips to the grocery store are already a burden, this just sometimes makes me want to break down into tears, or grow my own food. Germans don't probably need baggers because all they seem to buy most of the time is cold cuts and bread and milk and butter and it all fits nicely into the nostalgic woven straw or wicker shopping baskets they bring to the store with them. But while the German moms (ok, this is an exaggeration, I am sure there are naughty German kids) happily buy their 5 items and their kids sit in their kinderwagens (strollers) happily staring off into space, Kaanosaurus is imitating a chimpanzee at the zoo and I slowly make myself unwelcome at every grocery store in town. Baggers would really help me get out of there faster... (Oh, and they don't give you bags here. You either have to bring them or buy them. Very environmentally conscious, very inconvenient).

Credit Cards
Did you ever go to buy a big-ticket item like a sofa or a rug, and have to pay either with cash or an ATM check card (here, called an EC card)? I'm not talking about stuff that fell off of the back of a truck, I'm talking about a big ticket item at what must be one of the world's largest furniture stores (Segmuller, if you must know). It happened to us yesterday. We wanted to buy a pricy rug. And no, there was nothing wrong with our Visa card - we had it with us, it was not expired, and the rug was not over our limit. They simply don't take credit cards. Like many places here. No Visa, no American Express, no Mastercard, no anything. In the US, you can buy a Coke with your credit card. In Turkey, they take credit cards almost everywhere. I don't know about the rest of Europe... Here, you often can't even buy something big with a credit card. It must help prevent people from overspending and racking up huge debt, but we are fortunately careful spenders and don't need to be protected from such a problem. I did ask the salesperson (in German, yippee!) why they don't accept credit cards, but she didn't know the answer (not that I would have understood it...)

Handicap Accessilbility
This is a sad reality in many places in Europe, and really helps one appreciate the handicapped accessibility in the US. I notice it not because I am handicapped, but because pushing a stroller around makes you realize how what was intended to aid the handicapped, aids any mother pushing a stroller, or anyone with even a temporary disability or injury. While there are elevators to most subway and light rail stations within the city of Munich, many stations outside the city center are lacking both elevators and escalators. For that reason, I now drive into the city. In order to get to the light rail (S-Bahn) from our house, walk to the station, a convenient 10-minute walk, and then... wait for somebody to help me down and up a long flight of stairs to the train. Now, I am 6 months pregnant, so even if somebody helps me, I still struggle. I cannot imagine what people with physical handicaps do. The trams and buses do mostly have mechanims to make it possible for the wheelchair-bound to get on, and public buildings mostly have ramps. But many places do not have automatic doors or handicapped-accessible toilets. Television doesn't have closed captioning for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. There are plenty of handicapped parking spaces (and even special spaces for mothers with children). The one thing I have noticed that one finds here but not in the States, is braille labels on prescription medicine. Still, Europe has a long way to go in the handicapped accessibility department.

Gallons of Milk
Milk here is often ultra-pasturized, long shelf life, so if you have lots of shelves, you can get lots of it and store it indefinitely outside of the refrigerator. That is very handy. I do miss, however, large jugs or cartons of milk. The largest cartons available here are approximately half the size of a regular American carton (half gallon?) of milk. So, in the land of environmental consciousness, our milk-loving family (pregnant lady, toddler), throws out lots of "tetra-paks" of milk. We go through about one a day. Not only inconvenient, it's wasteful. I hear that Wal-Mart used to sell gallon jugs of milk here, but they were unpopular, as standard German refrigerators are too small to fit them. So I understand why I can't get them, but I still do miss them.

This is the short list, and as you can see, it's pretty long. If you had asked me what "things" I would miss once in Germany, I wouldn't have had any idea what this list would have looked like. So many silly little things we took for granted...


26th May 2007

Thanks for keeping in touch
Hi Saskia, Levent and Kaan, It's always interesting and fun to read your blog. Great job! I hope to visit some day... Your new apartment is beautiful. Best wishes on your soon to arrive new addition to your family. Shari
21st March 2008

I enjoyed this entry, because I have experienced so many of the things you spoke of! The pillow sizes are bizarre, although have you noticed that they also have pillow that are half sized, so you can either have pillows bigger than you are used to, or smaller. I also thought it strange that when we bought all of our furniture at Ikea we could not use VISA to pay for it! The milk is a mystery to me, as it sits in a box in our house for a month without needing to be refrigerated, but is still good! It just seems wrong, somehow :) www.tessa-enright.com Photos and stories of the daily life and travels of an American girl living in Germany.
29th October 2012

If you grasp a German pillow by the bottom two corners and shove them up inside the pillow, you end up with something that is more or less the same size and shape as pillows elsewhere (Works with down pillows. With less fluid filling, your mileage may vary).

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