Monday, August 27, 2012

Mix-Up Monday: Top Five Best and Worst - Food

Wow, how time flies! This week marks her third year living in Germany. Three years!?! How did that happen?

For the most part I think I have gotten pretty used to everything Germany throws at me. It is now just part of my normal everyday life. There are a few surprises that do catch me off guard, but I think that there would be things that surprise me in the USA too. That's just life.

To commemorate three years of living in Germany I thought I would make a list...the top five best and worst food related things in Germany versus the USA. These are just my personal opinions (he isn't even allowed to give his input for this one) and not meant to offend anyone. Maybe you agree, maybe you don't. Have you spent a lot of time away from home? What do you love and what drives you crazy?

Best (in no particular order):

5. Beer - A clearly great thing about Germany. The culture here is about beer...for lunch, dinner, midnight snack, really anytime. There are hundreds of different varieties and a small brewery in almost every town. We actually live down the street from one brewery which makes our current favorite beer. My trips back to the USA have actually surprised me. The beer in the USA is not sooo bad, but the culture is definitely different. It is much less typical to order a beer with every meal in the USA. The beer might not be good for my waistline but that doesn't stop me. He once told me that every waitress knows right away that I'm not German. I thought it was because of my horrible American accent when I speaks German. He says, that's not it at all. It is because first thing I order is a hefeweizen and German girls do not drink beer :)

4. Tipping - Waiters in Germany make a good amount of money and therefore they do not depend on tips like American waiters do. Tipping in Germany is just considered a little something extra and the percentage you tip is much smaller than in the USA. In the USA you tip between 15-20%. In Germany you usually just round up to the nearest euro. This means if the bill is €7.20 you give an eighty cent tip and if the bill is €4.80 the tip may only be twenty cents. Of course this changes depending on how many people are on the bill and how good the service was (if four people are paying together you would tip a few euros). Overall though, tipping is much cheaper. Additionally, since in Germany the tax is already included in the price of the food on the menu the entire eating experience feels cheaper because the price you see is the price you pay. I think it is just a mental thing for me. You can read more about the differences between eating out in the USA and Germany in our Mix-Up Monday: Eating Out.

3. Prices - For the most part, food in Germany is cheap! Looking at a current receipt from the grocery store I see that I only paid 51 cents for milk (1L),  45 cents for flour and 55 cents for a 500g ball of mozzarella. I haven't done a ton of shopping in the USA but as far as I can remember these prices are much lower. Not everything is super cheap in Germany though.  Beef is extremely expensive and vegetables off season can break the bank. When it comes to the daily necessities though, you can get everything you need without spending much. At the same time, Germany does not do the coupon thing so the price you see is the price you get. No great shopping tricks here.

2. Cafe culture - Germany has a cafe culture. Perhaps not compared to Italy but compared to the USA you can really see the difference. When the weather is good (those rare times when the sun comes out) the Germans crowd to restaurants and cafes and spend leisurely lunches soaking up the sun. You do not get the bill until you ask and in Germany and it is not uncommon to make lunch or dinner last a long time (a looong time!). There is no pressure to leave and no waitress asking for the tenth time if there is anything else she can get you. When it is cool out, restaurants provide blankets to keep you warm while you sit and enjoy your meal. Definitely one of my favorite parts of the German culture, even if I don't always have the time to enjoy it.

1. The food - Duh! Germany has a lot of good food and since there is almost nothing from the USA you cannot get in Germany, this means you get the best of both worlds. I have always lived in Southern Germany which is especially famous for its selection of delicious traditional meals. SpƤtzle, maultaschen, schnitzel, and wurst wurst and more wurst. German food has very mild flavors and no spice, but that makes it hard to get tired of eating the same dishes over and over again. I definitely have no complaints when it comes to traditional German food!

Worst (in no particular order):

5. Drinks - Beer is lovely and all that (I mean it was good enough to make the top five) but sometimes you don't feel like a beer/ have to drive/ it is before noon and you don't go for the whole beer for breakfast thing/etc. etc. The problem is that in Germany water does not come free with your meal and soft drinks are expensive. You often spend more to get a tiny soft drink (0.3 liters) than to get a beer (0.5 liters) and there are no refills. None! It is a pretty tricky scheme German restaurants run and the reason she has a beer 99% of the time. Good thing Germany does not have spicy food. A lack of drinks would definitely be a problem. Beyond the tiny and expensiveness of the drinks, Germany does not believe in ice. You order a coke and it is often only a bit cold or room temperature. If you try to make it last your entire meal it is warm by the end. I guess when people are paying so much for so little they do not want to waste time with ice. You can be sure that I always have ice on hand at home :)

4. Seating - We mentioned this before in the Mix-Up Monday: Eating Out entry. You get to pick your own seats in German restaurants. I find this very stressful when the restaurant is full. It feels like being in middle school again and trying to find someone to sit with in the cafeteria. No one wants to be that person walking around trying to figure out where to sit down. It is like a secret club. Those already sitting give looks of superiority while the lost person tries to figure out how they can find seating for four when there is only one table for two. As soon as they sit down they get the look of superiority and stare at the newest person looking for a seat, like they were not just in that position! The worst is when a group of two sit at a table for four or more and there is just nowhere for you to sit. Restaurants are supposed to be relaxing, not a test of your logic and spatial skills!

3. Meat - I love wurst,  I love schnitzel, I actually am an extremely  not picky eater but Germany, WHERE IS THE BEEF??? Beef in Germany is expensive and much harder to find than pork. Even "ground beef" is not actually ground beef, unless you want a pay a premium. Ground beef is a mix of ground pork and ground beef. I am fine with the flavor, it is actually less greasy than pure ground beef, but where are the steaks, the ribs, the entire cow?? When I visit the USA I go on beef eating binges. There is only so much pork one person can eat...isn't there??

2. Service - I knows I can't have it both ways, but come on, can't I??  I love being about to sit at a restaurant or cafe for a long time without being bothered by the waitress. I also love getting good service and being attended to. For the most part, this does not happen in Germany. It is not necessarily that the service at restaurants is bad in Germany, (especially when compared to all other service Germany, as we complained about in our Mix-Up Monday: Customer Service ) but seriously, do I really need to wave my hand and call you over anytime I want anything? This is especially true when it is time to pay. Because in Germany you are expected to relax and take time to enjoy your meal, waitresses do not come and ask if you are okay or if you need anything else after you receive your food.  If you want an after dinner coffee or to pay, you have to make sure to get her attention. This can be done either through eye contact (takes a lot of skill and practice) or by waving her over. If you had to do this in the USA the waitress would have lost a large percentage of her tip. I have gotten a lot better at this system, but sometimes I still find myself sitting and waiting, hoping that the waitress will remember I am there.

1. Restaurant selection - Like said earlier, I  like the food in Germany. Right now we live in a pretty small city so the choices are limited but there is still German, Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese (oh, but how I miss American Chinese food!), and so on. In a larger town there would be an even better selection. Although I do miss some types of food (like American Chinese or more Mexican-y Mexican) my complaint is about the lack of chain restaurants. Chain restaurants, you think?? How American is she? Isn't that the one thing that makes America evil? Those big chains killing all the cute family-owned restaurants. Yes, chains can be evil, but I do not mean McDonald's or Burger King (they have plenty of those over here!) I mean the more real restaurant types like Applebees, Olive Garden, and Macaroni Grill. The food at these places are not any better than the food offered in Germany, but have you ever gone on a road trip in a country without chain restaurants?? It is terrible! Unless you want McDonald's or something else fast and not so tasty, you are stuck driving around hoping that some restaurant you never heard of and know nothing about will be decent and not too expensive. There is a comfort in knowing in the USA that when you are tired, hungry, and extremely grouchy that you can sit down at Cracker Barrel and order exactly what you had at the Cracker Barrel 3,000 miles away. I don't think chains should take over Germany, but a few near the Autobahn would be nice!

So, those are my top five best and worst of food in Germany versus the USA. Maybe by this time next year they will change, maybe by this time next month. Happy three years to me, and here is to the next three!

...and for all that typing - A BEER!  ---> Don't worry, you deserve one too for reading so much :)

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