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Brain Fodder for Newcomers & Visitors (Germany & Belgium)

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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): Brain Fodder for Newcomers & Visitors (Germany & Belgium)

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Brain Fodder for Newcomers & Visitors (Germany & Belgium)

So, I've never really been a newcomer in Europe, being born in Germany and all....BUT, I am still an American and feel like I have an inkling of what my friends are going through.  You know when you move to a foreign country, you wish someone had just told you some of these nuggets of information?  Life would be WWAAAY easier I would think.  Here are some quick tricks and tips that are always being mentioned...or what I think of when I try to rack my brain as to what surprises most Americans who come over.  Please be sure to add your own surprises as well!

In no particular order:


  • Always have grocery bags in your vehicle when you travel; European stores do not hand out free bags.  You must pay for them if you want one of theirs.  We like to carry a variety of cheap plastic throwaway bags and some nicer cloth or synthetic bags with us in our car.  Reisenthel (my favorite) makes some cute little packaged bags (I have two of these in my purse).



  • Always have change for parking meters.  Parking meters here are not next to your space....but are nearby.  Look for a big automated metal box.  Put in your money, watch the time change on the little monitor, typically 50 Euro cents = 30 minutes.  Then press the green button.  The ticket that comes out needs to be put in your windshield or it's useless.  Keep track of when it expires!



  • Many restaurants have their rest day on Mondays, so aren't open then.  Some stores, especially out in the country, close at 6 or 7 pm and are closed on Sundays and holidays and early on Saturday...not a problem in the big cities but could be everywhere else.  Restaurants in Belgium (not in big cities) don't serve dinner until 6 or 6:30 pm and many do not serve lunch.  Know before you sit down and order your drinks!  "Durchgehende Kueche" on a German restaurant's sign means they are open thru lunch and dinner and serve at those in-between times.  I haven't seen the equivalent in Belgium except for in the big cities and near NATO/US military bases.



  • Learn at least a few basic phrases, thank-you and please in whatever country you'll be in.  Americans have a horrible reputation for thinking the world centers around them and English...don't add to the misnomer.



  • Shopping carts are chained together here...have a 50 cent Euro piece or 1 euro to stick in the slot on the cart, and then return the cart to get your money back.



  • Bring change for public restrooms...no money, no tinkle...this is actually a good thing, because most restrooms are very clean (unfortunately, you won't see this in any of the Southern European countries or even France...you'll see dirty restrooms for the most part...and they are free).  You'll get charged 30 to 50 Euro cents and some automated entrances don't give change for 1 or 2 Euro coins, so always have the little change with you.



  • Always have some kind of raingear with you...with the Gulfstream...or is it Jet Stream?...European weather can be variable...and all in the same day.  Belgium can have five weather changes in a day.  Germany, not so much except perhaps up in the Northern areas or in the mountains.  Just be prepared.



  • Europeans are NOT rude for the most part...they just do things differently over here and Americans many times view that as being rude.  They are just honest and forthright and will not beat around the bush and will truly tell you what they think....to your face.  Also, the German language can be very heavy on the consonants, and I've had Americans tell me that just scares them and makes the language sound harsher than it really is.  A German saying "I love you" sounds like they are about to give the other person a whipping I've been told by other Americans!



  • When you are paying for something in Belgium, do not put money in the cashier's hand...it is considered rude.  Put the money on the space provided in front of you....or the conveyor belt.  They'll hand you back the change the same way.  And instead of saying thank-you (merci), you say please when you fork over your money....so "si'l vous plait"....French do it the opposite!  Those darn French...or Belgiums..however you want to look at it.



  • When eating out in Germany, it is customary to start eating as soon as your own plate of food arrives (that is considered good manners, as the others don't want YOUR food to get cold).  In Belgium, you should wait for everyone's food to arrive and waitstaff will typically try to time everyone's food arrival at the same time.  Isn't it funny how they can be so opposite?



  • You'll probably find more pickpockets here than in the US (except maybe for New York City?)....treat your valuables accordingly and keep them close to your body and not in your pockets or purse.  Try not to look like a tourist.  You can peg an American by their tennis shoes and jeans.



  • A GPS is invaluable here, especially in Belgium.  I have lost count of the number of times I have come to an intersection with NO street markings, especially out in the country.  At least in Germany, streets are labeled fairly regularly.  



  • Instead of getting on highways and seeing signs that tell you, you are going North or South like in the US, you'll see signs listing the next major city...in whichever direction....all over Europe (and sometimes not in the country you are in, if you are near a border).  So, you need to know which cities are in the direction you want to go in, or else you will go the wrong way!  As soon as I get on the highway near our house, I see the sign that says "Paris"....only 2-1/2 hours away!  It always gets me dreaming...until I have to get off before I actually reach Paris.



  • You won't see a lot of McDonalds and other fast food places (except maybe near military bases and in the big cities), but you will see many friteries in Belgium!  This fast food kind of place is cheap and EVERYTHING is fried....everything...even dessert if they offer it.  Everything is laid out like at a butcher and since much of it is battered, you won't know what's in that thing unless you can read the sign (so learn the favorites and have a small dictionary with you in your purse, and especially memorize the word for horse in French, "cheval").  The nicest fritterie I ever went to was on the Belgian coast in a wonderful seaside town.  In addition to the fried fish and anything else you wanted fried, they had colorful salads with some of the best tomatoes I've ever tasted....sad to say I haven't found anything like that around here!  McDonalds are a dime a dozen in Germany, and you will see them all over.  There they also have "Imbisses" and what I miss the most as we don't see it everywhere, Donar Kebaps.




  • Please be sure to share your favorites below!

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    3 Comments:

    Blogger Megan said...

    -at a restaurant you pay for water-not like in the States where you get water automatically-and make sure you ask for "no gas" or you get it with bubbles.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:17 PM  
    Blogger MooAtU2 said...

    Mmmm, I love donners! (I've seen it spelled so many different ways already, haha).

    A good tip- make sure you carry cash with you. Before moving here, I used my debit card almost exclusively. In Germany, many places only take cash, and even though there's ATMs, they might not be close by. Also, I found out some banks don't charge international fees or ATMs fees when getting cash, so I pay cash cash anyway to avoid the fees.

    Also- most pop bottles are deposit bottles, so before you recycle them, if it has a recycling symbol or says "pfland" on it, it's a deposit bottle. Most grocery stores have a station where you can return them.

    October 16, 2010 at 11:09 AM  
    Blogger ****Veteran Military Wife at Life Lessons of a Military Wife**** said...

    Great tips! I'll be blogging soon about returnable bottles in Germany....we used to routinely fish them out of our dumpster/recycling bin on post and get anywhere from 20-30 euro back when we brought them to our grocery store...yes, they are worth that much (especially plastic)...and even though I used to tell my neighbors this...they either didn't want the hassle...or just didn't get it! My husband was able to support his beer habit by buying racks of beer and never spending a cent himself:-)

    October 16, 2010 at 2:08 PM  

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