Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dating in Berlin

Life’s about learning lessons, and dating in Berlin has taught me a fair number of them. Many of these lessons are valuable, though there are a few I wish I could unlearn but can’t, the mental equivalent of an image so achingly awful that it has been scorched into your retinas for all eternity. These dating experiences, both good and bad, help shape our future behavior so that we can avoid repeating the bad ones: I will never again commit to watching a 3-hour  movie with a guy with greasy hair and noxious body odor who can’t hold a conversation unless it revolves around 3D film techniques, or sharing a pizza with a man who seems to only know how to talk when he’s currently chewing, whose flighty eyes can’t rest on anything for more than a few seconds without him starting to twitch. And ideally, fewer bad dates means more good dates, like going to a hipster bar on open mic night during which your date pulls out a bag of marshmallows and a wooden skewer, and you roast marshmallows together over a candle and laugh while collecting disdainful glances from nearby bar-goers like tiny victory trophies.

You can learn a lot about dating from HIMYM.
My hope is that in reading these stories, you will laugh and maybe wince at my mishaps, use my folly as your power, and try not think me too much of a basket case.

And use the truth to set you FREE!
Most of my comical dating anecdotes have their roots in a hilarious circus of doom known as OkCupid. For those of you who have the good fortune not to know, OkC is an online dating platform that has many, many disadvantages, the main one being that it happens to operate on the freemium model, meaning that anyone can sign up without having to pay a dime. The inevitable result is a gnarly cesspool of dating profiles, some belonging to some very, very lonely people, all managed with overall quality control that is sub-par at best. But the one major advantage is that everyone on there is available, or at least purports themselves to be. (This is the Internet, after all; even in the age of virtual self-projection via Facebook and Twitter, people still use it to lie about themselves.)

Then again, people are perfectly capable of lying without the help of the Internet.
Plus, OkC employs an interface which is rather user-friendly. I signed up for the site in Seattle a few months before moving to Berlin, but quickly realized that most of  the users in Seattle were flat-out crazy, and the ones that sent me messages tended to be the weirdest cream of the weird-guy crop. And the dudes that didn’t appear to be Bonkers McGee-insane had zero imagination with language proficiency levels to match, the result being that my inbox was filled with near-identical messages surrounding the central compelling theme of “hey baby, how u doin, u kno u wanna get wit me?”.

Is it me you're looking for?
So I let my OkC profile lie dormant for a while. But once I landed in Berlin in the spring of 2011 and launched headfirst into 4 months of unemployment, I realized that my newly-minted singleton membership card combined with my lack of acquaintances in the city meant that I had to get out there. As a result, I spruced up my profile on OkC and started going on some dates.

Now, before you judge me, know this: every unwed/unattached expat in Berlin has, at some point or another, dabbled in the strange, wondrous world that is OkCupid. If they say they haven’t, they are lying to you. At first, I was embarrassed to out myself to others as an online dater; so much, in fact, that when I made my first real friend from the site, I insisted we tell people that he and I met through CouchSurfing – a plausible excuse, since we were both active on CS as well and I was attending a fair number of CS meet-ups at the time. But, you see, the cover-up turns out to be 100% unnecessary, because everyone else here is on OkCupid, too. And we’ve had similar experiences. We’ve browsed the same profiles, gotten messaged by the same jerks and weirdo fetishists, tried out the same tricks, felt the same defeat after going on a perfectly nice date with a perfectly nice person, knowing that there was absolutely no chemistry and that those 3 hours of pleasant get-to-know-ya chatter are 3 hours of your life you will never get back. After talking to other single expats on this topic, we’ve all reached the same conclusion: no good can come from OkCupid.

Well, except for the stories. Those can be really good.

Behold as  I prepare to exploit this fact.

Lesson 1: Get out while the gettin’s good.

Fine, so everyone in OkC is single and ready to mingle. That doesn’t mean you necessarily want to mingle with them. Meeting in person, in my opinion, is really the only way to tell if you click, even if you’ve done all the legwork: perused their photos, read their profile to the bitter end, scanned their match questions for red flags.

You answered "yes" to this? Really? GO AWAY AND NEVER COME BACK.
So I tend to cut to the chase, springing straight for the date without wasting too much time messaging back and forth. Usually I suggest something low-key, like meeting up for a beer. The problem is, once I’ve committed to a beer, it is almost unthinkable for me to walk away from said beer before I have finished drinking every last drop. (Unless the beer isn’t good, but in my experience, German beer is rarely ever not good.) Unfortunately, the time it takes to figure out if you have chemistry with someone or not is a lot less than the time it takes to drink a pint of beer. Maybe I have commitment issues – OK, I almost definitely have commitment issues - but I’ve devised a number of ways to be able to back out of a date once it’s started:

1.      Order the smallest beer possible. That way, beer abandonment/chugging isn’t quite as much of a shame should you find yourself needing to employ such tactics.
2.      Go in to the date with a follow-up activity in mind. You can play this card at any time. “Oh, by the way, I promised my bandmates I would stop by the studio before I go home, so I can’t stay too long tonight. Just so you know.”
3.      Schedule a lunch date. You have to eat at some point anyway during the work day, and this way you have to be back at the office within the hour. Boom! Built-in excuse.
4.      Meet at a crowded club where you can steal away into the masses, if need be.

They’ll never find me here.

Most of the time I am too nice to actually do any of this, unless I have already consumed more than one beer. (Except for #3 – I have to be back in the office no matter how much beer consumption has taken place.) But once in a while, you are jolted into action by forces beyond your control. This happened one evening when a guy from OkC invited me to come play pool with him and his co-workers. I was already out and about and happened to be nearby when I got his text message. Though I’d already written him off on our first date – he was a fresh implant from New England and had this whole "I usually try not to hang out with other Americans" arrogance thing that is common with new expats – I decided I didn’t want to go home yet and could do with a game or two of pool.

Why would I move to Europe just to hang out with other Americans?” OK, whatever, GUY.

I walked into the bar and was greeted with a big sweaty hug from the American dude (whom I will henceforth refer to as “L”) and dainty cheek kisses from his German co-workers, who by some happy circumstance were both super smoking hot. OK, so they were rather young, but hey, so was the night. I ordered a large beer and grabbed a pool cue – at this point, I didn’t see any need to follow any of my standing rules of exit strategy.

Halfway into my second beer, I found myself perched on a barstool against the wall, chatting with one of the cute Germans and pretending to be interested in the game of pool that was unfolding before us. It appeared that L was winning with ease, which was impressive considering his rather swift rate of beer consumption. In fact, it was impressive that he could even stand without swaying, a feat that he seemed eager to show off. By standing in one place. Directly in front of me.

He was facing the pool table with his back turned to me. Since I was understandably distracted in the (literal) face of so much Germanic beauty, it makes sense that I didn’t realize what was happening until the German co-worker finally spoke up.

“Dude, I think you have the wrong knee.”

I looked down at the German’s left leg at the same time L did. One long moment passed as all three of us stared at L’s hand firmly placed on the German’s knee, the last remnants of a drunken massage ebbing out of his fingers, a flirtatious move of which I had obviously been the intended recipient.

The Subtle Massage: It Came from Outer Space! Coming soon to a theater near you.

Who knows how long the young chap had humored L’s amorous advances – L had been standing there for quite some time. Maybe this German was a fan of knee massages. In any case, the spell was broken. L suddenly found he needed to go use the men’s room immediately, and disappeared lickity-split. Realizing that the time for subtlety had passed, I looked at the German hottie, blurted out, “Well, this was fun!”, grabbed my jacket and was out of the bar before L could return from the toilet.

Follow-up texts asking where I went and if he could meet me for a post-drinking döner kebap went unanswered.

Lesson 2: PDA is OK.

There was a study done some time ago showing that during World War Two, the differences in culture between cross-cultural couples resulted in things escalating at a rather rapid pace. There's a progression that is more or less understood among the members of a particular culture to be the correct order of increasing intimacy. For example, if you have a crush on someone, you feel like the feeling might be mutual when they return your smile. At some point, they might hold your hand. And then maybe a kiss on the cheek, leading to other kinds of kisses. And so on and so forth.

Have we progressed to eye contact yet?

But in other cultures, the order might be different. Presume for a minute that a kiss on the cheek is less intimate than holding hands for Partner A, but it's the opposite for Partner B. Partner B reaches for Partner A's hand, which is Partner B's step 1 but for Partner A is actually step 2. If Partner A can handle skipping the first step, they move on to step 3, which for Partner B might really be step 4. Skipping steps causes the whole affair to accelerate much more quickly than if the couple were from the same culture.

And before you know it, this happens.

PDA - public displays of affection – are a normal part of European life. For a German, showing affection in public probably clocks in pretty early on the intimacy scale, i.e. if you can kiss your girlfriend in private, you can kiss her in public, too. For Americans, PDA registers much later on the scale, and for some American couples there is no place for PDA beyond hand-holding.

But love is supposed to transcend all bounds, right? Maybe, maybe not. There was this one guy I met right when I got to Berlin, who I will call N. We met when I played some street music in a bar where he was hanging out with his friends, he bought me a beer, and we ended up sitting and talking at the bar until the sun came up. We went to brunch the following week and again talked for hours without realizing that any time had passed. It was magical. On our way to a Greek restaurant one summer night, standing at the street corner waiting for the light to change, I spotted a young couple behind me. They were making out. Like, parked-at-the-lookout-in-the-backseat kind of make out. I’m no doctor, but I suspect he may have been trying to remove her tonsils.

 I nudged N and nodded in the direction of the couple. He turned his head, saw the lip-locked lovers, and looked back at me with a confused expression.

"So?" he asked.

"So?!?" I said incredulously. "What do you mean, 'so'? That couple's about to make a baby right in front of us!!"

"Yeah, and so?" N countered. "I think it's nice they can express themselves like that."

Maybe N thought I was being too negative. Or perhaps he didn't like the way I seemed to view human sexuality as something that should be kept apart from the public sphere. Either way, that evening ended up being our last date, which was really too bad because N was really cute and I never even got to kiss him.

Making a baby! Right in front of you!

Lesson 3: Nakedness is not always acceptable.

This is Europe. You'd think Europeans would be OK with a little nakedness, having long ago shooed the Puritans away to the new world and with them their sex-negative beliefs. But in this case, nudity apparently wasn't welcome.

My contact with the guy behind lesson number 3 did not originate in the dark recesses of OkCupid. It started on a dance floor in Kreuzberg, sometime in the wee hours of a Saturday morning, as I was dancing with all the passion and abandon that the Berlin nightlife can bring out in a person. He appeared seemingly out of nowhere; our eyes met; we drew together like magnets – an in-person attraction that OkCupid will never be able to replicate. I felt like Cinderella at the ball as my prince took my hand and began to twirl me around on the dance floor. True, my prince was noticeably drunk, which was slightly off-putting considering my state of stone-cold sobriety that evening. Plus, he was shorter than me. But none of that was enough to overcome my attraction to him, and later, when he kissed me, I only barely registered the taste of stale alcohol on his breath, or the fact that I had to turn my head slightly downwards to meet his lips.

Flash forward to a month later. My dance floor prince (who I will refer to as M) and I had been seeing each other on a regular basis, so I figured it was high time that I got to spend the night at his place. It was a perfectly lovely evening. We sipped Berliner Kindl as he showed me around the apartment that he shared with his older brother.

Kindl: I made it sound classier than it really is. It’s just beer.

The nice wooden furnishings in all the rooms made the place look suspiciously tasteful and grown-up, which M explained to me was only because his parents had bought the flat for themselves a few years ago but gave it to their sons when they decided to move back to their hometown in Poland near Warsaw. Seeing as it was a Tuesday night and we both had to be at work early in the morning, we turned in fairly early, thus precluding me from getting to meet his brother. We heard him come in sometime after M’s bedroom door was securely shut and naked time was a foregone conclusion (at this point, the nakedness was very much OK and desired by both parties).The plan was to wake up by 6:30am so we could both get showered and ready for the day.  However, this plan did not take into account my extreme laziness. Anyone who has spent 24 consecutive hours with me knows how hard it is to get me to wake up, especially before 7am, so of course I stayed in bed and snoozed while he showered.

Some mornings, I could really have someone throw a cold one of these on me. To wake me up, you know...

M came in and kissed me on the cheek, smelling of soap and radiating wet warmth. He asked if I wanted anything for breakfast. At my simple request for coffee with milk, he said he'd make me one and disappeared from the room, at which point I managed to finally haul myself out of bed. I grabbed my clothing and thought briefly about getting dressed in M’s bedroom, but the bathroom wasn't too far away and I figured if M was making coffee in the kitchen, I could slip into the bathroom unnoticed and put my clothes on there, maybe even fit in a quick shower if time would allow.

I stole away completely naked  into the hall, and in a few quick steps had made it to the bathroom, noting along the way the noises coming from the kitchen just a few feet further in front of me. One hand held my balled-up clothing clutched to my side while the other reached for the bathroom door handle. In the next second I was inside the bathroom with the door closed behind me - and was shocked to find that I was not the only person there. Standing face-to-face with me was M, toothbrush in hand, mouth agape in utter surprise.

The look on M’s face was priceless. I'm sure my expression conveyed a healthy dose of shock too, as I realized that the person in the kitchen was not M but M's brother, and that he could have easily caught me dodging around his flat wearing not a single thread of clothing.

“What… what are you doing?” M sputtered.
Naturally I reacted by bursting out laughing, as I am wont to do in awkward/embarrassing situations. M started laughing too, but not in a hearty conspiratorial kind of way – more like a nervous, confused, “oh my god I just spent the night with a crazy girl” sort of way. In retrospect, I don’t think he thought the situation was at all funny.

We rode the train together to Mitte. The ride was spent mostly in subdued silence, which I attributed to the early hour and the fact that we were on a German subway train, the interior decibel levels of which hardly ever exceed that of even the quietest of American libraries. In reality, M was most likely calculating how probable it was that I would remember where he lived. My stop came. I kissed M goodbye and got off the train - and that was the last time I ever saw him. My hope that my little nudie move would come across as cute and spontaneous never panned out - I guess the incident was too harrowing for him, a bold moment of truth from which there was no return.

Lesson 4: Social media integration is hard.

I really pity the younger generations. They have to grow up in a world where all of their actions are reblogged, retweeted, shared and liked across several online platforms. It makes it hard to keep anything secret, even if you’re not one much for sharing all your comings and goings with your Facebook friends. And being totally offline is near impossible – your friends will tag you in their statuses and photos regardless.  

Excuse me while I put on my old lady hat so I can tell you how it was back in my day.

My first relationship in high school was launched without the aid of constant communication via texting or Twitter. The guy I liked gave me a ride home from orchestra rehearsal, and I attempted to ask him to the school dance via a note attached to a small box of chocolates I left in his car. The next two weeks of Winter Break were spent in sluggish agony, lolling listlessly around the house, remaining at all times within earshot of the phone so I could hopefully beat my parents to it when he finally called. But the call never came. Since I didn’t have his number, it wasn’t until school started again in January that I found out that he never found the chocolates. He still went to the dance with me. I don’t think it was out of pity because we ended up dating for a year.

And ended up doing a lot of this... locked in a closet.

I was 15. It would be another 3 years until I got my first cell phone. There was no way I could imagine then what teens in that same age range would be doing just 10 years later – uploading pictures of their sleepovers to Facebook, following their crush’s check-ins on Foursquare, and doing whatever it is we are to understand under the mysterious term “sexting”.  

Might this be sexting?

I admit it – I’m still unclear on the rules regarding this newfangled technology. My two longest relationships after high school began back before texting was a common practice – you only did it when it you were somewhere so loud that you couldn’t hear each other on the phone. One of my boyfriends didn’t even have a cell phone or Facebook when we started dating. And for all my dramatizations in my dating lessons 1-3 above, I suspect the real reason that things fell apart was that I am inept at flirt texting. The only contact info I had for N and M were their cell phone numbers, and every time I got a message from them, I had no idea how long to wait before texting them back. Text too soon and you come off as desperate. Wait too long and you seem uninterested and uninvolved. And what if you were the one to send the last text message? Do you have to wait for them to reply before you can text them again? Do SMS have to be exchanged at a ratio of 1:1?

The signing of the Equal Trade Texting Act of 1643

And that’s just texting. I have no idea how to integrate Facebook into all of this. I’m not even on Twitter.  Furthermore, Germans are strange when it comes to social media and data protection – many use pseudonyms on Facebook, so even if you search for them, you won’t be able to find them. I’m not sure I’d want to have been friends with N and M on Facebook anyway – texting with them was difficult enough, thank you very much. But I am Facebook friends with guys I have been involved with to some extent or another over the last few years, and it makes me wonder: should I still be friends with these people? Do I want them knowing what I am up to nowadays, where I’m going, who I’m hanging out with? Some of them have moved away from Berlin, some of them have steady girlfriends – one has even gotten married in the time between when we stopped seeing each other and now. So if anybody reading this has any handy dating tips, for technologically-inept expats or otherwise, please leave me a comment and let me know.

After all, it’s Valentine’s Day!

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Why Europeans think America is crazy

Moving abroad does a lot of things to a person. It teaches you about other cultures and customs, allows you to travel to exciting places, and lends you new perspectives, traditions, and habits. It also forces you to more closely scrutinize your native culture, since you are constantly surrounded by people doing things differently than you do, and they question your methods, which no one at home would do because they all do it your way. In turn, you get to share your methods with them.
"No one understands me here."

Your mentality begins to change, too – after living in a foreign culture for a while, you find that you start to adopt certain thought patterns.And you start to forget a little about how you used to think when you were living at home. At some point, I realized I no longer saw anything abnormal about kicking off a night of dancing at 1 in the morning. I long ago stopped thinking it strange to drink beer in the streets. Customer service doesn't exist here. Staring is totally allowed. I no longer feel any rage when I read motorist vs. cyclist articles like this one, because it's a non-issue in Berlin. These are all things that are normal for me now.

In Europe, cyclists only ever get yelled at by other cyclists.

It's still interesting to me, however, to encounter negative stereotypes about my native culture. Many people I meet in Berlin are internationally-minded and try to focus on the person instead of judging them on the culture from which they hail. But stereotypes still pop up, even if people generally don't believe them to be true. I appreciate these alternative views, even if they are in part totally misguided (one German guy I met was under the impressions that no American has ever cooked, ever, and we all opt for drive-thru burgers and fries for every meal; another was pretty sure that bicycles don't exist in the States). It's good to be able to view your culture through a foreign perspective. And some of them I absolutely agree with, because if you examine the idea of America for too long, it becomes really difficult to explain to Europeans how you could even think that Americans are not completely off-the-wall crazy.

European artist's rendering of what America looks like at ground level.

I've collected a few of the more extreme examples of good old patriotic insanity for your enjoyment.

Obesity (and general over-consumption). Have we been told enough that we're the fattest nation? After living among the generally-slim Germans for two years, I can say with some certainty that they may have a point. When your body is used to you putting a lot of food and drink into it, it expects to always get that same level of continuous intake. It doesn’t help that consumption is encouraged in more ways than one: economically (“the more we buy, the more our economy flourishes”), socioeconomically (“the more I possess, the more I am valued/envied by my peers”), and by all forms of advertisement (of course this drives people’s businesses – the more you buy, the more they make).
And don’t even get me started on ways that American culture encourages everyone in the society to consume food and drink. In every office at every meeting, there’s a box of donuts or a tray of bagels for the attendees. Walk into any college party, you'll be greeted by beer bongs and beer pong, and there’s always that guy next to the keg encouraging you to chug. It’s offensive to refuse cakes and cookies that were lovingly made at home by coworkers and friends.

Quick! Have another before someone else eats them all.

This social pressure starts at a very young age. In the cafeteria at school, boys show off their masculinity by eating the biggest hamburger they can get their hands on, and soft drink vending machines line the school corridors. Eating a whole pizza at a sleepover is seen as an impressive feat, not as a binge of revolting proportions. Groups of teenagers make a pit stop at 7-Eleven after a trip to the drive-thru at Jack in the Box to see how many different Icee flavors they can pack into a 64 oz Big Gulp. Meanwhile in Germany, eating at your desk while working is almost a social faux pas, and schoolchildren don’t eat at school – classes end at 2pm and they go home where a home-cooked, (hopefully) healthy meal awaits them.

American culture doesn't define “hunger” the same way that Europeans do. When someone in Europe says they are hungry, it’s not because the food looks so delicious that it absolutely must be eaten*, or that boredom is the motivating factor, or that it’s been 4 hours since the last meal so logically they should eat again. It’s because they’re actually hungry. And they don’t sit and desperately shovel piles of food into their mouths, or tear into a buffet, or hit up a drive-thru ASAP. They sit, they converse, they enjoy their meal along with their company and the atmosphere. There’s no hurry to get the meal over with. What are you doing afterwards, anyway? Most Americans probably budget no more than an hour for dinner at a restaurant and have plans to go do something else afterwards. Europeans have made one plan for the evening: dinner. Thus, no rush.

You might have to deal with a lot of this on an evening out in Europe, though.

*Side note: There’s actually a special word in French specifically for the concept of eating something extremely delicious even when you’re not hungry. In English we just call it “eating”, plain and simple, which speaks to the mentality surrounding food.

My first trip to Germany in 2004 was the first time I became aware that you could grow up and not be fat. Before that, I'd just assumed that people always gained weight as they grew older – it was the natural way of things, and nearly every adult I’d ever met in my childhood followed this pattern. An unavoidable fate. Now I know that’s not the case, as there are lots of older people walking around Berlin in the same shape they were in when they were 20, if not better. (Wrinkles, however, ARE unavoidable, no matter which side of the pond you're on.)

"Getting fatter" is synonymous with "getting older"... right?

Gun control. Crime levels in Europe are much lower than in the US, at least here in Germany. I’ve felt much safer in Berlin than I ever have in Seattle, even in high security places like the UW campus or wealthy neighborhoods like Queen Anne. Keep in mind, too, that Berlin has a pretty bad reputation among the Germans for being fairly dangerous. I’ve lived in both the Kreuzberg and Neukölln neighborhoods, and my band's studio is in Wedding – the three most dangerous areas of Berlin, if you believe the rumors – and have never had a problem. Yet any time I go to other parts of Germany and talk to other (usually older) Germans about Berlin, they ask me how I can possibly feel safe living in a neighborhood riddled with drug use, heavily-armed gangs, and foreigners.

Wrong Foreigner.

Does it simply come down to the cultural divide? That people here are more at ease around other members of the public? Does the socialist system force people to give themselves more pause, to look around themselves and realize that the others are humans just like them, with similar wishes, thoughts, and desires? Or is it because of gun control?
It’s hard to say. But we do know that public shootings are much less common in countries with strict gun control laws. At any rate, I never have a good answer  as to why us Americans hold on so fiercely to the 2nd Amendment. And I sure as heck don't have a good explanation for this guy (especially starting at 1:50):

Debt. Leave it to German practicality to determine that if you don’t have money, you shouldn’t be spending money. Does that plan sound like it will stimulate our economy? NO!! …except that it totally works. It’s like the US economy put itself on a crash diet called “BAM: Lose Sixty Pounds in Ten Weeks. Like every fad diet, it provides quick results, but they don’t stick. The weight comes right back on once the diet is over because the weight loss isn’t healthy. The Germans, meanwhile, are more practical and have made their diet their lifestyle. Whole grains, veggies, and fruit every day, accompanied by lean meat once in a while. They don’t need to lose weight because they never gained it in the first place. (Not to say this is actually the German diet. I still haven’t figured out why everyone here is so skinny, except to say that they grow up simply eating fewer calories per day than Americans, even though meat and potatoes are the basis of almost every midday meal, and every vegetable dish involves some sort of cream sauce. Am I still talking about the economy here?)

I think I forgot what I was talking about.

Right, so the US figured out a few decades ago how to get quick results. Easy. Spend money you don’t have. That only works for a while, until someone is stuck with a bill they can’t pay (read: trillions of dollars in national debt). Not that German businesses don’t use loans, or isn’t in debt to foreign countries. But personal debt is simply not as common here. People tend to pay upfront in full when they buy a car. Go to dinner with friends, and everyone pays their portion in cash - none of this "can you please split the bill 6 ways on 6 different cards?" business. This way, you have a better understanding of what is actually affordable. It's not embarrassing here, either, to live within your means or to speak bluntly about your financial situation, or simply say, "I can't go to that event, because I don't have the money." Again, German practicality wins out.

Healthcare, vacation, and parental leave. My company has headquarters in both the US and Berlin. The US co-workers are always astounded to find out that someone on maternal leave is actually coming back to work someday, because that person has usually been away for about an entire year (under German law, mothers can take up to 14 months of paid maternal leave). Similarly, if you call out sick on a Monday, your co-workers will assume that you will be out for the rest of the week, because you will have been to the doctor, and the doctor will most likely tell you to stay home for a while and write you a sick leave note that will be valid until EOB Friday. In fact, your coworkers expect you to stay home if you are sick, and not come back until you're completely better. They don't want you to infect them and their families by proxy. There is no limit on sick days one can take in a year - you take as many as your doctor thinks you need. In the US, if you stayed home for an entire week, most of your sick days would be used up, and in the worst cases you wouldn't even get paid. And that doctor's visit? Completely covered under your health insurance, every last red cent. No co-pay, either - the most out-of-pocket you ever have to pay is the quarterly fee of 10 euros (which, as with complaints regarding tuition fees, I have heard many a German whine about, which makes me want to grab them by the shoulders and look them square in the eye as I shout, "You. Have. No. Idea.")
Need I say more?

Vacation is also something of which Americans get far too little. If you work in Germany, you get at least 24 vacation days per year; some companies even offer up to 30. Germans have two things to say about this issue: Das sind aber wenig, seid ihr bescheuert? ("Jeez, that's not very much, are you guys crazy?") when referring to our system, and soviel Urlaub muss sein (“everyone  needs at least that much vacation”) when referring to their own. I don't know anyone who would say Americans work too little. All I know is that when I first got to Germany, I felt like I was in vacation heaven. I could take 3 weeks off from work and not have to quit my job, and get paid for it. Now, 18 months later, it feels more like some sort of God-given right, and I have absolutely no clue how I will re-adjust when I'm back stateside.

What? You mean I don't get to stay here for a month??!?

Dating. Germans don’t have this institution of going on dates. I mean, people go on dates here, but they had to import all the English words for it. Wir sind beide single, kommst du mit mir auf ein Date?

"It's not vat it looks like. Zis iz not a date."

Because of this, I can only assume that not only the words but also the institution came from Anglo-Saxon culture. Being a single person in a foreign culture leads to all sorts of silly situations, based not only on the fact that cultural missteps are rampant, but that romance/attraction/sex is involved, and that is bound to lead to hilarity even without the added complication of cultural barriers. I could go on, but I think I'd rather dedicate a whole post to this topic, because this kind of high-caliber comedy gold cannot go un-mined.