Social Fabric Part I

Social Fabric Part I 

A few nights ago I spent several hours on the phone taking to my good friend Michael. We do this a lot especially since I moved to Germany. Since moving he too has moved east coast to west coast. So when we can make time we do not waste it on formalities. We prefer to engage in two to three hour discussions, occasionally hanging up or muting for life's pitstops but we make the effort to connect. He is my confidant as well as a metaphysical swami of sorts so we tend to ramble from pop culture, to gossip, to motivational speak and so on without effort. He likes to open the door as he says to difficult subject matter we might need to unpack. And last we spoke he lead me into the delicate comparison and contrast of the United States of America to Germany. This has been a topic I have been dreading since my arrival at "home" three weeks ago. I didn't want to get into it then and I never quite understood how to cover it here. I hate the format of lists and I was now way too far removed for an all out editorial of the good vs the bad. But then he said something that inspired me.

"Europe has more moral and ethical sensibilities versus America’s desire to gain profitability out of every resource" 

He spoke to the social fabric of the country we know and love. He spoke to the general suffering rolled into the daily existence that is being American. He told me I could cover it without judging the values of others but rather to be insightful and maybe in that create a positive impact. And here I was thinking the only way I could go about the subject of things here and there would only be negative. It also occurred to me I hadn't any ability to analyze or apply what I had learned in Germany in my short time back in the states. So I had to be more conscious of what exactly I had learned during my almost three year experience over there and really try to embrace it or forgo it while here. I had to remain objective going forward and know that the social fabric in each place is cut entirely different. I also had to accept that maybe the two would never go together and could be impossible to combine or mend into one. This is fine. I am not trying to save the fucking world. I am just talking about my life between two places - a very small example within a gigantic, diverse universe. I am not here to do some sort of popularity campaign on Deutschland and I sure as shit am not in the business of making America seem remotely great. But what I could do is abandon all American social cues around manners, greeting and getting into lines. I could also be devastatingly punctual, direct and cold to see how far that gets me here in North Carolina. Or I could really delve into the parameters that make both countries unique to each other in a way that could be impactful. Micheal said this. I sure as hell didn't.

Nothing is any particular order and I am just getting started...

Safety - Sicherheit

In Germany, I rarely feel insecure about my personal safety. I sometimes leave the windows open, the doors unlocked and I may go to the mull downstairs or the grocery store on the corner. At times my husband reminds me that I need to be more careful about such things but in my opinion there isn't a need to worry. I was raised in an inner city neighborhood about ten minutes outside of Manhattan. So from a very young age my senses were heightened and I was forced to be aware of my surroundings. We later moved to Florida where I came of age in a suburban setting but only then did I learn to ride a bike or have the ability to go out alone. Crime was sort of forgotten about or at least wasn't as distracting as before but over the next decade crime also had an uptick there. So when I later visited Europe I felt safe and if anything crime was typically associated with tourists. In Germany, I felt like there was absolutely nothing I had to worry about it.  There weren't any crimes of opportunity as there is the general rule if it isn't yours do not bother it and that includes peoples bikes, purses, cars and homes. My neighbors never had break ins. There were no assaults or rapes at least not in proximity to me. And because everyone had a living wage with no access to guns there was no violent crime. But the moment I landed in the states my senses were again heightened as I was traveling alone. I took multiple trains and flights over a 24 hour span and most of time I was extremely tired. I was focused on watching all my belongings, my phone and travel documents. The catch was I had a European phone that was utterly useless after my second leg. I felt so vulnerable as I couldn't contact anyone if I missed a transfer or had any trouble. My mind ran with all the possibilities of being preyed upon as a single woman traveling ... being robbed, sex trafficking or just getting so lost without GPS. In Germany I could seek out a police officer for general assistance but in the states I would be questioned as if I was a criminal myself. If I asked a random passerby to use their personal cell phone I would be begging or harassing. And of course I couldn't use a businesses phone or find a pay phone thanks to drug dealing and phone scams. So I was a walking opportunity the entire time which gave me so much anxiety. I felt like I had entered a space where everyone was on guard. I was feeling fear instead of nothing at all and that was one of my first impressions returning to my own country. And I would prefer to be fearless again.

Economy - Wirtschaft

On paper and in the news America tells a flawed story about its finances allowing other world powers to believe we are doing better than expectation. Yes, unemployment is down and spending is up but those data points do not connect with other economic pitfalls. Most of the workforce while gainfully employed is only working part time. Unfortunately, thirty or less hours doesn't allow one their basic necessities or access to adequate housing, healthcare, transportation etc. Right now there is nowhere in America where a person can work AND afford housing. So most of these employed yet under valued and under paid employees live at home with their parents, with roommates or are apart of the working homeless. There aren't enough babies being born to surpass the senior citizens soon to depart and that is because young people cannot procreate thanks to a lack of a real paycheck to provide for offspring. Now this too is happening in Germany but that is because young people are too busy living their best lives to conceive and the old folk are supported by social economics so they won't die. But Americans deemed so lazy to Germans are actually working themselves to death just trying to meet the bare minimum of their household expenses. For most Americans there is no dream outside of luck. Wherein Germans are trained into careers from a young age, gainfully employed as teens or attending university free of charge and going onto to live lives supplemented by a boasting economy, strong social benefits and plenty of incentives to work until retirement. Germans do not have to choose between food, bills or medical care where most Americans of all social classes and tax brackets make these sort of choices every single payday. Now I can't tell anyone how to challenge this but I do know someone is going to have to cut our people a check or cancel existing debt so Americans can re-stimulate the economy which will boast hiring, domestic resources like manufacturing and re-structure the way our economy thrives. For now we are barely surviving.

Food - Essen/Grocery - Lebensmittel

Probably the most devastating experience I have had since returning to the states is grocery shopping. We have yet to leave the grocery store spending less than $30 with a cartful of items. Sadly, we get a few things really minding our budget and impulses and still wind up spending $35-45 and leaving with a few bags of basic needs. My mother lives on a fixed income and she doesn't receive any social supplements to decrease her household bills or put towards the cost of food. When she goes to the grocery store she is literally choosing between making a meal, paying a household bill or taking care of a pending medical need. She struggles with nutrition as well as being able to stock her pantry for long term stays indoors. There isn't a grocery store within a 2 mile radius of her home. There was a convenience store with gas pumps but they closed this week due to crime. So now if she wanted a carton of milk she would have to walk at minimum 2.9 miles to access a decent grocery store. And that store really doesn't have a large selection of anything including milk in the dairy case. However, in Germany there is a grocery store for every man, woman and child. If there isn't a full service grocery store there is a mini "city" version, a kiosk open extended hours or at least a variety or drug store offering some basic and bio consumables. Frankly, if you don't have a car in America to shop for grocery you do not eat. And when shopping grocery items are 100 - 300% higher in cost here which is baffling as a lot of what is sourced comes from here! While some produce, meat and dairy that is produced here is cheaper than abroad it isn't always accessible so the cost varies depending on where you live which is unfair. The Carolinas are coastal but huge and we are virtually landlocked by the Appalachians so we pay more for tomatoes, lettuce or exotics like bananas and mangoes. Where it gets down right insane is even discount stores are overpriced so there is no way to bargain shop. A large container of yogurt in Germany can range from .19 to .99 cents regardless of store or brand. Plain Greek yogurt even at Aldi's here starts at $3.49 a container. The same can be said for milk, eggs and other vital consumables. Add in the cost of the grocery and wear & tear on a vehicle all necessary items can cost way too much for the average American. Surely, Germans don't have a lot of selection, many things are are seasonal and meat is outrageous but think about the environmental footprint of those dilemmas. Most big box stores here are just wasting all these year round. So much food is injected with hormones. There are hybrid produce items to meet demands. Americans are simply killing themselves consuming this stuff. Meanwhile, I paid almost $9 for celery root at a high end grocery store where Oma's are getting the root, carrots, leek and a spring of parsley a Euro. I would much rather have a soup bundle than be ripped off paying $1.89 for preservatives I still need to add water to.

Waste - Mull

Thankfully my mother lives in a "green" community but like most American neighborhoods you opt into recycling. She pays for the proper receptacles and pays monthly for the city to dispose of their contents. There may be a bottle return or a recycling center for items that do not fit in the bi-weekly collection ie microwaves, printers etc but that would require a long drive. So there is no convenience of pfand or locally accessible drop off points for glass or paper. Her collection is mixed and the city provides a list showing what are proper recyclables by code which should be visible on the item like the "6" on a the bottom of an eligible styrofoam cup. If she makes the mistake of putting a plastic bag or the wrong code items in her mix she will be fined or lose the right to her receptacle. If she self sorts the local library has a paper recycling drive twice a year where they offer to shred all documents while you watch. In my former apartment building we didn't have county access to such programs and the city wanted to make things "easier" on itself so there was no recycling. But I have always strived to keep a low footprint living in America - using the garbage disposal, condensing my packaging, practicing the waste not want not method in my kitchen and holding onto things like cans or bottles I could walk to a nearby business that did recycle. But even the act of doing that is considering illegal where you could face fines or jail time for "illegally dumping" as trash has ownership here. Even a homeless person digging in a trash can for food would make them subject for an arrest. So with all that being said most Americans could give a flying elephant fuck about the amount of waste they produce. While they sort of care for the environment no one is providing tools for them to fall in line with safeguarding it. Despite my mother sorting at home and actively recycling, she uses way too many single use paper and plastic products. She takes all her meals with disposable plates and utensils. She doesn't use kitchen hand towels so every time she washes her hands or cleans she goes to paper towel by the wad. She loves packaging from styrofoam to plastic bags so she will never decline a bag or forgo a box. She reuses most of these things but if her collection grows excessive she isn't driving to a nearby store to return them. As for efficiency, she runs her gas heating 24/7 and washes clothing and linens multiple times a week. She starts her car and runs it to "warm it up" at least 30 mins before driving it. She prefers paper bills, receipts and sleeps to the sound of her television. I guess I am moving into efficiency now...

Efficiency - Leistungsfähigkeit

As much as I believe efficiency correlates with innovation and ingenuity I know that people work with what they have. Germans just have the knack to make lemondade out of lemons. They have a post war mentality that has crossed generations to the point even outsiders fall in line. I am not one of those outsiders. I am not on time. I am not quick on my feet. I prefer quality of life and I'll explore that in my conclusion during part II. But for now I sort of wonder why Germans embrace hard processes like laundering ones clothes all day long or walking to and from multiple compartmentalized shops for their everyday needs. The American in me wishes to wash twenty loads at the same temperature and settings in less than five hours. I also love getting in my SUV, going to one place and accomplishing everything at the 11th hour. So yes I prefer our inefficient and clunky household appliances as they are all I have ever known and they get the job done. But I do find myself pondering on the fumes emitting from my mothers gas dryer out of the back of our garage into the air. I also wonder why would anyone want to stand in a rounded tub to shower without a handheld wand. I do not understand why someone would drive perfectly able bodied children to and from school and sporting activities multiple times daily. And I will always be irritated working alongside people who cannot make good decisions and touch the same thing twice. Maybe that is why immigrants of all backgrounds supersede Americans because we are just too busy playing catch up. In that way I see Germans working smarter not harder at a lot of everyday practices be it working, recycling, tidying, shortcutting time or demanding that transportation run fluidly. Americans have no real important demands at least not for the greater good. While one or a few people want the bus to run regularly there are hundreds that flat out don't for reasons that only make sense to and for them. So while Germany is running things on a better frequency and scale. America is just getting by on thoughts and prayers. And most of how we function is based on personal survival and comfort versus to save the planet, to help others or being the best we can be. And oddly enough I sort of prefer the get by mentality unless it is hard for me and me alone. And right now I am living in both worlds and observing so nothing is applicable. I know I am fine when most everyone is really suffering with blinders on. In example, let us use the Coke buying phenomenon. A German selects one can or bottle of soda from the pack of 4 and then recycles said can for a monetary reward. A Chinese American will buy hundreds of packs of 24, cuts the rear of the pack, punches their fist through pushing the cans into a large cold storage and then resells them at a 200% markup to those who will pay extra for convenience. The American walks proudly out of Walmart with 10 packs of Coke, fills their entire refrigerator with all the cartons and then pours 8 of them into a throwaway plastic SOLO cup multiple times daily and wonders why there is no more salmon in the stream. I prefer to be that American who just doesn't drink soda and fills my bottle with water and if its hot outside I'll use a Tervis with ice.

Work - Arbeit

When I met my German husband I was perpetually unemployed and had a terrible time finding real work. I wasn't alone as most American millennials (sadly this includes 1981) cannot find career level jobs even with college degrees and or experience. I went into retail at a young age which allowed me to make good money and have benefits without having to compete with college educated or skilled workers. Most of my peers in retail had no secondary education so with my minimal college attendance I was sought after and well paid. However, when I got tired of working on my feet for long hours, weekends and holidays the corporate world wasn't too keen on my retail zeal. In order for me to have the cushy Monday through Friday 9 to 5 job I had dreamed of I had to finish my bachelors and even when I did I would be paid less than what I was making in retail. I felt trapped and in order to free myself I began to interview for jobs I knew I didn't want hoping to get my foot in the door in better companies or organizations. Most of the dream jobs I applied for I could have done blindfolded but I never met qualifications as I instead had been folding jeans for fifteen years. I tried networking and embracing nepotism but most knew my work ethic - non-conformist, super liberal and anti-authority just clock in and clock out. While I was a valuable employee - reliable, fun and dedicated I didn't like being tied down. While I maintained work at certain companies for multiple years I always randomly left for whatever opportunity that looked good at the time. This sort of ruins your reputation in a very small competitive circle of employers and their recruiters and HR departments. And now that I've been off the grid and a kingmaker for years all I can find is minimum wage work. And the minimum wage in NC is currently $7.25 per hour which working part time will give me around $600 a month after taxes. To put that into perspective my husband makes 10 times that on a monthly basis as a German soldier. So imagine those in Germany that are educators, professionals, doctors etc and how much their quality of life compares to the average working American. Then compare how much vacation/holiday and sick time Germans get in comparison to an American. And the concept that Americans don't work as hard is a dying trope. Most salaried workers in America are working 60 to 80 hours a week with 20 to 40 of those hours going unpaid. Americans are spending more time at work than they do at home and also more time commuting to work than they do spending time with their families or even sleeping. Imagine functioning like that until your 60s granted if you can afford to retire. Most Germans know they will earn more than a living wage, have logical working hours and plenty of room and financial freedom to make good choices. Americans do not have that luxury. While I am only passing though I am again working as a part time, underpaid, uninsured employee. I have no right to work. My job doesn't guarantee my hours and there is no official contract. My employer bears no liability if I become ill or injured. I also do not earn any vacation/sick time or retirement. I am also considered temporary and seasonal and there is about twenty others all competing for the same set of hours which will be gradually decreased as we play "Game of Thrones". I would much rather be a Hausfrau with an allowance. My nails stay intact and I don't have to pay taxes to anyone but the radio and television.

Public Transportation -Verkehrsmittel

I refuse to harp on this topic as I believe it requires its own blog. What I can say is somebody lied when they said 2019 would have flying cars, hover boards and high speed monorails. No of this is happening anywhere so I cannot say one country is better or worse at providing a people moving system straight out of the future. Right now the state of public transportation is a mess worldwide and so many people rely upon cars to get them from point A to point B. And until the need for a personal vehicle is no more mass transit will always remain an afterthought for society. However it is totally off putting to see other "civilizations" making way for great innovation in mass transit for their people and America just sitting on their hands. While specific states and cities have taken it upon themselves to create systems to alleviate traffic congestion and pollution from vehicles the country as a whole has no plan. There was a nationwide railroad and later an interstate system and then nothing else. The airlines aren't doing their part to make air travel less expensive or efficient so a lot of Americans have never been on a plane. Only certain major cities have created localized mass transit beyond taxi companies and bus services. Amtrak the only major railway commuter service is outdated and slow. They are constantly removing features from their already sparse offerings and all of these railway systems throughout the US use existing tracks that are shared with cargo and freight trains. This is why railway transit takes days to get to a destination that can be met in a car in hours. Subways, L's and other tram systems are expensive and lack the evolution like systems in Europe and Asia. Locally here the buses stop running at 6pm, the single commuter train that connects three cities is $19 one way with no frills and no one complains. Surely, the bikes and scooters are here as well as the ride share apps but Americans simply prefer the so-called convenience of driving and maintaining an automobile. Oh and feet, Americans don't even want to walk from the back of a parking lot. Most cities don't even have sidewalks or designated pedestrian only zones. Now am I disappointed yes but there are not enough people to join me to make any changes. Meanwhile Germans are all sighing in unison when their DB train is a millisecond late even when another will arrive in three minutes almost 24/7 366 days a leap year. All is so convenient that they have the nerve to ban ride shares or banish public bike and scooter systems. So with all of that being said I would prefer "Blade Runner".

Racism - Rassismus

Sadly this is a talking point in this day and age. It is also a deciding factor of where and how Black & brown people move about the world. Unfortunately, racism exists everywhere even in the "Motherland" and there is no escaping it. The best way to deal with it is to try to avoid the places where is it the most active. America's subtle racism is a constant but the obvious and sometimes violent versions are on the rise again. Drump's America is full of emboldened supremacists who are now making the effort to make Black and brown people feel exiled on land they helped create. The concept is to MAGA us away. The reality is America has been the opposite of great since its inception as its founding fathers did steal and enslave people from another land out of laziness & greed. In some ill twisted fate we survived that turmoil and have become our own people sort of marooned here and ostracized by our oppressors. And no matter how much we forget, forgive, evolve or ignore the racism stays alive running parallel to all our strides. So a lot of us imagine that racism is an American problem and we travel expecting it to fade far, far away in the background only to experience it with a twang elsewhere. But I always remind people there is truly no place like home because since being back in the states for barely three weeks ...

  • I have been pulled over by law enforcement twice
  • Someone has followed me and requested my shopping bags (not my purse) in a store
  • I have been "helped" in a store that doesn't provide help
  • I am talked to in a tone that implies I should know better as a "Black gal"
  • I've been cut in front of in a long line with a reverse apology bordered with "I didn't see you" and "I'm not going to fight with you" instead of silent acknowledgment of an offense
  • I've been treated with a hostility I didn't insight in any capacity so * Oprah hands *

And this is fine as I grew up with these occurrences. However, in Germany the subtleties are abrasive to a point I prefer the above.

  • I am shoved or pushed and sometimes jeered at
  • I am asked to leave my purse and or shopping bags in stores or businesses where there is no such policy at all
  • People have volunteered to help me or fill out forms for me and assumed I was from ...
  • I am questioned as if there are things I couldn't actually know or understand because it is assumed I am from ...
  • My purse and or shopping bags are looked inside of without my permission
  • I am made to jump through hoops for normal processes like getting an appointment or managing an immigration requirement where as others requests are automatically granted
  • I am ignored in settings where others are visible but not me
  • People actively do not sit near or with me in settings where the seat next to me is the last remaining ie on the train, at a bar or in an office
Now in America I can make me disappointment heard and in some cases I am granted some resolution. I can complain in the moment by confronting someone or speaking to their supervisor. I can complain later by posting an online review or writing a formal complaint letter. I can also contact specific agencies if I feel discriminated against while banking, buying a home or at my job. But in Germany there is no one to complain to. German culture frowns upon grievances and Europeans in general do not believe racism or any discriminatory practice exists. So in many countries people abuse people over their sex, religion, age whatever you can think of all the time and no one does anything. Most of the overt racist incidents that occur are only brought to light because of the digital age of smart phones and social media. Otherwise the incidents that take place daily are not recorded and cannot be made visible to others. But what is tragic is the incidents in America that lead to violence even when recorded are not brought to justice and the people that do not survive their oppression are made silent in death. I don't have to concern myself with that next step in Germany. So when I am shoved I could totally chase that person and get an officer involved to assist me but I constantly ask myself is it worth it. Meanwhile I could be merely walking here and someone could call the cops and the both of them could make me a victim to their ignorance. So in both scenarios I may assert myself as I am not going to lay down and take racism anywhere. But I know in Germany no one will flinch and maybe here I can draw a crowd or shutter a business for simply trying to make me feel uncomfortable for the color of my skin. It is a slippery slope and as much as I would like to just shop in a store and be left to my own devices I would prefer it with supposed help then someone rifling through my handbag as I am paying them my money. So even with the awareness I could die fighting back here I'll take it as I do need to travel 3,965 miles to get more of the same.

Technology - Technologie

I write to you stealing my neighbors internet from my mothers computer which is the only thing in the house that can connect to it. The data is so bad in this area our phone carrier sent us an extender for the LTE to work. However, if we fail to use it and send it back it will cost us $175 restocking fee. But I can go pretty much anywhere and there is free wi-fi for me to use. And maybe soon we will get our own wi-fi connection in the house but even a low speed internet service will cost us $85 a month so at least our phones have unlimited everything for under $60 a month each. In Germany, our internet and phone service is low cost but the service is absolute shit. I can barely use my phone for basic things like calls or surfing the web. I am also restricted to a shared 5GBs of monthly data which I blow through and then I am throttled until the billing cycle renews. We require a WLAN extender in our apartment and we constantly reset it as it buffers at the worst times like in the middle of Saturday fußball and during Tatort. Gratis WLAN is a chore as most places do not maintain it or require a purchase for you to access it. I mean Germany doesn't even provide water fountains so virtually everywhere has no free wi-fi access. As for digitized payments and processes well cash is still king in Deutschland and everyone sort of clings to the old way of doing everything. Doctors offices and hospitals are not paperless yet. Government agencies have cashier departments where you have to go from floor to floor to pay for a license. Online banking depends on who you bank with and that also decides how you shop online as some banks require like five step verification just to make an online purchase. In stores, you can pay with contact cards and devices but still cash rules. All the beacon and mass marketing attempts like PayBack are seldom embraced as no one trusts anything or anyone seeking information no matter how useless. But with that being said I still get occasional three second missed calls from Nigeria which cost us 25 Euros if we dial them back. But that happened once in three years where I have had a new number for all of a few weeks and I've been inundated with Google code scams, robocalls from Duke Energy which is not a provider in this area let alone something I subscribe to, my debit card was charged twice by an online retailer and yes I am stealing my neighbors wi-fi. So who is more sound in the data department --- this one goes to DE.

Stay Tuned as I wrap things up with my thoughts on Leisure, Healthcare, Politics, Religion, Children and Quality of Life in Part II here.