Culture Shock #1: Your Money’s No Good Here

People have asked me how I’m settling in here, and the truth is—it’s been quite easy. Unlike living in Thailand, which was for the first few months so unsettlingly foreign and where almost everything seemed like a struggle, getting my start in Germany has been virtually seamless…though unlike in Thailand, adjusting to the weather is infinitely harder.

To be fair, I have a lot of help. A built-in network of friends made the city feel like home almost immediately; whenever I feel lonely, there’s someone to spend time with. These same friends have also helped with the overwhelming things—arguing with Telekom about my internet services, negotiating the rental agreement, translating the endless stream of letters I get in the mail (more on that later). Culture shock has been pretty minimal, but over the next few posts, I’ll share a few things that give me pause.


#1: Cash over Credit

I come from America. A healthy credit line is like our life’s blood. How else do you pay for things you can’t afford?

I’m not one for keeping up with the Jones’, but like any good ‘Murican, I have a visa or two in my wallet. And having them was basically essential when I first arrived—without a bank account it was exorbitantly expensive to get cash money, so it made more sense to charge the visa and pay it off from my U.S. accounts. The Chase Sapphire card was designed to look expensive, with a clean face and a heavier plastic that makes it feel fancier (and makes you feel good to forking it over to make your purchases). Almost without fail when I hand over my Chase here, the cashier makes a noise of surprise: “Oof, schwer” or “Wow, schön”.

The fail? At IKEA, of all places. Where you cannot pay with credit, despite making major home purchases. That 900EUR couch? The 400EUR bed? All of the other assorted sundries that you don’t need but wind up in your basket due to their innovative and beguiling layout? You better have cash on hand.

In Germany, credit cards tend to be issued from the banks themselves—this concept of miles, rewards, and points for credit cards you have to pay for is baffling to them. “You can sign up for a credit card,” my banker assured me, “for when you want to make online purchases.” For the day-to-day, better get used to waiting in line at the ATM and carrying around a wad of bills that would make Beyoncé blush.

Pro Tip: In case you’re also new to Germany and need to purchase furniture from IKEA, you can flout their system by ordering online. Major credit cards are accepted on their online shop—and home delivery means you don’t have to spend an hour in the parking lot trying to Tetris your purchases to fit. 

Pro Tip #2: Get a coin purse, ziploc bag, or (like me) an old mint tin to keep track of coins. Unlike in the States, coins are real money here—and losing a pocket full of it could theoretically cost you 20EUR. On the flip side, finding a coin in your pocket could also buy you lunch.

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