After moving to Berlin to begin life as an expat in Germany, there came a time when I began to long for the comforts of home. As much as I loved my new life abroad (and I really did), I sometimes missed my friends and former life in Toronto.
Things I Missed About Canada When I Lived Abroad
Hardly surprising but there were also some other rather unexpected things that I missed about Canada.
1) Rectangular Shaped Pillows
Did you know that Germans sleep with giant square-shaped pillows? It’s amazing what you discover when you move abroad! Unbelievably, this is actually a common issue for expats who just can’t get used to the odd shape. My solution was to fold my pillow in half to make it slightly resemble the pillows of my homeland. My friend Laurel from Monkeys and Mountains, a fellow Canadian who lives in Munich told me she ordered pillows online as she couldn’t deal with the uncomfortable situation. Should I ever move back to Germany someday, I’ll definitely be bringing some North American styled pillows with me.
2) Stick Deodorant
For the life of me, I was unable to find stick deodorant after I moved to Germany. It’s only available in spray or liquid roll-on form. With every application, I had to flap my arms up and down like a chicken while I waited for my underarms to dry.
3) A “Normal” Washing Machine
Most European washing machines are small and lack the capacity that they do in North America. A load of laundry would take on average, at least two hours to complete. Not only that, our washing machine was a “wild beast”. Set-up in our tiny and awkwardly constructed bathroom, there was no way to hold her down. During the spin cycle, we actually had to sit on the washing machine to tame her and keep her secured in place.
4) A Clothes Dryer
It seems that a clothes dryer is a luxury only for the rich 1% of Germany. The remaining 99% have to hang their clothes to dry on a rack in their flat. It used to take my clothes at least two days to dry completely. They were never soft or fresh smelling. Towels were so dry, hard and prickly that drying off after bathing was akin to a painful loofah exfoliation experience. Ouch.
5) Stand-up Showers
Bathrooms on the other side of the pond are just weird. My friend Amelia, who lives in an old East Berlin flat has a bathtub in her kitchen! My bathroom had a lovely jacuzzi bathtub but no shower. The bathtub was big enough to sit in but not to lay down so you actually had to take your shower sitting down. I flooded the bathroom floor on many occasions because it was so hard to control the spray. It took time to learn the precise manoeuvres required to keep the flooding at a minimum.
6) Canada’s “So Called” Metric System
We Canadians like to claim we use the metric system and officially we do. For example, our road signs dictate maximum speeds in kilometers per hour. However due to the influence of our American neighbours, we measure our weight in pounds and our homes in square feet. It was an adjustment for me to tell others that I was 1.8 meters instead of saying I was 5’8. I often referred to a metric conversion app on my phone.
7) Finding My Friends in Apartment Buildings
There’s usually a directory posted outside of a building listing people’s names. You simply ring their buzzer to have them let you into the building or courtyard. If your friend hasn’t provided clear directions as how to locate their flat, this is where it starts to get complicated. Apartment suites are not numbered like they are in Canada – usually a person’s family name displays on a small name plate just outside their apartment door. If they’re temporarily renting as most people do in Berlin, their names will most likely NOT be on the name plate, i.e. I once rented a flat from a woman called S. Sexauer (true story). Their first floor is our second floor. Some buildings have multiple entrances. As most buildings are low rises and don’t have elevators, it’s possible you’ll walk up several flights of stairs only to discover that you’ve chosen the wrong entrance. I’ve been rung into buildings by my friends taking 10-15 minutes to find their flat where I arrive sweaty, flustered and out-of breath.
8) Being Understood
It was a delightful challenge communicating with locals who had limited English skills as they sometimes uttered the most hilarious things like “He sounds like a frog with a tissue in his throat.” or “His baby is coming to life in June, right?” Jokes aside, it forced me to stop using clichéd expressions, popular slang and shallow pop culture references in daily conversation. I liked having to speak clearly and precisely to be understood. Yet despite my best attempts, I landed in hilarious predicaments more often than not. On one of my first dates with a German, he asked about why I moved to Berlin. I rattled off the usual answers, one of them being that I came there to have fun. Thinking nothing of it, a few dates later we began to talk about our past relationships. I told him about a couple of significant long-term relationships when he suddenly looked puzzled and asked “So you only dated these two guys and no one else? You weren’t in an open relationship with them?” In complete shock, I responded “Of course not! Why would you think that?” Apparently, it was because I said I moved there to “have fun.” Anytime someone asked me about why I moved to Berlin after that, I simply said I went there for a lifestyle change.
Now that I’m back home in Toronto, there are just as many things I miss about Berlin!
Have you ever lived abroad? What were the most surprising and hilarious things that you missed about home? Share your expat experiences in the comments below.