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WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 10, 2005
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MY LIFE
Jessica Schneider

German student sold on service, not our food

There are so many differences between German and American worlds, from bank drive-throughs to charges for incoming cell phone calls, I don't have the space to tell you about them. But there's one similarity: Both are wonderful places to live.

When DAILY intern Jessica Schneider left Germany last August, she packed one of her suitcases with food she couldn't get in the States.
Courtesy Photo
When DAILY intern Jessica Schneider left Germany last August, she packed one of her suitcases with food she couldn't get in the States.
"The customer is king."

I was born and raised in a country we Germans call the "service desert." Just like you rarely find anything in a desert, you rarely find customer service in Germany.

So I'm still pleasantly surprised by the customer care in the United States. Shopping is a different experience.

I'll give you an example of the last time I went grocery shopping during Christmas break in Germany.

As soon as I walked into the market, I realized I didn't have a Euro to rent a cart. When I went to the register to get change, the saleslady wasn't happy. The cashier reminded me that I was in a grocery store, not a bank.

Before I came to America as an exchange student, I wouldn't have thought another second about it. But because I had been spoiled by five months of American friendliness, I almost cried.

I got my change, shopped and went to a different register to check out.

The sales associate rang me up without a greeting and charged me an extra 50 cents for my two plastic bags. I thanked her and wished her a good day. She grumbled/mumbled, "You too."

A few weeks later I was back in America where customer service deserves its name. I'll paint you a quick picture to explain.

In the grocery store, I grabbed one of the readily available shopping carts, picked up my items and checked out.

The lady behind the register smiled at me. "Hi, how are you today? Did you find everything OK?" After I paid, she thanked me and said, "Come back and see us."

By that time, a high school student had bagged my groceries — we do it ourselves in Germany — and was waiting to help me carry them to the car.

On my way home, I wondered why there is such a difference between the two countries.

Sure, I've dealt with rude sales people over here, but that is the exception. And yes, occasionally the friendliness comes across as a bit fake, but most of the time you feel your business is appreciated.

I don't have an explanation, but one thing is for sure: "The customer's always right" doesn't translate in German.

No limits

"I wanna come over there and drive on the autobahn!" That's the reaction I get from nearly every man when they hear I am from Germany. I know they're day-dreaming about flying down the famous German highways.

I hate to be the one that pulls the emergency brake, but my country's non-existent speed limits are a myth.

In fact, they're sometimes stricter — 30 mph is the regular city limit, 20 mph the limit in residential areas and school zones, and "walking speed" in areas where children are playing. Outside cities, the speed limit is between 45 and 60 mph.

In some stretches along the autobahn, it's true you can go as fast as you want, as long as you don't endanger the lives of other drivers. I've never seen a car zooming faster than 125 mph; most people stay under 110 mph. After all, we're not trying to get killed on the autobahn.

That's as good as it gets. When there's road construction or a busy entrance ramp, the speed limit drops as slow as 40 mph. If the lanes are narrow in a high-traffic area, drivers are limited to 60 or 80 mph.

We're not a country of Michael Schumachers: Our speed limits rely more on common sense. If there are potential dangers, you have to slow down, but if the road is clear, you can go as fast as you want. Just like I did in Tennessee recently while driving on an empty highway with no other cars in sight, except for the police car, armed with a $168 ticket.

Fresh food vs. preservatives

Germany is a nation of bratwurst-eating, beer-drinking krauts — it's a common misconception, though the description fits people I know.

Our menus offer more than Polish sausage and cabbage. Actually, German food ranks high on my list of things I've missed. Even though I packed a suitcase of groceries when I came to America, some of my favorites can't be imported.

Don't get me wrong. I like perusing an entire aisle of selections for one bag of chips. I'm also a big fan of Oreos, and root beer has become my soda of choice. Your burgers are tastier, and nothing beats Krispy Kreme and the American Cookie company.

The weight I've gained since arriving last August can serve as a testament to my affinity for American food. But it just doesn't beat German food.

I miss our variety of different breads, some with whole grains, some without, but all with a crispy crust and full of flavor. I want cheese without added color or preservatives, and real juices, not from concentrate. And I want to go to a restaurant and order pork. With only beef and chicken dishes to choose from, I feel more like I'm in an airplane than a restaurant.

I was shocked to see how expensive fruits and vegetables are in America. It seems that the high-calorie, low-nutrition foods packed with preservatives are the only inexpensive options. And many of the food packages that advertise zero fat and carbohydrates should be obligated to add, "zero taste."

My friends have promised me they'll pick me up at the airport in Bonn with a fresh roll and cheese. I can't wait!

Jessica Schneider, 23, is interning at THE DAILY this summer after completing an exchange program at The University of Tennessee. She will return to Germany for fall classes at The University of Bonn.

Jessica Schneider Jessica Schneider

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