Road Trip!

We arrived in the US without any complications and were fortunate enough to already have people on that side of the Atlantic who helped us set up things. However, my girlfriend’s family lives in the central part of the US and it took us a road trip of about 18 hours to bring all of our stuff that we had previously shipped over (except the two missing boxes)and some additional necessities to Boston. While this might seem like a chore at first, the trip was actually pretty nice and it offered all of us the possibility to experience some very nice scenery.

This scenery was pretty monotone at first to be honest. Mid-Western States such as Illinois, Indiana and most of Ohio pretty much looked the same and were just plain fields throughout. This all changed when we entered the eastern parts of Ohio and later Pennsylvania. The landscapes changed quite significantly and the plain fields were replaced by beautiful mountain ranges and very scenic roads in general. While the scenery changes a little after Pennsylvania, the most notable change was the amount of traffic when we started to drive into the higher populated areas of the East Coast, particularly New York. However, all in all the traffic was not too bad as we just pass through only a few of the more populated areas. This situation only changed when our final destination was in sight. The traffic around Boston was horrible and a route which should have taken us 30 minutes took about 1 ½ hours.

At first we thought that we might have just hit some form of rush hour, but as we experienced in the following days, congested streets are just a normal thing in the Boston area and you should plan your trips accordingly. I also don’t know if this high amount of traffic has led to the complete disregard of most traffic rules in the Boston area, or if it is just a certain mindset which has become the standard. While in most countries and also most part of the States stop signs or lines at traffic light are pretty important elements of avoiding accidents and allowing a nice flow of traffic, these rules and appropriate behavior are merely suggestions in Massachusetts and particularly in Boston. Turn signals are another such issue which seems to be more of a loose guideline than an actual rule. In addition to this lack of turn signals, most people also seem to wear a neck brace, which unfortunately does not allow them to turn around and look behind them when changing lanes. Any other explanation would suggest that quite a few people are just ignoring common sense while driving and except accidents as a reasonable possibility as soon as they get behind the wheel and that just can’t be true.

In addition to the lack of common sense on the road in some parts of the US, there were a couple of things which were particularly “interesting” to me. One of the first things I noticed was the poor condition of the roads throughout our trip. While there were some variations from state to state, which apparently is due to the fact that the maintenance of roads is in the hands of the individual states and some, of course, have more money for repairs than others, the overall state of the interstates were sometimes frightening. It resembled more of a bumpy roller-coaster ride than an interstate.

Another occurrence which seemed to be a common thing in the US was cars on the side of the road which stopped working for whatever reasons. The amount of such dead cars was astonishing. For a country which is so reliant and focused on cars, their maintenance seems to be of a lesser concern than in most other countries that I have experienced. It was quite surprising to me that a regular mandatory checkup like we have it Germany is nonexistent in the US, which in turn leads to more cars being driven until they give out due to an undiscovered issue.

The last issue which I found quite startling was that something we call “Rechtsfahrgebot” in Germany does also not seem to exist in the US. What it means is that no matter how fast you are driving, you have to use the most right lane appropriate for your speed. This results in a very organized way of driving especially on highways. Trucks, Busses, Caravans or Cars with trailers, for example are the main occurrence on the most right lane due their speed limit. The second lane is the standard lane for most cars and the third lane (should it exist) is in general for overhauling or those people who feel the need to blow as much gasoline in one mile as others use on a 100 mile trip. The complete lack or disregard of such rules led to some quiet scary incidents. When, for example, the clouds above you have already decided to release as much rain as during the monsoon season, two overhauling semi-trucks on the left and right side are not helping to provide a relaxed driving situation. Keep in mind that I was already driving a little bit above the speed limit at that time and it was not in the craziness of Massachusetts.

After we survived this road trip and some more stressful short trips in the Boston area, which involved extensive swearing on the parts of everybody in the car, we finally settled in. We are very glad to have an assigned parking spot due to the fact that people around here apparently not only don’t know how to drive, but also have never learned to park properly as well. A very common sighting in this area is the so called “Panzerparker” (Tank parkers) which seem to think that their car is so big that they need more than one parking spot to fit in. Now don’t get me wrong, some of the American cars are as big as a tank, at least by European standards, but in turn also the parking spots are way bigger than on the other side of the Atlantic. So if you are one of these species of drivers, please remember that even though most shops and malls in the US have more than enough parking spaces to choose from, blocking two parking spots close to the entrance is not something to be proud of, but just an asshole move.

Preclearance is awesome, the shamrock airline not so much

It has been a while since I have been able to post anything here, but unfortunately I have been working all day and night for the last couple of months. We have lived in the Boston area for about four months now and I have to say that it has been a very interesting experience, which I will hopefully be able to share more often here.

But let’s go back to the start, which means our flight to the US. We flew out of Hamburg and had a stop in Dublin on our way to the other side of the Atlantic. The Hamburg Airport is very nice and it was easy to find our way around. It was definitely a much more pleasant experience than flying out of the completely overloaded Berlin Tegel Airport. Security and other facilities like shops and possibilities to eat and drink are fairly standard, but offer everything one might need.

The Dublin Airport however, is quite different. I did not just discover that even the standard McDonalds menu varies from country to country (they didn’t have the Chicken Burger, which is one of my go to Burgers in Germany), but also that there is such an interesting thing called “Preclearance” when you go to the US through this airport. My girlfriend and I were a little confused at first what this Preclearance was, but it turns out that it is one of the best things that can happen to you when you travel to the US in my opinion.

In short: Preclearance means that all the immigration stuff that you normally have to go through in the US and which can take quite some time if you are not arriving at an awesome airport like Chicago O’Hare, will be done at the airport of your departure. Your transcontinental flight will then be handled like a domestic flight upon arrival in the US. The only annoying thing about this is that the baggage claim also just has the size of a domestic flight, which in turn means that a full Jumbo Jet of people is trying to get their luggage from a line which was only made for maybe half the people.

Nevertheless, the fact that the immigration process was done at the airport of departure made the whole process much easier and bearable. Particularly for me, who was traveling for the first time on a new visa, this Preclearance eased my mind during the flight to the US.

Speaking of the flight, while the Dublin Airport and the Preclearance process have been very nice, the shamrock airline we use to get to the US was the worst airline we traveled with so far. It of course doesn’t really matter which airline you choose to travel with, in the economy class you will most of the time feel like a Sardine in a can. However, this airline added some not so nice features to the equation. Starting with the seats, which no matter which way you were trying to sit in them were not the least bit comfortable. Not to speak of the ridiculous attempts to sleep a little bit, which mostly resulted in some severe neck or back pain. In addition, the in-flight entertainment system seemed to be from about 15 years ago when airlines started to use monitors for each seat. I would not be surprised if the system had been bought from another airline, which updated their first series about 14 ½ years ago. However, if you do not mind about eight hours of uncomfortable seats, an outdated entertainment system and the usual bad food, but want to save some money and experience the Preclearance process, this airline might be the one for you.

Sending Packages *Update*

So just a quick update on sending packages from Germany to the US.

As I mentioned in one of my first posts here, we tried to send plastic boxes with a lot of our stuff to the US and actually had to wrap them up in brown packaging paper for them to be sent properly.

Now, over a month after we have sent the first packages (the first six were sent out in a three day time frame) only five of them have arrived in the US until now (one is still in the middle of nowhere in a packaging center). One of them is still at the Frankfurt Airport in Germany waiting to be shipped over.

Now the interesting thing is that we have sent three more boxes (cardboard this time) to our new address about two weeks ago, just a day before we flew over ourselves. All of these three boxes are in the US already and should actually arrive by the end of this week hopefully.

So this whole story is just telling us one thing:
NEVER EVER send something from Germany to the US in a plastic box, even if it is wrapped up in packing paper. Apparently the German postal service cannot handle such packages and it takes an insane amount of time for them to arrive at their destination in the US (estimated time, according to the German postal service is between 10 and 15 days for such packages). The size really doesn’t matter. Two of the three boxes we sent out later were normal cardboard boxes for moving, which we just wrapped up in standard brown packing paper. This seems to be the easiest option to get your stuff over the big pond. Now we are just hoping that everything will arrive in one piece.

Boston, at last

So we have finally arrived in Boston and are slowly settling in. About two weeks after we left Germany, there are of course already a lot of different stories which I am eager to share with you. I don’t know how often I will be able to post something new, as we are still very busy with all the official registration stuff and slowly growing into our day to day life, but I will try to write as often as I have some spare time.

Air Conditioning or no Air Conditioning, that is the question

So we are in our last week in Germany and we have temperatures reaching up to 38°C (100°F). These temperatures always bring up the argument about air conditioning between my girlfriend and I.  Even though she has lived in Germany for several years now, she still does not understand why there are so few places in Germany with air conditioning. Particularly public transport, private houses and apartments are being debated during these arguments. And it is true, German houses and apartments rarely have air conditioning. Same goes for most public transport like busses and subways or streetcars. Even most of the older regional trains do not have air conditioning and those who have it (including the German bullet train ICE) sometimes can’t handle the temperature and you hear about air conditioning that collapsed on the train on the news.

However, most commercial buildings, like convenience stores and malls as well as a couple of public buildings like libraries and some offices in Germany do have air conditioning and I admit, that with temperatures above 30 to 35°C I am very happy that these places are keeping a cooler temperature. I will also say that sometimes I also wish for public transport to have air conditioning. It is just a much more pleasant ride when you are not sitting in a metal box which heats up like an oven in addition to your and the other peoples body odor which I would gladly like to spare myself from. But for myself, I can say that below temperatures of 30°C I do not see the benefit of an air conditioning unit. When your apartment is warm, just close the windows and curtains during the day and let some fresh air in as soon as the sun goes down (this is the German way). That normally should keep your apartment at a nice temperature. Even when it gets really hot for one or two days, this method generally works just fine. If it stays hot however, the whole building will just heat up and even the cooler temperatures at night won’t help. In these cases I would not be opposed to having air conditioning and I am always happy to be in places which have it.

However, according to the German Weather Service (http://www.dwd.de) the general average of days which have been over 30°C from 1981 to 2010 is 6,5 days per year. So my main question in all these arguments is: “Is it worth buying expensive air conditioning units and using huge amounts of energy for just about one or two weeks of convenience?” Of course it is hard to just argue with the average for all of Germany when there are so many different places which count into that number. Germanys highest mountain (the Zugspitze) and its 0 days of 30°C and above in 30 years is just as much a part of this average as two places with over 20 days of such high temperature per year. In the region we currently live, for example, the records show 12 days per year as the average for temperatures reaching above 30°C. So we have to handle this number with caution and be aware that it does not necessarily display the actual situation in Germany. Especially this year 6.9 days or even 12 days above 30°C seems like a joke. We had at least three weeks until now which were constantly above this temperature and will most likely see a fourth or fifth in the future.

There are of course places where I would wish for a proper air conditioning. The university my girlfriend and I studied at is the first place that comes to my mind. Sitting in a room with 80 people for 2 or even 4 hours straight is too much for just opening the windows really quick during the break and in between classes. Especially in the summer, and I am not just talking about the really hot temperatures, it is almost unbearable to stay in such a room for a long time and pay attention throughout. Same goes for most restaurants in Germany (yes most of them do not have air conditioning). It would be just so much more enjoyable even during warm temperatures to have your meal in an acclimatized room and not sweat so profusely (in addition to all the other people in there) that you have no appetite anymore after five minutes.

So how can you, based on actual facts and not just preference, decide if it is worth having an air conditioning or not? How can you justify buying a unit and spending a lot of energy and therefore money on it? From my perspective the answer seems to be: You can’t.  You cannot base your decision for or against an air conditioning on the number of hot days per year. This is because everybody defines “hot” differently and the number of days varies from region to region and year to year. It is all just a question of preference and convenience.  This statement is setting aside of course places like universities, where air conditioning would be more then beneficial to increase productivity thought the year. Some people might say now that this is also the case for your own house or apartment where you want to be productive as well when the temperatures rise. But are two or three weeks of decreased productivity a year at home so much that you have to have air conditioning? I guess when we ask this way, we are back at your own personal preference. Some people might not care about these weeks while others do.

When you are used to having constant air conditioning and a steady temperature in your apartment throughout the year, I can understand how not having air conditioning might be annoying or plain unacceptable (I don’t want to go into too much detail on those convenience stores in the US which cool down a large building in the middle of summer so that you have to wear a sweater inside, which is just a waste of energy in my opinion). However, when you are used to not having air conditioning in your house or apartment at all, you don’t miss it, except of course those few really hot days a year. But from my perspective it is not worth spending money on a unit and use a lot of energy in the process just for your personal convenience for three weeks a year (maximum).

So in conclusion, I think that neither the overly excessive use of air conditioning in the US is the way to go, nor the German way of having almost none at all. If we could find a way which takes both countries to a similar level of air conditioning use, we could save quite a bit of money and a lot of energy on one end, have a more pleasant summer on the other and less arguments in cross-national relationships

Packing is hell

Well, the day of relocating to Boston comes closer and closer and we are slowly starting to live on a pile of boxes in our current flat in Germany. We started selling our furniture about three weeks ago and the flat is almost empty. Just a few things are left that need to be sold and for which we hope to at least get a little bit of money still. Compared to other people, which relocate to another country or continent we are lucky to have family on both ends. Therefore, we are able to leave some things in Germany and take them to the US later and can already send some things over without having to be at our apartment in Boston already.

But the main question remained: “How do we get all of the stuff we want to take with us to the US?”

So here is Tip No 2:

Consider all your options to bring / send things to the US

We didn’t want to take any furniture or big things with us, so only smaller stuff like books, clothes, shoes, some decorative and personal items needed to come with us, so renting a container, or even just a part of one would not have made sense for us. But still, all of these things combined take up about four suitcases and a couple of medium sized boxes. In the end, we decided to go with the “easiest” and cheapest route and take a flight which allowed two suitcases for an intercontinental flight and ship the rest of our stuff in boxes via the normal German package service DHL. We choose an Air Lingus flight with a stop in Dublin even though there are more convenient direct flights from Germany to the US. However, this flight allowed us to each take an extra piece of luggage with us and was therefore much cheaper than any other airline where we would have had to pay extra for it.

In addition to this, we sent seven medium sized boxes to the US via DHL. If you decide to also ship boxes overseas this way, be aware of a couple of things.

1. Stick to the different weight limits

While the size limitations of the packages are pretty generous and there should be no problems with normal boxes you can buy at any hardware store, the weight limits are very strict and you should stick to them as close as possible. By the time we sent the boxes, there were three weight options which we took into consideration. A package with up to 10kg would cost 48€, between 10,1 and 20kg it would be 69€ and up to 31,5kg a package would have cost 94€.

2. Wrap up the boxes

I know it will sound ridiculous to you, but this unfortunately it is very German. When we took the first two plastic boxes to the post office, we just secured them with some zip ties and tape. The face of the lady at the counter was priceless when we put those boxes on the counter. Apparently, you can not send the boxes this way in Germany, at least not without paying a whole lot more. The lady told us to just wrap them up in some brown paper and it would be fine. So we bought some brown wrapping paper and a roll of tape right there and wrapped those two plastic boxes. The two wrapped up boxes we took back to the counter were the ugliest packages I have ever seen, but the lady was fine with it and we were able to send them out without any further problems.

 

Let’s start this off

Hello everyone,

I would like to welcome you to this webpage and give you a short overview of why I created this site and what you can expect from it in the future.

We (my girlfriend and I) are currently preparing to relocate from Germany to Boston, Massachusetts.  As this will be my first time living abroad (she is from the US originally) for an extended period of time, I thought it would be a great way to keep family and friends at home updated on our life on the other side of the big pond. In addition, I wanted to share my experiences of relocating and living in the US, so people who might also want to relocate or are just generally interested in these kind of experiences would get some impressions of what it is like and what you need to consider.

This being said, I will try to create a section of the page which just deals with these little advice or tips I would give, based on my experiences so you can learn from them and maybe not make the same mistakes.

So here is Tip No 1:

Be aware of where you are going.

As most of you know, the US is quiet a big and diverse country. This means that depending on where you are going to relocate to, the circumstances and general environment can be vastly different. This includes everything from property and rental prices, climate and weather to the overall feeling and atmosphere of a place.

When we planned to relocate, we had the option between a couple of different cities. The first thing that I wanted to know is: “How much is the costs of living in each of those cities”. Just as Germany, the US has cheaper and more expensive areas for living. Of course, the bigger cities are more likely to be more expensive than smaller rural towns, but the gap in between was quite shocking.

Comparing cities like Seattle, Washington D.C., Norfolk and Boston, it was very clear that Boston would be much more expensive than any other of these cities. While a nice two-bedroom apartment (would be a three room apartment in Germany as the living room is counted as well) in a good location in Norfolk would cost maybe around $1000 to $1500 per month, such an Apartment would not be available in any of the other cities (considering similar location and distance to the city center as well as size) below $2000 to $2500. For someone who lived in an 80 m² two-bedroom apartment for about $800 this was quite a shock. Even bigger and much more expensive cities like Berlin or Munich, do rarely reach over $2000 for a normal apartment without any luxurious features. Now, moving to Boston, our one-bedroom 65m² apartment on the outskirts of the city will cost us $1800 per month.

So be aware of the very different costs of living in the US and take it into consideration when you have options on where to live. Webpages like www.trulia.com or www.rent.com helped us to get a first overview of what price ranges to expect and to see what we could afford.

Concerning the climate and weather in the US there is really no general guideline. The country is so big, that you can find areas with every from dry and hot climate to very humid and colder conditions. Coming from central Europe I am used to changing seasons and all kinds of temperature. The main difference that I can see from my previous visits to the US (and I might be completely wrong) is that the weather is more consistent. Where in the German summer you can have two really hot days, followed by three days of rain and a drop in temperature of up to 20°C, followed by another two days of hot weather conditions, the weather in the US lasts longer and does not change as quickly. Of course you will also have cold days in summer and warm days in the winter in areas with all four seasons in the US, but the weather at least lasts longer as in Germany. Here you might have a pretty hot phase of one or two weeks of hot weather with slight changes in temperature followed by a colder phase in which the temperatures drop again. However, I have not experienced such fast changes in weather conditions as in Europe.

Now, the last thing I would like to talk about in this tip is the importance of the environment and atmosphere of places and cities in the US. I have experienced a couple of bigger cities, but also smaller towns and there are of course huge differences in the feeling you will experience from all of them. The differences between bigger cities and rural towns and areas are pretty similar to Europe and Germany in terms of variety of recreational activities, job opportunities, diversity of people, infrastructure and so on. And just like everywhere else in the world, every city or town has its own unique feel to it. Boston, for example, differs a lot from cities like Chicago or Miami and smaller towns in Massachusetts differ quite a bit from their counterparts in the Mid-West and other parts of the US.

Overall you can say that before you move, be aware of where you move to. There is no living in THE US. Every state, region, city and town is different and you need to know in what in what kind of area you would feel comfortable to make an educated decision on your future home.