Quality Living

Kitaj: If not not

In a recent email exchange with an old friend of mine from the past, I asked her to tell me a little bit about her life in Germany. A few years ago, she moved with her husband to Germany where they have since had two sons. Many times our cultural ethnocentrism causes us to believe that the quality of life in our country is greater than in others. I know that in the US, people tend to believe that this is so. And this is also very true for Spain, where I am constantly being told that I must live better in Spain than in the US (¿a qué se vive mejor en España?). My general belief is the majority of the world would prefer to stay put and not live away from their culture of birth. Even people who have emigrated due to extreme hardship in their home countries generally hope that one day the living (or political) conditions will improve so that they can return. And it is also very true that just because a country is poor or even politically oppressed (say as in Cuba or Morocco), many people prefer not to leave and can live happier lives than in wealthier nations.

In any event, I believe that looking into the ways in which people live their lives in other countries can teach us a lot about how to improve the quality of life in our own countries. For that reason, I am posting my friend’s description here:

Our quality of life here is fairly decent.  There are no long commutes, no bumper to bumper traffic, my eldest son goes to kindergarten by foot 5 minutes each way. He actually gets upset with me if I drive to pick him up.

It’s clean, safe and in the summer it’s mad rush to collect, use or preserve everything that nature has provided for us…rhubarb, currants, cherries, blackberries, prunes, apples, pears, etc.  In fact we collected 300 kg of our apples, took them to an “Obst (Fruit) Presse” and pressed our own apple cider.  It’s so satisfying to know exactly where our juice comes from and to be assured that it’s 100% organic, free from pesticides and harmful chemicals.  I planted my first salad garden this past summer, conveniently picking only what I needed and cherry tomatoes and herbs were on the balcony so my eldest son would just go out and pick them on his own.  He was so cute, he’d run out with a pair of scissors and cut me parsley when I needed it.

It’s kind of crazy but we also have a fish farm…since my mother-in-law’s passing, my father-in-law has a new hobby, raising rainbow trout.  We have a little pond in relation to the big pond so whenever we want to eat fish, all we have to do is catch it, but they’re smarter than one would think and can prove a little bit challenging although very humorous.

We buy our milk from a farmer in the village.  Every week we take our 4 liters of bottles and brave that first noxious step into his barn and get the best tasting milk I’ve ever had. They don’t allow bovine growth hormones, are very against genetically modified foods, and we certainly won’t be eating any cloned meat any time soon.

My husband has an incredible work schedule; he’s not allowed to be on site for more that 37 hours per week, he has every other Friday off plus the unheard of number of weeks off for vacation.  He just took 5 weeks off, consecutively! That’s pushing it a little bit he admitted himself, but since they were closed for 2 weeks anyway it was technically only 3. I don’t think anyone could realistically do that in the States and not be guilt laden, or have to wait until one has served a company/ organization for 15 years!

I love the fact that Germans are so environmentally friendly.  We have the option to purchase Biodiesel…a mixture made from Raps, our trash pick up is only once every 2 weeks based on how we sort our waste; and incidentally our trash cans are pretty small.  The packaging, cans etc, is also picked every alternating 2 weeks, and paper once a month. We compost everything that’s biodegradable and those who don’t have space to compost have a separate trash can with a green lid. Glass is taken to the sorting containers that are ubiquitous as are bins accepting clothing, bedding, and shoe donations. And of course many of our beverage bottles, glass and plastic alike, come with a bottle deposit.  It definitely requires a little bit more time and effort to sort everything but it’s well worth it.

I see more and more solar panels, and for a region that isn’t considered the sunniest it’s a positive indicator of future trends. Most of them have been on barns so I’m not sure if the government subsidizes farmers or if they’re just willing to make the investment. Wind turbines also are very prevalent, however controversial because of the long term ROI but at least we have a government that backs renewable energy and really means it!

Healthcare is great. It’s expensive, but I would take the risk of saying that we get more value here than we would in the US. Since I’ve been here they’ve implemented a new co-pay…a whopping 10 euros per quarter, and let me tell you the public at large was not happy about it.  It was an outrage. They’re upset that the government wants to make the standard work week 39 hours!  ????  Another wonderful aspect is should I ever fall ill and be incapable of taking care of the kids, my husband could in essence receive a doctor’s note so that he could be caretaker and would be compensated for his missed work days through the health insurance.

Opportunities for physical activity are literally right outside our doorstep.  There’s a club called the LFL, or Leichtathletik Freunde Lüchtringen and they sponsor the cross country track that runs through the forest. Once a week I’ve been running with them for an hour and it’s nice because knowing that there are others there makes it easier to stay committed, plus its more fun to have company.  They also meet for basketball and soccer once a week which my husband participates in. In that sense its very community oriented.

Bike riding is a dream here. We’re along a river, and on both sides there are paved paths so that’s mostly what we do in our leisure time when the weather is nice. Plus, riding into the village takes just a few minutes so it’s ideal to run a quick errand. Mountain biking is accessible right up the hill from us, in the forest. There isn’t much here but we have all the basics covered …small grocery store, drug store (like CVS), post office, bank, apoteke, bakery, and the butcher. Can’t forget the shoe repair/ shoe store or the train station.

We could ride to Holland, or St. Petersburg if we wanted to. Some time, possibly this year I’d like to ride up to Bremen on the North Sea from here. Based upon the 2 day trip we took last year, it would be doable in about 4 days, then return by train. Geez, so what’s missing?  Everything sounds so ideal when I read it on the screen here. It’s a clean, healthy, lifestyle in a socially and environmentally progressive country.

6 Comments

Filed under Essays, Friends / Family

6 responses to “Quality Living

  1. TheCommentKiller

    That is freaking amazing!

  2. eric

    It’s amazing if you don’t mind living in Germany.

    Actually, when the Schengen (or however you spell it) Treaty was signed allowing for the free movement of persons throughout the EU member states, there was some fear by the wealthier countries that they would be flooded by immigrants for the poorer ones in search of a better quality of living. Nevertheless, this has not happened. People still prefer to live in their own countries. If anything, many people in the wealthier countries have taken advantage of the freedom to move south for retirement or to better climates. Still, though, the flows of people have been hardly noticeable. Once again, these fears have risen with the entrance of the next generation of member states such as Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. These countries are arguably in worse conditions than say Spain, Portugal or Greece at the time of their adhesion. So, we’ll have to wait to see what happens.

  3. But, but, but … America is the world leader in quality living … right? right?

    Progressive, forward-seeing, socially and culturally advanced American primates? We care, right? Quality matters?

    We’re number 1?

    Pfffffft. Bullshit. Welcome to America, take a number, you don’t really matter, but we’ll tell you do … well, on your W-2 statements you do, sort of, not exactly.

  4. Hi guys,
    It is always interesting to read about your country/city from a person’s perspective who did not grow up here.
    All the things you say sound pretty familiar to me. For instance just because you mentioned it, my mom is taking care of my dad 24/7 and gets compensated by the social system a bit for her work. But due to the demographical changes of our population there are major changes ahead.
    One thing I enjoy everyday is that you can ride your bike everywhere. Here in Cologne I always go by bike to university or downtown. Something I would never have tried in Madrid ;). But young professionals keep running away from Germany in big numbers. People nowadays have good opportunities to discover the world and take advantage of it.

    Coming back to Eric’s thoughts. During my exchange semester in Stockholm I attended a class about multicultural differences. The very entertaining Swedish teacher showed us one time statistics about all the good things in Sweden (social system, education, wealth, environment, etc.). His question was: “Concluding all that, are Swedish people the happiest?” The last statistic he showed us indicated how happy people are in different countries. Sweden was not among the top countries. But poor countries like Nigeria were among the top countries with the happiest people. I don’t know the background of this particular statistic but it showed us exactly what Eric was thinking about. That living in a progressive and rich country does not necessarily lead to happiness.
    Why is that so? Different understanding of happiness? Or different “benchmark” to measure happiness?
    In an article about income in equality (check my blog), I read that people in the USA (that would apply for other western countries as well I guess) prefer to earn 100.000 USD when all their neighbors have 85.000 USD than earning 110.000 USD when all the others have 200.000 USD. Off course now you could argue about the absolute value of the money and inflation in that little experiment.

    So maybe we measure happiness different. The more we posses the more we worry. At least for me I can approve that.

    Take care guys!

    Back to studies 😉

  5. eric

    Thanks, Jens. Actually, the reason why people immigrate varies and is probably not why most people think.

  6. Sucia

    It´s not that I mind living here. Germany is great, but living in the countryside is prime if you`re under 15 and over 55. For those anywhere in between there isn´t much to do culturally, or socially unless one has grown up here and already built an incredibly tight, seemingly impenetrable network of friends.

    In your opening remarks you mentioned that Spaniards think that your life in the US can´t possibly compare to that in Madrid. People here are actually quite the opposite, however it is probably due the vast difference: metropolis vs. rural living. When we tell people our background, they`re quite astonished that we would choose to live here.
    Sometimes I am too, but I never intended it to be forever!

    In regards to point 2, Romania and Bulgaria are certainly poorer, but I can`t imagine for long. Poland has been, by the way, a member nation since 2004. As with the case of so many then 3rd world nations, such as Taiwan, China, Mexico…etc, they are going to profit immensely from the manufacturing boom that is going to migrate in their direction. Their land, natural resources, energy, labor, etc, is all more economical.

    The inflow of people may be hardly noticable, but the outward flow of capital and later jobs is in full stride.

    Thank you, Eric, for leading this very stimulating discourse! You have an uncanny way of seeing the big picture and putting things into a broader perspective.

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