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Don’t Make Me Sick

For my second full week back in the United States, I got to experience the joy and delight of having a cold.  I’ve been meaning to write a post about healthcare in Germany for ages, and being sick for the past week is a perfect lead in to the topic.  Being sick in the United States is a very different experience than being sick in Germany.

“Sick Days” are a very American concept.

While I was employed at our German office, I had German health-care and I followed the local rules for being sick.    In the German office, if you are sick, you go to the doctor on the very first day, and the doctor will give you a slip of paper that basically says don’t go back to work for however many days they specify.  There’s no “sick time” in the German office-  my benefits there included a generous count of vacation days, but the concept of “sick time” just isn’t used.  If you’re sick, you’re sick.  German employment laws are fiercely protective of the worker, and a company can’t easily fire someone while they’re out sick.  So, sick people stay home from the office in Germany, and rarely come in to get their colleagues sick.  That’s a very American behavior.

In the US office, however, the rules are different.  I came back to the US with a very finite amount of sick time, so I was only able to stay out of work for the first day of my cold.  On the second day, I schlepped myself into the office with my bag of cold medicine, tissues, and so forth.  Nobody wants to see you in the office when you’re sick, but if you have no available sick time, you must go or risk a disciplinary action.

Socialized medicine is actually pretty nice.

When the Affordable Care Act first started to gear up in the US, I remember seeing this comic in one of the local newspapers.  I saved it back then because I knew I’d be writing about this at some point:

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My personal experience with socialized medicine doesn’t at all fit the negative talking points of the FOX News narrative.    I found the entire system to be uncomplicated and reasonable.   While I was in Germany, I had Techniker Krankenkasse, a large and ordinary public health insurance which was arranged with the assistance of my employer.  Private insurance is available in Germany, of course-  you just have to be willing to pay more.  I never found it to be necessary.

Because this insurance is subsidized by the government, my tax rate was higher and I saw less of my paycheck.  However, I went to the doctor several times in Germany without ever paying a cent.  One of those visits included a very small procedure which even required after-care, and there was no additional cost.   When I needed antibiotics, I paid only five Euros.    The same doctor visits here in the US would be $20 or $35 per visit, and the generic antibiotic wouldn’t be less than $10.   The higher tax rate in Germany was worth it, if only for the convenience of not having to pay anything to the doctor’s office.

The actual visit to the Doctor’s office.

I only went to one doctor in my time there, so I don’t have a frame of reference to tell you if my experiences are common.  My doctor’s office was a nice, naturally lit affair with pleasant decor.  The starkest part of the office was the waiting room, a square room with a table in the center and magazines to read-  in other words, it’s just like every doctor’s waiting room you’ve ever seen.

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Whenever somebody arrives to the waiting room, everyone already waiting says hello.  Germans aren’t typically this inclined to greet people they don’t know, so I assume this is one of those cultural expectations that I just have to accept.

The checkup room is a big airy space.  And this is the part of writing the post where I realize that my meager count of doctor experiences in Germany leaves me with very little to talk about in this post.  Let’s move past this admittedly lovely checkup room, to talk about drugs.

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Pharmaceuticals auf Deutsch.

One of the things that was difficult to get used to when I arrived in Germany was that you can’t get drugs in the grocery store.  In the US, you can get aspirin or Tylenol in Publix.  In a shop like Walgreens, you can get a can of coke, develop your film, buy a toy, and still fill your prescription.  In Germany, everything is separated-  food in the grocery store, drugs in the Apotheke.

Pharmaceuticals are more or less the same everywhere in the world, but the packaging is different.  Germany doesn’t use those amber plastic pill vials that are so ubiquitous in the United States; most drugs are distributed in flat packs like the one pictured below.

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Where an American pharmacy would print a label with specific instructions on how to take your medicine, a German pharmacist will just write the instructions on the box.  See the handwritten 1-0-1 above?  That means take one in the morning, none at lunchtime, and one at night.   When they hand you the pills, they go over it verbally just once, and in my case, the pharmacist reminded me to be sure to finish the prescription.

Beyond that, things are more or less the same.    The individual pain killers are all available in Germany, just under different names.  Tylenol is Paracetamol, for example.  Vicks products are sold as Wicks.  Aspirin is still called Aspirin, though- Bayer is a German company, after all.  The only drug that I was never able to find a German analog of is Sudafed.  Any time someone visited from the United States, I had them bring me some 12-Hour Sudafed- that stuff is worth its weight in gold to me.

Being able to go to a Publix at 9pm here to get two more types of cold medicine, including one that will theoretically knock me out:  That experience is priceless, and it made me realize that if I have to be sick, I’d rather do it here, even though it’s significantly more expensive.

Have you ever visited a doctor outside of your home country?

First thoughts on readjusting to life in Florida

I’ve been back in the US for roughly a week and a half now, and the re-entry has been pretty smooth for the most part.  There have been a few tricky things, however.

The currency – After three years with the Euro (and that wonderful €2 coin,) I’ve been having a difficult time readjusting back to the Dollar.  Especially the coins.   The paper money is confusing though-  with the Euro, every denomination is a different size and color.  All of the paper money here is the same size and color, whether it’s a $1 or a $100.  I’ve already flubbed at least one cash transaction.  Speaking of which….

The credit card usage – I went out to lunch with three of my co-workers, and when it was time to pay, I looked around the table-  each of my colleagues had a credit card out for their check, and I had cash out for mine.  I simply forgot how prevalent credit card usage is here, and how little Americans use cash for many things.  That will take a while to remember.

The deodorant – I forgot that some of my regular use products simply aren’t sold in the United States.  My deodorant is a perfect example of this.  During my time in Germany, I’ve become fond of a Nivea solid stick which is simply not sold in the US.    I’m going to have to choose a new deo when my current stick runs out.

The dishwasher – After three years of hand washing all my dishes, it’s utter bliss to be able to just put them in a machine again.   This one isn’t a problem readjusting, it’s just something I wanted to take note of.

The paycheck – In Germany, I got paid once per month.  Here, it’s twice a month.  Having a significantly shorter time between paychecks makes me feel a little bit like time is passing more quickly.

The elevators – Whenever I get into a lift in Germany, the ground floor is either EG or the numeral zero.  The first floor is up one flight of stairs.  Floor two is what an American would call the third floor.  Fast forward to this weekend, in an elevator-  on two or three separate occasions, we reached the floor marked 1 and I stayed in the elevator thinking I still had one more floor to go.

The sugars – I need to find a new caffeine delivery system, I think.  Three years in Germany where the Cola is made with real sugar has spoiled me.  I seem to have lost my tolerance to high fructose corn syrup – any time I drink a normal US Coke product here, I have terrible heartburn.  This is especially frustrating because these amazing Coke machines are all over the place here, and the flavor mixing is fantastic. (Rasberry Coke, anyone?)  Mexican Coke (made with cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup) is available here, but it’s comparatively expensive.

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The drink ice – Ice isn’t common in drinks in Germany, so I forgot about the behavior of a cup filled more than halfway with ice-  when I tilted the cup forward to drink, the ice shifted position and caused a splash.  This in turn caused a mini tidal wave in the glass, which then proceeded to wet my pants.   Amelie was terribly amused.

The measurements – It’s going to take me a little while to stop thinking in terms of kilometers and Celsius.    All I know for sure is it’s freaking hot outside and sub-arctic in my office.

The air conditioning – In Germany, I had no air conditioning in my home or my office.  I thought I would enjoy returning to the land of AC, especially since the temperatures have been in the 90s much of the time since my return, but I was wrong.  Americans don’t use AC sparingly, they crank it.  In Germany, it’s been around 50F and I consider that almost t-shirt weather.  In my office, I have to wear a hoodie.  Every restaurant I’ve been to is freezing, almost literally.  It’s astonishing that I feel far colder in Florida than I ever did in Germany.

The shopping – I thought the weirdest thing here would be the Sunday grocery shopping, but the thing that is hitting me more strangely is the ability to walk into the grocery store to get pain killers and basic medical needs.    After three years with that only being in an Apotheke, having aspirin at the gas station is just weird.

Expats, what differences have you noticed between your homeland and your current home?

Ampelmännchen

(This little post was written months ago, but I never got around to using it.  I’ve been hip-deep in getting moved over to Florida, so it seemed like now would be a good time to post it.  -Steven, 5 October)

One of my favorite things about visiting Eastern Germany is seeing the Ampelmännchen, or “Little traffic light men.”  This happy little fellow is left over from the former German Democratic Republic, so any city that was part of East Germany before German reunification in 1990 is likely to have these little guys on their walk signals.

The Ampelmännchen were designed by a German traffic psychologist named Karl Peglau in 1961.   Peglau wanted to create a traffic light that would be both cute and appealing to children, yet easily accessible and understandable for elderly Germans.  Also, I didn’t know before writing this post that “traffic psychologist” was a career option.

The Ampelmann is so popular that some cities in Western Germany have adopted the symbols, and an entire souvenir industry has sprung up around them.   There’s even a store in Berlin where you can buy all manner of Ampelmann swag- t-shirts, hats, buttons, keychains, deck chairs, earrings, and more.

These particular Ampelmännchen were spotted while I was in Dresden.

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Do you own any Ampelmann swag?  What do you suppose the green Ampelmann is carrying in front of him, a baguette?

Bayern

Repatriation Day

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Today is the day that I leave Germany. I’m not leaving forever, because I have friends here. After today, though, I won’t be a resident of Deutschland. I’m heading back to Florida.  My plane out of Frankfurt is actually scheduled to depart at the exact minute this post is scheduled to go up.

While this is a travel day for me, I thought it might be fun to give my friends an idea of what my Floridian  life will be like, geographically speaking, courtesty of http://overlapmaps.com/.  I’ve noticed that Europeans who have never been to the United States seldom have any real idea of just how expansive the US really is.  Americans who haven’t traveled here are similarly bereft of clue when it comes to scale, which is part of what makes these maps so much fun.

Here’s an example to illustrate that point.  This conversation actually happened between me and a colleague back in the US:

Colleague:  Hey, can you go to the data center to look at this server?
Me: The data center is in Frankfurt.  That’s three hours away.  I might be able to get there by tomorrow, if I leave now, go home, pack a bag, and manage to catch the next train out.
Colleague:  …so that’s a no, then?

First up in our map fun:  South Florida, overlayed onto the region of Bavaria I currently live in.   While these distances are not exact, I can say that Munich roughly overlays where Miami is, and Regensburg roughly overlays where I will be living.

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These next two are just fun:  Germany overlaid onto Florida, and Florida overlaid onto Germany.

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…and just for giggles, the United States overlayed across all of Europe.  The US is a big place.  I lived in the US for my entire life before 2011, and I still haven’t seen nearly as much of it as I have seen of Europe.   I’ve gotta get on that.

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Which is bigger?  Your home town, or the place you live now?

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Regensburg Tourism

Earlier this month, I spent an afternoon checking out a bunch of the touristy things I can do without leaving Regensburg.  There’s a lot to see and do right here, and I didn’t want to leave it all unseen before I moved back to the US.  I started with a river cruise.

There are many great river cruises on the Donau (Danube) river, but I specifically wanted a short touristy river ride.   I found one that runs every hour or so during tourism season and runs about 45 minutes for the cost of eight and a half Euros.  At a touch after 11 in the morning, I set sail on the good ship Johannes Kepler.

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It’s rather interesting to see the Stone Bridge from this perspective.  I’ve been all over the surface and around the temporary construction walkways, but this is the first time I was ever underneath the bridge.  By the way, pay attention to that tower with the clock faces on it.  We’ll climb that later!

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Being on the tiny river cruise showed me things about Regensburg that I had never seen before.  For example, I didn’t realize that the villa of King Maximilian II was just walking distance down the river.

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I don’t know who Klara is, but I really hope she had a nice birthday.

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After we docked, I walked a short distance down the riverfront to the Schiffahrtsmuseum, or shipping museum.  Entrance was just three Euros.  The museum itself is contained inside two very old and beautifully restored ships.   The one pictured here is a paddle steamer.

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What would a museum be without tiny models?

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This is part of the engine room of the Ruthof, the paddle steamer which houses this part of the museum.  This stuff is absolutely huge.

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Once back on land, I finally managed to get a photograph of the Boat Captain.  I don’t know this gentleman’s story, but I see him walking around town from time to time.  He’s usually wearing all white, and he’s always  got epaulets on his jacket.  I’ve always wanted a photograph of him, but he was always walking in the other direction.

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I took a very brief detour at the Historic Wurstkuchl to grab some sustenance before I continued on my tourism day. So tasty!

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Next, I went to the museum next to Regensburg’s famous Stone Bridge.  Most of this museum is free, but there’s a tower here which can be climbed for another two Euros.

“Historic stairs” means they’re really old and rickety and made of wood, I guess.

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The top part of this tower used to be someone’s living quarters.  These are the rooms inside.

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The benefit to living at the top of the historic stairs is the view-  this is looking East from the tower.

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This is the view North from the tower.  When the bridge is not being renovated, this must be a fantastic people-watching view.

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Here’s the Western view.  This picture was taken during HerbstDult, hence the ferris wheel visible in the distance.

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One of the more interesting things about climbing the tower is seeing the mechanism that drives the clocks.  This tower has clock faces on three sides, and they’re all driven by a single mechanism.  This amazing little gearbox has long rods which connect to each clock face, and the electric motor beneath.    One motor for all three clocks.

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After climbing down from the tower, I walked around the free part of this museum for a few more minutes.  I’ve always liked that the Wappen, or coat of arms, for Regensburg is a shield with two crossed keys in it.

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Next on my tourism day was  walk up the street to the Kepler Memorial House.  Johannes Kepler lived in Regensburg at the end of his life, and he fell ill and died in this city.  His old house is a museum now, with an entrance price of two Euros and twenty cents.

J-Kep says science is cool!

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They could probably stand to give his bust a good cleaning.

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The entire museum was in German, so I didn’t get much out of the description cards, but I still liked seeing the old equipment in glass cases.

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This globe is utterly fantastic.  Back in those days, they really took the whole “here be sea monsters” thing very seriously, I think.

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After I was done at the Kepler House, I walked over to the Dreieinigkeitskirche, one of Regensburg’s many, many churches.

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Here’s that key logo again.

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…and again with the keys!

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I’m always a little bit fascinated by the incredibly old glass you find in places like this.  These windows are not as crystal clear as modern glass, but the effect is kind of charming.

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While the inside of this church is nice, that’s not why I was here.  I came to the church because for another two Euros, you can climb the tower.  I’ve been meaning to do this one for three years.  This is another place that wasn’t built for tourism-  they actually taped Styrofoam to one of the beams to prevent tourists from knocking their heads.

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This is another historical stairway, I think.

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Near the top, there’s a sign asking that you don’t touch the bell.

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It’s quite tempting, though.  This is an amazing old church bell.

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Why do I climb all these towers?  For the views, of course.    This is what the city’s main cathedral and the other clock tower look like from this church tower.

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Panning a little bit to the left, you can see another very, very old tower.   This city’s full of ‘em.

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On my walk to the next touristy location in my day, I stumbled across some furries having a date.  At least I think that’s what was going on here.

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For my last stop of the day, I went to the Regensburg Historisches Museum, for an admission price of five Euros.  The last time I was there was the first full day I was in this city, back on November 13, 2011.  At the time, I knew absolutely no German at all, so I was completely lost.  It turns out that even with some knowledge of the language under my belt, the museum didn’t seem all that different to me.

I didn’t remember seeing these stained glass windows last time, though.

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I did remember seeing the Jewish headstones before.  There have been several Jewish settlements over the centuries in this city, and most of them have been forced out or simply eradicated.  Some of the old headstones survived and were brought to the museum.

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A big medieval city demands big medieval swords.

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I said before that museums love their models, and this is another fine example of that.

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Here’s what I spent on my tourism day, not including food:

€8,50 – River Cruise
€3,00 – Schiffahrtsmuseum
€2,00 – Museum and tower next to the Stone Bridge.
€2,20 – Kepler Memorial House
€2,00 – Dreieinigkeitskirche Tower
€5,00 – Historisches Museum

Grand total:  €22,70.   Not bad for an entire day out, with sun, boats, stairway climbing, history, and culture.

Have you ever been a tourist in your own town?  What did you see?