After taking a two week Christmas vacation in Germany, in December 2015, I noted a few differences that really made me appreciate the United States of America, and Arizona in particular.

A direct comparison between the United States and Germany just isn’t fair. Germany is 137,903 square miles shared by a population of 80 million, while the USA is 3.8 million square miles shared by a population of 300 million.

So a slightly better comparison is Arizona, with it’s 113,998 square miles, though it’s population is only 6 million.

There are many reasons for the stark differences between Arizona and Germany. For one, we’ve never had a world war fought on our doorstep. Arizonan cities have never been firebombed.

The cities in the Western United States are around 150 years old, whereas the oldest cities in Germany go back millennia. German cities were built, conquered, rebuilt, conquered, and rebuilt dozens of times over, one on top of the other. The oldest German city is Trier, going back to the 4th century BC.

The Strawberry Schoolhouse in Gila County, Arizona

The Strawberry Schoolhouse in Gila County, Arizona

One of the oldest buildings (built by Europeans) still standing in Arizona is the Strawberry Schoolhouse, built in 1884 a.d. One of the oldest buildings still standing in Germany is the Porta Nigra, which was built in 180 a.d. by the Romans.

The Porta Nigra in Trier, Germany

The Porta Nigra in Trier, Germany

So Arizona vs. Germany is not an apples-to-apples comparison, but some notable differences can be pointed out, especially when cities like Phoenix can leap-frog 2000 years of human development and wars.

The leaps that newer or under-developed settlements can take are exemplified in the continent of Africa. The African electricity grid is almost non-existent1, and what’s there doesn’t work very well2, so African countries have the opportunity to leap straight to distributed solar and batteries, without spending billions on a modern, nationwide grid and centralized power stations.3

Enough of my rambling, let the comparison begin!

Electric Cars

Tesla Model X, we've only seen 3 in Arizona as of June 2016, but it's no surprise as they were backordered for over a year.

Tesla Model X, we’ve only seen 3 in Arizona as of June 2016, but it’s no surprise as they were backordered for over a year.

Germany

Germany may lead the US in renewable energy, but their consumer automotive market isn’t really taking advantage of all those clean electrons.

I saw two electric cars in all my travels in Germany, and it’s not as if we stayed in one place. We drove from Frankfurt to Köln and back, and believe me, I was looking.

Where are all their electric cars?!I’m THAT guy

Those “two” electric cars I saw were both Teslas, and because it was the same black color and the same silver 18″ wheels, parked in roughly the same area in downtown Frankfurt, but on different days, I have a gut feeling it was the same car. I can’t prove it though…

I didn’t see a single electric car charging station, or electric car parking spot in all our travels there.4

The most common car style you'll see in Germany, and probably the rest of Europe too.

The most common car style you’ll see in Germany, and probably the rest of Europe too.

As far as cars in general go, 9 out of 10 cars I saw were hatchbacks. Depending on where you live, you might call them “wagons.” Even the car we rented was a wagon.

Arizona

I can’t drive 10 minutes without seeing an electric car in Arizona. The most common are the Nissan Leaf, followed by the Tesla Model S, and then the BMW i3. In fact, the BMW i3 is a German car, and in the two week period since my return (as of when I wrote the first draft of this article) I’d seen half a dozen here in AZ, compared with the zero I saw in Germany, and again, I was looking.

There are 4 of these chargers in this one mall. The other two are on the North side, while these are on the South.

There are eight of these chargers in this one mall. The other four are on the North side, while these are on the South.

In Arizona, I drive by designated electric car charging spots all the time, even when I’m not looking for them. It’s always a nice surprise. Some of the biggest shopping centers have free electric charging and dedicated spots.

In Arizona, sedans are most popular, but you will see more pickup trucks here than most other places in the world (not counting Texas).

Driving and Parking

Germany

FrankfurtCityParking

Right outside the rear exit of our hotel parking lot

They don’t really have massive open air parking lots the way we do here in Arizona, at least in Frankfurt and Köln, the cities I visited.

Most of the parking seems to be legal, and organized, but in places that aren’t actually designated parking spots. For example, many cars will park half on the sidewalk and half on the road, whether you’re at the hospital, an apartment, a hotel, or at a restaurant in the city. At least when you do that it’s free, but good luck finding a spot.

Most businesses require you to pay for parking. Every single parking garage is paid. Even to go to a simple grocery store.

Furthermore, because the cars are so small, you’ll find them squeezing out parking spaces in places they shouldn’t be squeezed out. Like right next to a ramp from the hotel parking to get on the road. Which means you can’t make a smooth right turn, you have to inch forwards and backwards to avoid hitting the cars parked on an already tiny road.

We rented an Audi A6 hatchback, which had scratches and dents all over it when we picked it up. Now it makes perfect sense. Germany is so crowded that your car is going to get hit and scratched all the time. I purchased a pretty expensive and comprehensive insurance package, and I’m so glad I did.

If we had rented an SUV like we originally planned, it would have been a nightmare downtown where we stayed!

Arizona

In Phoenix, you can pick any business or shopping center, and park there for free. I think the idea being, that you’re going to spend money here, so why dissuade you by making you pay for parking. Even when you do have to pay for parking, you can get your parking ticket “validated,” by any of the nearby vendors, which is just a stamp on your ticket that  90% of the time allows you to park for free.

Look at these "American-sized" parking spaces at Costco. I'm sure you can think of a few jokes, but we don't care.

Look at these “American-sized” parking spaces at Costco. I’m sure you can think of a few jokes, but we don’t care.

In Arizona you’ll never once feel crowded on a city street or a freeway. The most you have to worry about as far as dents or scratches are flying bits of rock on the freeway that will chip your windscreen and paint on your front grille.

Smoking

Germany

Pretty much everybody smokes in Germany. Anecdotally, I’d say its about 30-50% of the adults I encountered while walking around downtown. The same percentage applies to my family and friends over there.

Arizona

People smoke in Arizona, but not in numbers large enough to notice, and the only time I really see it in public it is employees smoking outside a business in a designated smoking area during their breaks, maybe I’ll occasionally see a driver smoking in his car with the windows rolled down.

In Arizona, I can’t think of a close friend or family member that smokes cigarettes. I know acquaintances that smoke, but only through a business relationship.

I’m not a fan of smoking, but I haven’t purposely segregated myself. People here just don’t smoke so much.

Windows

Germany

Tilt and Turn Windows

All the windows in Germany have three settings. Every window in every building I was in, including homes, condos, hotels, and even buildings I looked at from the street as I drove. All the windows were the same.

Those three settings were closed, horizontally open like a swinging door, and vertically ajar at the top. The handle can turn three different ways to accomplish this.

tilt_and_turn_comparison

A bit of googling found that this style of window is called the “tilt and turn.”

If there’s some German guy that has a patent for this, he’s probably the richest man in the country, because it was the one constant I saw in the country, and it worked like magic.

Arizona

Probably unlike most of the world, except maybe Africa, Arizona has window screens. They provide both shade and protection from insects. I noticed that other places I’ve visited in the United States, don’t have window screens. California, Oregon, and Washington D.C. come to mind. None of these places really have window screens, and it makes no sense to me. Don’t you want to keep birds and bugs out of your house?

I don’t know…maybe they don’t have an insect or bird problem, or maybe Arizonans are just overzealous?

Cash vs. Card

Germany

Most small businesses in Germany don’t accept credit or debit cards. You need to use cash. As someone who hates carrying cash on me, and rarely does, this resulted in having to frequent ATMs and withdraw hundreds of Euros at a time, because you need cash everywhere in Germany.

I was able to use ApplePay once the entire trip. It was at a gas station where I had to pay to use the restroom.

Arizona

Every place I go in Arizona, whether a small business or large, takes credit and debit cards.

There was only one place I used to go that only accepted cash, and I eventually decided that the amount of time I wasted having to stop by the bank, grocery store, or gas station (I hate gas stations) before going there wasn’t worth it. So I found a new place that accepted debit and credit cards and allowed me to see their schedule and book appointments over an iPhone app.

apple_pay_example

In fact, places we shop frequently like Whole Foods, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, and Pei Wei, all accept not only debit and credit, but ApplePay as well, meaning I can pay with my phone and fingerprint.

It’s the future, baby.

Nickel-and-diming

Germany

Our shopping cart on Christmas Eve, in Köln

Our shopping cart on Christmas Eve, in Köln

In Germany, you have to pay for everything. EVERYTHING. They have free Universal Healthcare, but it’s negated by all the money you spend paying for everything else. The food is more expensive, the water is more expensive, the gas is more expensive. Like I mentioned before, you have to pay for parking almost everywhere.

Examples:

  • You have to pay for grocery bags (and you have to bag your groceries yourself)
  • You have to pay for the shopping cart (€1), but you get your coin back once you return it.
  • You have to pay for ketchup and mayo packets (€0.35) in many fast food restaurants.
  • You have to pay to use the restroom at a gas station.

My young brother-in-law is saving up for his driver’s license. That’s because a driver’s license in Germany costs €2000 ($2181.60 USD)! Ya, that’s an ungodly amount of money for a driver’s license.

Granted, Germany does have an extensive public transportation system, and maybe the high cost of licenses are to incentivize public use of that transportation system. In Germany, you really don’t need a car to get around, but there’s a lot of waiting and wasted time involved.

Arizona

Everything you’d think should be free, is free. Parking is free. Ketchup and Mayo is free.5 My driver’s license cost $4. Food is less expensive. Water is less expensive.

For example, I can buy a 24 pack of 16.9 fl oz water for $1.99 at Safeway. That’s 16.9×24 = 405.6 fl oz for $1.99, or $0.005 per fl oz.

But a 6 pack of 50.7 fl oz of water in Germany is €5.99 ($6.54 USD). 6×50.7 = 304.2 fl oz for $6.54, or $0.02 per fl oz.

So water costs 4 times as much in Germany!

Food

Germany

If you like spicy food, you’re not going to find it here. If the food looks spicy, it’s not. It’s just food coloring or special red colored oils. It’s as bland as a banana. This is because I’m told that German’s don’t like spicy foods, which is fair enough.

A lot of the food has dairy, so if you’re into that kind of thing, more power to you. There’s milk in almost everything.

The salad-bar-juice-bar-smoothie-bar-gluten-free-diary-free-vegan craze hasn’t really caught on in Germany.

Arizona

In the Phoenix Metro Area, and Scottsdale in particular, you can’t throw a stone without seeing a yogurt place, a salad bar, juice bar, or a smoothie bar. Every restaurant has a gluten free option.

The word “Kale” is sacrosanct in Scottsdale, alongside the word “Yoga”. You could open up a smoothie shop tomorrow called “Yoga Kale” and become a millionaire overnight.6

Arizona has more food options than Germany, and it’s much more affordable too. If you like heavy food with lots of dairy, it’s easy to find. If you want organic non-GMO-gluten-free-dairy-free-Kale-Aid-Himalayan-Cleanser juices and smootheis, you can find those too.

If you want spicy food, close your eyes and throw a rock. Whatever building you hit will serve spicy food, even if it’s not a restaurant.

Customer Service and Store Hours

Germany

Germans have never heard the phrase, “The customer is always right.” Either that or they just don’t agree. Never have I heard so many employees arguing with or scolding customers in my life. It didn’t happen to us so much, but we overheard it happening with others regularly.

There was one instance we wanted to get breakfast before a restaurant closed, and we asked if we needed “reservations.” The man on the phone was upset that we wouldn’t know that you don’t need reservations, and that we wanted to come an hour before the restaurant closed. It’s not as if we showed asking for a meal 15 minutes before he closed, we simply called on the phone to see what time they closed, and planned on being there an hour before. Needless to say, we didn’t go to his restaurant, we went to a nice Turkish place instead.

At a grocery store on Christmas eve, we were there about an hour before closing time, up until closing time (yes we were at a grocery store for a whole hour) and watched as last minute shoppers who asked for help to find an item were refused help because it was close to closing time. They were rushed to the checkout line.

One lady said to a customer, “I can’t help you now, we’re closing, do you want me to lose my job?”

In Germany, stores close early, are closed on Sundays, and are closed on the holidays. Only gas stations are open on the holidays.

Arizona

With the exception of Chick-Fil-A, stores are pretty much open 24/7 in the USA. Whole Foods opens at 7:30 am and closes at 10pm, and you can order smoothies and juice till 9pm. Safeway opens at 6am and closes at 12 midnight. Buffalo Wild Wings closes at 11pm.

Some Walmarts are open 24/7. I’ve been to Walmart at 1am in Arizona, able to buy anything my heart desired, from groceries, to electronics, to shaving cream.

Stores here are even open on holidays, though it’s only for a few hours. Even on Christmas or Christmas Eve you can at least count on a Walgreens or CVS for emergencies late at night.

When it comes to closing time in Arizona, they will lock the doors so new customers can’t come in, but the people already inside will get the full level of customer service until they check out and leave, and will be allowed to finish shopping.

The Germans ensure they get home on time by forcing you out of the store at closing time. Americans ensure they get home on time by shutting the doors to new customers and demarcating between closing time and when the last customer leaves.

The Verdict?

In conclusion, it seems that a lot of these differences are because of the population size difference between Germany and Arizona. Arizona is one of the more affordable states to live in, compared with the east coast of the US, or a place like California.

It’s less populated here, everything is newer, the weather is dry so there isn’t as much wear and erosion on the roads, infrastructure, and buildings, adding to the “newness” feel of everything.

If Arizona had a population of 80 million instead of 6 million, we might build out a more extensive public transportation system and start charging drivers $2000 for a license.

That’s my take, anyways.

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Picture Credits: Gillfoto (Strawberry Schoolhouse), all other photos are public domain, or fair use*

*It is believed that the use of low-resolution images of copyrighted work for commentary qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law. See Wikipedia:Non-free content for more information.


  1. Just look at Africa from space at night

  2. Just ask any Nigerian what NEPA is.

  3. Let’s face it, at this point in time, investing in a nationwide grid for a nation that doesn’t really have one yet is like trying to get Huffington Post to invest in typewriters.

  4. Not to say they aren’t there, but we did our fair share of driving and parking all over the country, and we didn’t stumble across any.

  5. Well, nothing in America is really free, and the things that are “free” are usually there to incentivize you to spend more money. Maybe because parking is free, we buy a few more groceries than we would in Europe. Know what I mean?

  6. As of my writing this, the domain name www.YogaKale.com is available for $11.99 on Godaddy. You’re welcome.