I had planned to put together a post like this at a later point but I suppose it’s a good thing I get this post out there now to set the basis for several future posts that investigate in-depth where all of these feelings come from.
You can scroll down to “The primary 6 reasons” if you don’t want to read a prime example of a frequently-occurring situation that leads me to have to write a sound, point-by-point narrative as to why I’ll eventually move away and back home.
What sparked me into writing this sooner rather than later was my recent attendance at a local university event, to which I was invited as an alumnus – I originally came to Germany for grad school and, funny enough, was bent on wanting to stay here at the time, thinking it would be so much better than Malaysia. Honestly, I was there for the free food (recent thoughts about buying a house in KL have gotten the cheapskate part of my brain ramping up to hardcore mode) and to meet people for the off-chance I would get to make a new friend or two. But who was I kidding?
The only face I recognized there was one of the department heads, an older Asian lady who probably immigrated to Germany a long time ago, whom I chatted with after being appalled by the assortment of biscuits, and lack of any real food that I was there for. She proceeds to introduce me to the only other alumnus of my program (the rest of the event attendees were current or prospective students) – a young lady whom I talk to for maybe three minutes before she talks to some dude she already knows and drifts away.
You should stay because it’s great in Berlin and Germany – whatever great means
I hang around for a bit but everyone’s pretty much indulged in their own circles – typical. I then bump into the department head again and we briefly talk about what I’m doing (as in, am I working here in the city) and what my plan is. I tell her what I’ve been telling people in the past month and a half: I went back to Malaysia on vacation, discovered that it offers so much and is very much what Germany isn’t (in a positive way), and I plan to return in the near future.
She tells me the exact same thing many people tell me: “you should stay, Berlin is a great city and Germany’s a good country” and proceeds to paraphrase this statement in several different ways (just like how everyone else does too).
Her argument is ultimately that I should spend more time here (like my 4 years hasn’t been enough) and maybe I’ll learn to like it more and stay for an even longer time.
It’s not a very productive conversation – to me, it’s not unlike when I ask someone why they’re buying an Apple laptop when those devices are completely non-repairable, have their flaws, MacOS being nearly a decade past its golden days, and the fact you could get a superior non-Apple laptop for the same price… and the only reply they can muster is “it’s a great laptop because it’s an Apple” without addressing any of the previously-mentioned arguments.
After the department head excuses herself to tend to a bunch of students, I try talking to the young lady – the other alumnus – again. But she’s still engrossed talking to the dude she knows and another girl who is her friend. They barely acknowledge my existence despite me trying to join in on the conversation. At this point, I wonder to myself why I even bother – the free food sucks and there’s nobody to meet here – and I leave to go get my groceries and not waste any more time than the 45 minutes I’ve already wasted at this venue.
I shouldn’t have to repeat myself, let alone argue why I’ll be leaving
Where am I going with this? Just like the lady above, many people are curious why I plan to leave Germany and go home to Kuala Lumpur. This is fine and I’m not surprised. What’s annoying, though, is when many of those people try to argue against the life choice you are trying to make for yourself (and not them!) Maybe they need to make themselves feel better for being stuck here so it’s better to point fingers and say that folks like me are wrong.
The primary 6 reasons
Whatever it is, the following list of main reasons (in no particular order) why I plan to leave Germany, which are based on personal experiences living here for nearly 4 years, not stuff I read on the internet (because that’s exactly how I ended up in this mess in the first place – reading up about Germany on the internet and seeing only positive/good things parroted by the shills and people who don’t want to be wrong):
Reason 1: The non-existent social life
Many an attempt at a conversation typically go the way described above with the young lady and her friends – happens around the world but I’ve noticed it’s far more common here than other places I’ve lived. People only want to mix with their existing cliques and rarely ever venture out of their social circle, unless you’re attractive and preferably female (like this skinny, tall American-European chick from work) or there’s alcohol involved. There are cultures (North America, South East Asia) where people socialize just fine in everyday situations without resorting to damaging their liver.
Smoking is also extremely prevalent and indoor smoking is also allowed in majority of night life (including tiny bars with a maximum occupancy of 30) and open-air daytime venues (e.g., restaurants with indoor seating but have completely open sliding doors to outdoor seating).
Reason 2: Customer service is terrible
Perhaps going hand-in-hand with the above, customer service is absolutely crappy. So much so that even German themselves seem to acknowledge this fact. Service can range from extremely basic (server brings you food, you have to ask store staff for help) to bad (restaurant staff who don’t care there’s hair in your food “just take it out and continue eating!”), to really bad (in Germany, customer service scolds the customer!) to outright accusing and scamming you (shout out to Geox Berlin and Lexus Berlin!) There is simply no respect for the customer in most places; instead it’s like you owe the staff more than they are paid to serve/assist you.
Exceptions of course exist for high-end retailers if you look the part and dress nice (KaDeWe and Burberry Berlin have been consistently pleasant for me) and large online retailers (Amazon Germany, Mindfactory).
Reason 3: The language barrier
Contrary to what you’ll likely read/get told, German isn’t a particularly difficult language to learn. But as with all languages, it takes hours of practice and learning (an estimated 750 hours) just to be able to have day-to-day conversations (even more if you plan to become fluent, especially for business or academic purposes). That’s a solid 15 hours a week for a year to build a foundation, and even more to develop further.
Time isn’t free and the hundreds of hours spent on learning a language represent a huge opportunity cost – you could have started a side business, picked up a new hobby, maybe even work a real, paying part-time job. Also contrary to the bullshit spread around on the internet, many Germans do not or will not speak English. I can say with confidence that the percentage of old ladies at outdoor/wet markets in Malaysia, who tend to be high school dropouts, who are willing and able to speak English is higher than the percentage of educated Germans under 40 who will do the same (their level of English is also highly competitive against Germans who speak English).
Reason 4: Poor career path and salaries for foreigners
“Equality is better in Germany so the salaries are lower” and “Berlin is a cheap city so the pay isn’t very high” are two of the biggest lies commonly served to foreigners. Tell that to the 35-year-old Germans with 7 years of experience (they tend to graduate late here) pulling in 70,000 EUR per year and 45-year-old senior German managers earning in excess of 130,000 to 180,000 EUR per year; both in Berlin BTW.
Don’t get me wrong, Germany is a great place to be for many fresh graduates, compared to Malaysia or even the USA, because of the initially excellent salary/benefit to cost of living (COL) ratio. However, the story is different past the 5 to 8 year mark for experience when it’s simply better to just go home. Salary and benefits in Germany do scale competitively… for locals. Despite visa policies putting foreigners on par with local EU and German citizens for ease of finding work and company paperwork, it becomes clear at some point that white Germans get top priority for promotions and high-level positions, followed by EU citizens, then whites from Anglophone countries (non-white Germans sit somewhere in between 2nd and 3rd place), and finally, everybody else.
This is even true of German companies that are very “Americanized” and serve mostly English-speaking markets. For instance, my present and previous companies were both German “startups” small businesses of 200-300 employees, work entirely in English, with 90% of clients outside of Germany, with only 15% of headcount being Germans; yet an overwhelming majority of that 15% sit in upper management or very high level positions.
Reason 5: Racism and the non-existent dating life
A narrative I’ve heard is that America is racist, particularly towards Asians, but Germany isn’t so because they don’t have all that “racist Hollywood, Anglophone crap” (unlike neighboring countries which have media in English with local subtitles, English media in Germany are also dubbed in German). This is patently false.
Dating is an absolute nightmare here especially if you’re Asian and male, which is also the case in just about every developed Western country on the planet – I even have the data and statistics to prove it. In Germany, you get the bonus of a high population of smokers and being at a language disadvantage. And in Berlin, there’s an amplified bonus of a high population of weirdos who dress in all black, have a large number of tattoos and/or piercings, and/or are a little over-committed to recreational drugs.
Did I mention “it’s hard to learn German because Germans like to practice their English and never speak German to you” only applies to white people? To give you an idea of my level of English (in case it’s not apparent in writing), people who get to know me frequently assume me to be Asian-American, and that includes Americans themselves. Not once in my 4 years in Germany, or Berlin (the most English-speaking city in Germany!), has that happened to me – in fact, many random Germans are shocked that my English is “so good” or that I even speak English.
Reason 6: Lower quality of life
I say this as a fan of having a nice (automatic standard) car, partial to fully serviced apartment, high-tech gadgets and modern appliances, online everything, (H)VAC system. A very American lifestyle, as some may describe it, which the Malaysian (and Singaporean) lifestyle is surprisingly closer to than Germany.
“Life in Germany is more modest, unlike the wasteful Americans” is a classic cop out used by many who attempt to justify their mediocre living standard here (not realizing there are many upper-middle and upper class Germans who have access to and live that same “wasteful American lifestyle”). Cash is king, dishwashers make people go “wow”, airconditioning is a luxury that even few workplaces have (mostly MNCs and big corporate), contactless payments which just went mainstream in 2017 (“Paywave” in Malaysia) is seen as a modern-day magical marvel, manual transmission cars are still the standard, and it still costs 20 or 50 cents to use any public restroom (which Malaysia also had… in the 90’s and did away with)
Sure the air is fresher, even in supposedly smoggy downtown Berlin (source: a Swedish friend who has had even fresher air), compared to Kuala Lumpur… but indoor smoking is still incredibly prevalent in Germany in 2018, while Malaysia has long done away with that ages ago and as of October, is already looking to ban outdoor smoking in public venues in 2019.
I guess the other saving grace here is better employment laws, that lead to supposedly better work-life balance (though this seems to be an up-and-coming trend in white collar Malaysia).
Things I’ll miss
I’m already planning my eventual move back and the day I leave Germany for good, I’ll miss Amazon, close access to my favorite shirt, suit and leather makers (who are based in Scandinavia and Britain) and the several close friends I’ve made here. But the pros heavily outweigh the cons in so many ways… even the 2,000 words above can barely scratch the surface of why it sucks to live here (as a foreigner) compared to going home. There are many points in the 6 reasons above, and more, that warrant their own detailed write-ups, so look out for those in the future.