FROM THE BERLIN GIRL WHO MOVED OUT TO EXPLORE MIAMI

EVERTHING IS DIFFERENT – 10 THINGS THAT WORK DIFFERENTLY HERE, THAN IN GERMANY

On the other side of the ocean, the clocks tick differently than in Germany. There are still some things I still have not got used to. But there are also situations in which I think: “Whoa, I think that would be good in Germany, too.” You will learn more about this in my article.

OTHER COUNTRIES, OTHER MANNERS

If you move to another country, you should be aware, that a lot of thinks work completely different than in your homeland. Whether you like it or not. We also had big question marks written on our faces, when we moved to Florida. Fortunately, all the people we met, were very patient and understanding for us perfectionist Germans (which, of course, I mean positive).

HERE THEY ARE, THE 10 DIFFERENT THINGS THAT WORK DIFFERENTLY HERE IN THE U.S.

1. YOU NEVER KNOW FOR SURE WHAT YOU HAVE TO PAY

Yes, that’s right. It does not matter if I buy groceries, technology or clothing, the cashier always wants more money from me, than I have calculated in my head. Why is that? In the U.S., the price tags are always stated before taxes. Reason: The respective states set the tax rate themselves. In addition, counties and cities often put a few percent points on top of it individually.

Florida’s sales tax is only six percent, but Miami-Dade County – like many other Counties in Florida – still adds one percentage point on top. In Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire or Oregon I would not have this problem. Because there is simply no sales tax. So keep that in mind when you want to emigrate 😉

What I also find quite frustrating, are various fees you have to pay when you want to stay at a hotel or buy an online ticket for an event, for instance. I am aware that there are also certain fees in Germany, but those are not that high, in my experience. Here, you partly pay 30-40% on top of that and you do not even know exactly why.

2. PEOPLE ACTUALLY WORK ON ROADWORKS

Now, I have to pursue a German culture and complain. I am sure many Germans – especially urban people – are sick and tired of road construction in particular. My husband and I were in Berlin for a few days back in June this year. We were surrounded by construction sites, it was ridiculous. We even knew one roadwork from before we moved to Miami in 2016! In Germany we have really long roadwork sections on the motorway (Autobahn). If you are lucky you can spot a handful of construction workers. In the city, however, the construction sites seem to be completely abandoned. Super annoying and unnecessary.

Who would have thought that, sometimes here in Florida, you do not even realize that there are roadworks at all. Now, I have to mention, that the majority of Americans are very car-friendly. Everything is perfectly designed for cars. There are six-lane highways and gigantic parking lots. Of course, the roads must be in good condition.

Here is how it works: In the evening, the construction workers arrive and lock off part of the road or highway and go to work… all night long. Everything will be packed up, before rush hour starts. In the evening they are coming back and continue work on next section. I personally think this method is much more effective.

3. IT IS EXTREMELY EASY TO GET A DRIVER’S LICENSE

Let us talk more about cars, shall we? The hurdles and costs to obtain a driver’s license here, are ridiculously low for the security-loving German. I am going to summarize this in a short, simple listing… seems fitting to me.

  • first you have to got to the DMV (Department for Motor Vehicles)
  • you will need proof of passing the TLSAE (Traffic Law and Substance Abuse Education) Course, which will cost you $20-$25
  • Bring proof of Identity and adress (You have to be at least 16 years old, but there is an option to get a driver’s license at 15, but there are different regulations. Similar to Germany, when you want to obtain your driver’s license with 17.)
  • Pass the written test (you actually can skip questions)
  • Pass the driving test (takes place on a parking lot)
  • Pay $48 fees (before taxes of course)

And that is it. That is how quick and cheap you get your driver’s license in Florida. To obtain the motorcycle license does not necessarily look any different. It is a bit more expensive and just a bit more time consuming. We paid about $230 for a weekend crash course. We were a total of eight future motorcyclists, who drove slalom and completed more exercises in first and second gear only, on a parking lot. At the end of the course there was a written test as well as a riding test, which one had to complete. That is it. (I have to admit at this point, that I needed four days, which is still ridiculously little time.)

Here is a direct comparison between my German and American driver’s license. By the way, it took my about five months to get my driver’s license and I spent about 1,800 Euros. Let that sink in. Some people pay less or even more. It depends on how many classes you need and if you fail the driving test, which takes place in actual traffic.

For some reason I cannot edit the caption, so here is the translation:
Picture on the left: I am very fond of the fact, that there is a note if someone is an organ donor. That is something I would like to see in Germany as well.
Picture on the right: Here is the unspectacular back.

4. MOBILE EMERGENCY ALERTS

To this day I still startle, when those alerts come from my mobile phone. For about ten seconds, my cell phone beeps like crazy, and I did not even know that it was able to do that. These emergency alerts are sent to all cell phones, that are in a certain danger zone. You do not need apps, subscriptions or anything else in order to receive those alerts. In Germany however, you will need specific apps.

Handy Alarm

This is how an Emergency Alert looks like

According to the American Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), more than 1,000 federal, state, and local authorities in the U.S. are entitled to send emergency alerts. These messages are being transmitted via the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS). For example, agencies such as the National Weather Service can send hurricane warnings. In California, local authorities send e.g. Warning messages about forest fires. But also the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) can send the so-called AMBER alerts, when children are missing or kidnapped. (Since September 2016, photos can also be sent via IPAWS.) According to amberalert.gov, over the past 21 years, 924 children have been successfully brought home with the help of the AMBER. I personally think that is more than useful.

5. CRIMINAL NEIGHBORHOOD

What do you actually know about your neighbors? You greet each other friendly and borrow tools from one another. That is about it, right? But do you really want to know more? In Germany, as well as here, I do not care too much, as long as it stays calm.

Well, here in the surveillance state, you actually have the possibility to find out, if your neighbor has a criminal record. There are various websites where you can search for people. Or you simply enter your own address and see how many criminals or ex-criminals live in your neighborhood. Photo, name, address and criminal offense are publicly visible, for everyone.

That is unthinkable in Germany, since there is a very strict data protection law. In Germany it often takes a long time, before mug shots or images of a wanted person are even published. Because the perpetrator has personal rights. Here in America these are quickly forfeited.

But does that make you feel safer now? Does one become more skeptical or even paranoid because of the knowledge that there are indeed criminals around you? Does the publication of the data seduce people to commit self-justice? As you can see, there are some questions running through my head. What do you think about this topic?

6. HOMESCHOOLING

Anyone who thinks, that homeschooling means parents teach their children at home, is only partially correct. The more I have read about the subject, the more confused I became. This topic is way over my head. In Germany there is the so called „Schulpflicht“ which means, students have to attend school by law. However, the american law requires, that children have to get tought. But that does not have to take place in schools. In the USA, education is a matter of the states, same in Germany by the way. Accordingly, each state has different laws and requirements when it comes to homeschooling. Approximately 3.4 million children and adolescents are taught at home in the United States. This information is based on estimates, as homeschoolers do not need to be registered in every state. However, an upward trend has been recorded for years.

Homeschooling is more of an alternative to standard public school education. Parents can send their children to various courses where experts in their field pass on their specialist knowledge to the younger generation. Or teachers come to their own homes and teach the children. There are many different ways to educate your children outside of the public school system. The specific state dictates the learning content.

Why is this type of education so popular? According to air.org, nine out of ten parents say, they fear about the safety of their children (drugs, peer pressure, bullying, etc.). Other reasons include providing moral and religious views. But also the fact, that the child has a learning disability or other limitations plays a role.

7. THE SOCIAL SAFETY NET

In the United States of America, you can live wonderfully, when you are super healthy and have a good job. For everyone else it means: struggling, struggling, struggling. My heart breaks again and again when, I see elderly people in particular, who still have to work hard in order to make ends meet. Unfortunately, there are more than enough homeless people here too, and that happens way faster here, compared to Germany.

However, it astonishes me very much so, that there are indeed social insurances in the USA:

  • Pension Insurance
  • Unemployment insurance
  • Accident insurance
  • Health insurance (Medicare) is required for now. The penalty for going uncovered for 2018 will be $695 per adult or 2.5% of household income in excess of tax filing thresholds, whichever is higher. In 2019 consumers will be able to go without coverage and not face a fine.
    (Source: http://time.com/money/5043622/gop-tax-reform-bill-individual-mandate/)

There are also 12 U.S. welfare programs:

  • Negative Income Tax
    Two tax credit programs, Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC), are administered by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to distribute money to low-income Americans. The tax credits include a “refundable” portion which is paid to individuals and families that owe no income tax for the year. Therefore, this portion of the tax credits act as “negative income tax”.
  • SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)
    This is a food program for low-income individuals and families. SNAP used to be called the food stamp program. It is run by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). Participants receive a debit card which is accepted in most grocery stores for the purchase of food.
  • Housing Assistance
    Various housing programs are administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) including rental assistance, public housing and various community development grants.
  • SSI (Supplemental Security Income)
    This is a program to pay cash to low-income individuals over 65 years of age or under 65 if the individual is blind or disabled. SSI is administered by the Social Security Administration.
  • Pell Grants
    This is a grant program administered by the Department of Education to distribute up to $5,550 to students from low-income households to promote postsecondary education (colleges and trade schools).
  • TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families)
    This is a combined federal and state program that pays cash to low-income households with the goal of moving individuals from welfare to work. TANF is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Child Nuitrition
    These are food programs administered by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) which include school lunch, breakfast and after school programs. They target children from low-income households and provide free or reduced price meals.
  • Head Start and Child Care
    This is a pre-school program available to kids from low-income families. It is administered by HHS (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).
  • Job Training Programs
    These are a myriad of training programs administered by the Department of Labor (DOL) to provide job training, displacement and employment services generally targeting low-income Americans.
  • WIC (Women, Infants and Children)
    This is a program to provide Healthy food to pregnant women and children up to five years of age. WIC is available to low-income households.
  • LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program)
    This is a program to aid low-income households that pay a high proportion of household income for home energy, either heating or cooling a residential dwelling. LIHEAP stands for is administered by HHS.
  • Lifeline (Obama Phone)
    This is a program to provide discounted phone service, including cell phones, to low-income individuals. The program is administered by the Federal Communications Commission.

People with low income, seniors and people with disabilities/restrictions are indeed receiving help from the state. But one must not forget that, of course, certain conditions must be met in order to be able to claim these benefits. Nothing is simply given to you.

Source: http://federalsafetynet.com/us-welfare-programs.html

The 2018 Federal Poverty Level (FPL):
(annual income)

  • $ 12,140 for individuals
  • $ 16,460 for a family of two
  • $ 20,780 for a family of three
  • $ 25,100 for a family of four
  • $ 29,420 for a family of five
  • $ 33,740 for a family of six

In order to participate in most welfare programs, the income must be 130% to 180% below the poverty line. Non US citizen, of course, cannot claim those benefits. There are quite a few benefits, but it does not seem to be effective enough. The gap between poor and rich is growing and about 40 million Americans live below the poverty line. And I’m worried that the situation is getting worse under the Trump administration.

Source: https://www.healthcare.gov/glossary/federal-poverty-level-fpl/

8. EXOTIC PETS

America is also called „The Land of Unlimited Possibilities”. If you live in the right state, you can keep wild animals like lions, tigers or bears as pets without any problems whatsoever. But after an incident in 2011, when a man released his 18 tigers, 17 lions, eight bears, three pumas, two wolves, a baboon and a macaque, some states have tightened their laws. Now there are “only” a handful of states which have no restrictions at all, when it comes to exotic animals.

exotic animals in the U.S.

This infographic shows, which U.S. states do not care too much about the well-being of exotic/wild animals. Source: https://www.businessinsider.com/exotic-animal-ownership-united-states-2016-1

All other states require certain licenses and permits. Some of those are easier to get than others, it really depends in which state you live. Here in Florida, for example, wild animals are divided into three different classes. Animals of class III are prohibited. If you want to keep an animal of the classes II or I you will need a license/permit.

All these regulations are great, but there is a loophole. Those who intend to display their exotic animal(s) to the public, can apply for a Class C license (for Zoo, Circus) from the USDA. The requirements for this specific license are not very demanding. The costs are somewhere between $30 and $300 annually, depending on the number of animals one has.

According to Carson Barylak, (IFAW), there are about 10,000 wildcats (especially tigers) living in captivity in the U.S. That is more than there are in the wilderness.

A devastating problem of the partly easy access to exotic animals, is the safety of humans, animals and ecosystems. Unfortunately, it often happens that exotic animals are carelessly abandoned in a habitat in which they are not native. This can cause serious consequences for the fragile ecosystems in the country. In the Everglades, for example, biologists and park guards are trying to eradicate the Burmese Python and its hybrids, as they have no natural enemies. More about Everglades can be found here in my article. (I’ll translate it soon, promise)

To counteract the nonsensical abandonment of wild animals, the “Exotic Pet Amnesty Day” was introduced. Since 2006, owners can anonymously submit their special “pets“. Those animals are getting adopted by responsible people on the very same day. Annually, several of these events take place in the U.S.

At this point I would like to recommend a wonderful and eye-opening documentary on this topic: “Elephant in the Living Room”.

9. GUNS

Tricky topic, especially this year after 23 school shootings! Parkland (Florida), in particular, comes into my mind. On February 14, 2018, nineteen-year-old Nikolas Cruz shot 14 students, three teachers and injured 15 others with a rifle. This pointless bloodbath has once again sparked a fierce debate on the subject of gun laws in the USA. This time though, I really think that something can change. There are elections in November and I’m more than excited.

The very close relationship with weapons has grown historically in America. The 2nd Amendment from 1791 states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This article is sacred to many Americans. But in my opinion, they overlook that laws should be adapted to the modern weapons of the 21st century.

Why do civilians need a rifle? In order to defend themselves from a coup? Please, give me a break. Anyone who is fond of weapons and likes to go to the shooting range should be free to do so. This is everyone’s private matter, a hobby/sport. The discussion about a new and most importantly stricter gun law, is currently dividing the country extremely. I even understand that people in certain areas actually need a gun for self-defense. However, I would like to deal with this topic in more detail.

For US citizens it is more or less straightforward to buy a handgun or a rifle. But as always, different laws apply in every single state. (Why is it actually called United States, when all states do their own thing?)

In Florida, every US citizen who is at least 18 years old can buy a handgun or a rifle. Licenses are not required unless you want to carry your handgun (costs $ 70). Furthermore, the weapons do not even have to be registered. For convicted offenders it is still unlawful to buy or own a firearm. For this reason, each dealer must arrange a background check of the buyer. After three days the buyer can actually take the weapon home, if he has a clean record of course.

Source: https://www.nraila.org/gun-laws/state-gun-laws/florida/

10. OVERTAKE ON THE RICHT

Probably every German is holding their breath right now. But yes, it is legal and is often practiced here: Overtaking on the right.

Autobahn

Like in Germany, in America slower vehicles should keep right and faster traffic should overtake from the left. This is extremely strict in Germany and no one ever, overtakes from the right. This is a big NO GO. It is different in the States. On one hand, there are exits on the left side of the interstates, on the other hand, there are six- to eight-lane roads, where it is simply unthinkable to always overtake from the left. That is why I have become an extremely foresighted driver. At least, there are hardly tailgaters here, because you can overtake from all sides. Furthermore, the maximum speed limit in Florida is only 70 mph, while in Germany you can drive as fast as you want on certain interstates.

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