Anyone who talks to me on a regular basis knows how much I enjoy living in Germany. I realize if cynicism, sarcasm, and dark humor aren't really your things, it may very well come across on my blog that I have a long list of painful things I want to do to Germany that would make even the Spanish High Inquisitor proud. But remember, I only mock the things I love. And I love Germany. That I've been here almost a year and still love this place is a testament to how wonderful it really is. Al and I even have a point-system competition going, where he's always finding plus points for America, and I'm always finding plus points for Germany. Germany is fabulous, and, let's be honest, does almost everything better than America--health care, university, beer, you name it, Germany wins. But in a few very surprising areas, America not only kicks Germany's ass, it grills said ass in a frying pan and hands it back on a stars-and-stripes- platter. And these are not the areas I would have thought America would win in. Awesome snack foods and crappy politicians, yes. But efficiency, student funding, and access to birth control? Really?
Allow me to explain!
1) Efficiency and Bureaucracy
Ironically enough, for a country that prides itself on being efficient, Germany is positively backwards when it comes to actually implementing efficient tactics. In fact, getting shit done here is only marginally easier than it was in Bolivia, which was a third-world country, but if worst came to worst, a well-placed bribe could always be counted on to get the system moving. In the midst of a bureaucratic nightmare, this is the single redeeming factor. Unfortunately, Germany bureaucracy is like Nightmare on Elm Street teamed up with Invasion of the Body Snatchers to lock The Exorcist in a basement and eat its' face off (which, ironically enough, seems to be the new black in America). And you can't even bribe people so they leave your face alone.
The problem, I've decided, is that any system in Germany is like a well-oiled, German-made machine. But there's virtually no communication between the various cogs in the machine, so nothing gets done and you wind up just kicking the damn thing and cursing about how next time you're buying Japanese.
As an example of horrendous efficiency, take, for example, my library. The university itself has a really, really good library, which is also shaped like a hand for a bonus points. However, each department then has it's own smaller sub-library, which is confusing unto itself, because God forbid your book crosses departments, hope you like goose chases, sucker. My department is no exception to the confusing rule, although for extra efficiency, our library is spread out across two buildings. If you've finally located your book, here's how you check it out:
Step 1) Fill out a form.
Step 2) Receive your semester library card, which is not your student ID like every other functioning university library on the planet. Rather, it's a pink piece of paper which doesn't fit in your wallet, thus prepping you for future bureaucracy when you lose it/the semester ends.
Step 3) Get your books.
Step 4) Show the librarian your semester library card.
Step 5) Fill out a form for every book you take out, with the book's title, author, call number, and date of publication, which the librarian then stores in a box.
Step 6) Go home and ponder why your department library is stuck in the 1870's.
This is how every other functioning library on the the planet works:
Step 1) Get books.
Step 2) Scan ID card and books.
Step 3) Leave.
In all fairness, the university library itself is digital and normal and not weird unless you count the shaped-like-a-hand thing, which I rather like. But my department's library, while excellent, is also useless in the efficiency department. I'm sure it has a very good reason for resisting the passage of time, but I don't know what it is.
2) Funding for Students
Just to be clear, it's no secret that the German university system is about a million times better than the American system. The quality of education is better, and little or no tuition means that the bank will never own your soul. However, in America's defense, it is an absolute bitch trying to get funding as a student here.
In the US, scholarships are merit-based; work hard, get money, it's like the American dream wrapped up in a five hundred word essay. And if your grades aren't good enough, or you don't want to deal with the hassle, it's always really easy to get a loan--walk in, fill out some forms, e voila. And while there are certain negative aspects of the system (like ridiculously expensive tuition fees which means you spend the rest of your life trying to pay the bank back for your soul), the fact of the matter is, it's easy to get funding as a student.
Not so here. Scholarships are politically-based, so your interests need to lie with those of the party, or else it sucks to be you. And financial aid is based on whether or not the organization determines your parents earn enough to give you an allowance every month, like you're a ten-year-old learning the value of a dollar. For me, this means that, in a system meant to help every student afford university, I get cockblocked like it's my job: I'm too foreign, I'm not foreign enough, I'm not from a war zone, my country is too rich, I'm not studying long enough, my parents are middle class and should support me and never mind that they've got my little sister whose university costs 20K a year. This is when I usually start to hit things, or cry, or both.
On the plus side, Al 's been helping me with form after form after form which is amazingly nice of him and I need to think of some brilliant way to pay him back. He's optimistic and I trust him. Something will work, I'm sure, but in the meantime, it's hugely frustrating. If my financial aid application gets rejected, the next step is to try all the conservative political parties that my host parents talked me out of applying to. When I told my friends here that story, the reaction was a unanimous eyebrow raise, followed by a, "Money is money man, you take it where you can get it." Apparently, sticking to your principles is something you can only afford to do on a double income--which I'm okay with. At this point in my life, principles are lovely, but they don't buy me dinner.
3) Access to Birth Control
That line about principles doesn't apply to this, mostly because I'm a woman and this is a female principle.
I realize access to birth control is a major issue in America right now, not so much hot-button as it is hey-dude-your-control-panel-appears-to-be-on-fire. The female body has become the Afghanistan of American politics, and it is not a fun feeling. The conservatives and the democrats are eating each other's faces off (new black, remember?), everyone's trying to make abortion illegal, Rush Limbaugh calls every woman who takes birth control a slut--the battle goes on and on. So, in all fairness, when it comes to the stability of access to birth control, Germany is a clear winner. But if we narrow our criteria a bit--from all of America, to, say, New Jersey--Germany goes down.
Since I'm not the most educated person in the world on this stuff (Jen, you know way more about this than I do), feel free fact-check me.
New Jersey is not the greatest state for access to birth control, but it's a far cry from the worst as well. But it beats out Germany in two major areas of the issue: insurance coverage, and abortion.
Starting in August, under one of the new Obama laws, insurance companies that cover prescription drugs also have to cover (completely) birth control. At the moment, I think it depends on your insurance--some will cover it, and some won't. Unlike in Germany, where the public insurance refuses to pay for birth control at all except for health reasons, and "not getting pregnant" doesn't count as a health reason. And birth control unto itself is expensive. Like, really, really expensive. Another plus for NJ is that you can get the morning after pill without a prescription, seven days a week, and it's relatively inexpensive. In Germany, you require a prescription from a doctor, and the pill is expensive, and insurance won't touch it, and the doctor is closed on Sundays, so if your condom breaks on Saturday, the earliest you can get the morning after pill is Monday. By which point you might as well start picking out baby names, because getting an abortion is complicated.
In Jersey, you can get an abortion on-demand, on the spot, and most insurances will cover part, if not all, of the procedure. Not so in Germany. The public insurance system won't touch it, so you're looking at a few hundred euros out of pocket, right from the get-go. In addition, I find the process they make you go through offensive. First, you have to go to the doctor to determine you're pregnant. Then, they send you to a psychiatrist who, from what I understand, has to try and convince you not to have an abortion? while also gauging whether you're mentally sound enough to have one at all? If you fail the other-options test, but pass the insanity one, the psychiatrist gives you a certificate. Then you have to wait at least three days before they let you go back, present the certificate, and actually have an abortion. And in Bavaria, you can't get an abortion at all, so in that way, it's sort of like Ireland.
Despite how difficult Germany makes it to get birth control, the population growth rate is in the negatives. In my brain, this means either one of two things: German condoms are the magical prophylactic equivalent of the Berlin Wall, or people just don't have sex. Survey says?
In conclusion, that was my three things I find America does better, but shouldn't. Because this is Europe!
In other news, Berlin was a wonderful, wonderful, and very long day. We left at eight-thirty in the morning, and the Kiwi and I spent the entire 3.5 hour drive there harassing the boys and dancing obnoxiously to ninety's and Glee mixed CDs. Once we arrived, our group split up in three different directions, as Al and I went to first meet up with a friend I went to Bolivia with, and then do some of our own touristy things. Somewhere in the course of the day, I bought two Dunkin Donuts, which I then put in my purse so I could loudly and frequently remind everyone that I had doughnuts in my purse. We got home at 3.30 in the morning, and were broken the entire next day, but at least we all had fun!