Every day our compatriots are surprised by the rules of the new life. What positives and negatives do Ukrainians note in Germany?
Germany has taken in more than 700,000 refugees so far. Since the end of February, we Ukrainians with a long “German background”, like most people not indifferent to grief, have had to volunteer and help our compatriots in Germany more than once.
During those three months we saw more than once how surprised Ukrainians were when they learned about the laws, customs and traditions of that country. Of course, to avoid misunderstandings, as well as small and big troubles, it is better to know about them in advance. It turns out that an ordinary misdemeanour that might have gone unnoticed at home can result in a huge fine. For instance killing or even injuring a bee that flies up to your drink can cost up to 60,000 Euro in North Rhine-Westphalia! The penalty can only be mitigated by the fact that you are allergic to allergies but this has to be proved as well as the fact that you were actually threatened by a bee.
Every day, our compatriots are surprised by the rules of the new life. What positives and negatives do Ukrainians observe in Germany?
Most of those encountered expressed great thanks to the German government for its hospitality and care. All refugees in any city and at any time can turn to first aid centres, which are usually located in main train stations. Volunteers can be found through announcements in Ukrainian on loudspeakers. Their main task is to provide the newcomers with temporary free accommodation, which, frankly, not everyone is satisfied with. The best case scenario is a modest local hotel, while those who are not so lucky end up in a refugee camp, equipped sports halls in schools or large-scale exhibition centre pavilions.
The problem of permanent housing is acute in Germany because there are very few available flats. There are also some nuances – many private flat owners refuse to take in families without permanent jobs who are dependent on social services, or with small children or pets. Some of the Ukrainians, to the great surprise of the Germans, dared to take even exotic animals with them, for example a pet lynx. Our people complain that housing is simply not available in big cities, mostly in the suburbs. But housing was an acute problem even before the Ukrainian crisis, given the influx of migrants from other countries.
Germany is one of the few countries in the world that provides refugees with a substantial social package that the average German unemployed person can always count on. For example, from June 1, 2022, the social benefit amounts to 449 euros per adult, officially registered with the employment office. In addition to the basic benefit, Ukrainian refugees can also apply under a simplified procedure for an additional benefit of €219 per child up to the age of 18 or 21, depending on many factors.
From day one, refugees are provided with everything they need – for just a few euros they can buy food items that are nearing the end of their shelf life, for example. Most settlements have humanitarian headquarters where you can get baby food, clothes, hygiene products and a free SIM card. You have to pay for your own Internet bill. For three months refugees can exercise freely in some fitness clubs, go to swimming pools for free, and visit museums, theatrical performances and other cultural events. Ukrainians can get their eyesight checked and get glasses free of charge at optician’s shops. Everyone who arrives can get free medical care, such as medication, psychologist and dentist.
Free Bachelor’s and Master’s studies in Germany are available to Ukrainians at all public higher education institutions. In most cases, students do not need to take entrance exams, but it is important to remember that studying is conducted in German. For this purpose, Ukrainians are offered various free language and integration courses, where teachers teach German without pronouncing a single word in Ukrainian or Russian. This makes it very uncomfortable.
The first thing that surprises Ukrainians in ordinary life is public transport. It is said to be a means of transport, but also a luxury. For example, a one-way ticket for an hour in Frankfurt-am-Main costs €2.75 and a full-day ticket costs €5.75. As for the transport itself, it’s quite comfortable: with padded seats and ventilation. Wearing masks in transport is still compulsory today, and this is rather unusual for our compatriots. There is a hefty fine for not wearing a mask properly or refusing to wear one. During the first wave of the coronavirus in April 2020, offenders were fined €410,000 in Frankfurt city transport alone, and €382,000 in Stuttgart.
Until May 31, 2022 (from June, 1 this benefit for refugees has been canceled) Ukrainians have been allowed to use public transportation free of charge. But from June 1 to August 1, the cost of a monthly pass for all modes of transport, with the exception of high-speed long-distance trains, is only 9 euros. This amount is 10 times less than the price of a regular monthly pass! That is, if before any adult had to pay more than 90 euros for it, for three summer months he will spend only 27 euros, which allows you to travel throughout Germany. The promotion was part of a multi-billion euro aid package by the federal government. In the first week one million tickets were purchased – an absolute record!
Germany has a special driving culture and is extremely courteous on the roads – you can be sure that you will always be passed if you cross on the zebra. You can board a trolley or a bicycle on public transport. Ukrainians complain about barrier-free roads for wheelchair users and the size of the road signs – even visually impaired people can see where to go! The most important thing about public transport is of course its “German” punctuality. At all bus stops there are displays showing how many minutes remain till the next tram, bus or metro train arrives in the big cities. By the way, there are no trolleybuses in Germany. The government is now considering the possibility of recognizing Ukrainian drivers’ licenses in Germany.
And now, an unofficial quick survey.
– In brief, what has struck Ukrainians in Germany?
– Social protection.
– When asked what common traits are shared by the Germans and Ukrainians, the latter have noted
– What has positively surprised Ukrainians in native Germans?
– Politeness and caring.
– What has first of all surprised our compatriots in the street?
– The number of foreigners and well-groomed elderly people.
What distinguishes the German way of life from that in Ukraine?
Firstly, what is called eco-consciousness. Our people are surprised with how much they care about nature and everything connected with it. You will agree, it is strange, when you get 25 cents for putting the empty bottle from mineral water into the machine. The way the parks are looked after, the condition of the playgrounds for different age groups, their safety checks and the sprinkling of wood shavings or sand for the kids should be mentioned.
Secondly, it is the institution of the family and a decent old age. For the well-being of children and the elderly, everything has been thought of, from the simple to the complex. It is pleasing to the eye when tidy retired people go to a café with friends and enjoy life.
Young people in Germany also have an active lifestyle – many ride bicycles, go jogging and walking, and hit the gym in droves.
There are many advantages to health insurance, and in the legal field you can always find the guilty party. In any disputes, you will find grounds for defence not only from a lawyer, but also in your work contract, which ensures a stable job and a decent wage. From 1 October 2022 the minimum wage in Germany will increase to 12 euros (gross) per hour. The other side of the coin is taxes. Depending on their marital status, people who work pay more than 50% of taxes and social contributions. Of course, no envelope wages are out of the question.
Two worlds, two ways of life
The expectation-reality mechanism fails on both sides: the Germans as soon as possible want to see Ukrainians at work, while our compatriots are not ready to accept the new reality and are in no hurry to follow the German letter of the law. Many of those who nurtured high hopes, but realized that free cheese can only be found in a mousetrap, are returning home, and those who have never confused “tourism with emigration,” are already employed. We have had to feel guilty for our compatriots because some of them feel they are owed everything. There are, unfortunately, some newly minted welfare recipients, who take advantage of Germans’ inherent naivety not only to travel around Europe, but also dream of constantly shuttling between Ukraine and Germany in the future with the latter’s money. The encounter with such people leaves a peculiar taste not worthy of remembering. Despite the prevailing appreciation, our compatriots complain a lot.
First of all, the word “refugee” itself is irritating, and the forced relocation and rejection of their usual way of life causes considerable discomfort. It is not only Ukrainians who have changed their lives during the war. Germans, who have switched to austerity mode when buying clothes, going out to restaurants and travelling, are worried about the current increase in prices and inflation. In March this year two basic products, flour and sunflower oil, disappeared from supermarket shelves. Then flour appeared, but a bottle of sunflower oil from Romania costs twice as much – 4,19 euros.
Not everyone is happy with the taste of food, particularly fruit and vegetables, but the quality of meats and cheeses is still high. Cereals, which are customary for Ukrainians, are not on sale – buckwheat and millet are available exclusively at biomarts or in Eastern-European food shops/districts.
Justifiably, in the opinion of the Ukrainians, there is a lack of colourful restaurants and cafés abroad and the level of service in them is not the best either. There are dissatisfied not only with the price, but also with the quality of mobile phones and the Internet. Security and data protection is a priority in Germany, which is why not every café or shopping centre has free Internet.
Nor are our people accustomed to so-called “silent treatment” – in Germany it is from 13.00 to 15.00 and from 22.00 to 7.00. On Saturday it is from 19.00 to 8.00 and on Sunday or a religious holiday it is not allowed to disturb neighbours with loud music or noise from electrical appliances. The observance of silence is compulsory throughout the weekend. If on Sunday, someone wants to turn on a lawn mower, he may be fined 50 thousand euros. By the way, night-time noise in the street is considered trivial hooliganism and is prosecuted by law.
Those who have found accommodation and found themselves in small towns complain that from 9 p.m. onwards life seems to come to a standstill. “All the shops die out on Sundays and you can only find food at petrol stations, bus stations or airports. By the way, pharmacies (except for those on duty) are closed too, and you cannot call a doctor home even on weekdays – the practice does not exist.
Another problem is the queue to the doctor. Sometimes people have to wait for a month, or even two months, to see a particular “specialist”. Germans, however, are used to planning in advance.
Not all parents have also got used to shortened summer holidays, which last only 1.5 months instead of the usual three, as at home. As of 29 May there were 125,582 Ukrainian children in German schools. There is a strict rule at school: a pupil cannot skip classes! The next day you have to carry a doctor’s certificate or write a statement to the teacher. If you are constantly absent without a valid reason, the school can charge the parents a hefty fine. The difference in school systems is also surprising, but, for example, the science curriculum in high schools in Ukraine is much more difficult than in Germany.
Law-abiding in the first place
The system of fines surprises Ukrainians the most. Especially when it comes to minor infringements or obligations, such as the monthly fee of 18.36 Euros for radio and TV. Refugees, however, are exempt from paying these fees. They pay 60 Euros for using public transport, like other “hares”, and will be fined in the underground, even if they have unknowingly mixed up second and first class cars in the trains.
If you want to download a film from the Internet, it is best not to do so in Germany. Copyright is strictly enforced here so downloading music or movies from torrent trackers is punishable by law and can result in imprisonment for up to three years.
Real estate prices are astonishing: In Frankfurt, for example, you should expect to pay an average of 7.567 thousand euros per square meter. By the way, even if you can afford it, you have to prove that the money was earned legally. And if you don’t work, the bank won’t give you a home loan.
You should not try to break up a brawler during a street fight – this can be seen as participation in it. It is better to call the police and address them as “you” only. The fine for an offence is up to 600 euros.
Ukrainians complain most of all about German bureaucracy – they say they have never in their lives received so much paperwork to fill in! And if, say, opening an account in a Ukrainian bank takes a few minutes, in Germany all documentation from all government institutions is sent by regular mail. It is not without reason that locals say the scariest beast in Germany is the letterbox. First you have to wait two weeks for a letter with a bank card, and in the next five working days you get a pin code. By the way, all documents in Germany must be kept for up to three years!
All services, namely manicure or seamstress work, cost in Germany almost three times more expensive than in Ukraine. It will cost you approximately 15 Euros to cut trousers in an atelier.
Many Ukrainian women are not satisfied with services of German beauty-industry, in particular the so-called “bloodless” manicure, and bright blondes are not destined to be bright in Germany. Thus, a hairdresser can bleach their hair only with a dye with a certain percentage of hydrogen peroxide allowed by the regulations – so as not to burn the client’s scalp and not only pay a hefty fine for their professional mistake, but also a lawyer’s fee.
And yet, with the arrival of attractive Ukrainian women, Germany became alive and vibrantly decorated, because our women are used to taking care of themselves with great passion. At the same time style of the Germans is more democratic: instead of dresses and elegant shoes – trousers and trainers in neutral colours. Generally speaking, it is not customary in Germany to dress too brightly, to wear daring make-up or to wear high heels in everyday life.
Mother and stepmother syndrome
Despite the order, there is an unbearable sense of boredom in the German air. The lifestyle is measured, uncluttered, and there is a conspicuous emotional restraint. They will greet you cheerfully on meeting you, but will not start a conversation, listen to you or bore you with their own problems. There is respect for “privacy” at every step: you greet them, but do not force a conversation. Touching someone you don’t know at all can result in you being reported to the police.
All these difficulties, trifles and misunderstandings make up our Ukrainians’ present abroad. But everyone, without exception, whom I have talked to, suffer from “mother and stepmother” syndrome: they feel sad about Ukraine and want to go home as soon as possible. Because, as the Germans say, referring to age and tears, “the older, the closer to water”…