Where's the fridge and my air conditioned closet?
In last month’s Learning Nugget, we looked at a few variations in U.S. and German housing norms. While putting it together, we came across so many interesting distinctions that we couldn’t resist extending the theme to a second month.
Keep reading to learn why most Americans would be amazed to learn you don’t have air conditioning, had to buy your own kitchen for your first apartment, and know people whose homes don’t have a single built-in closet.
No Air Conditioning
Something people from the U.S. are often shocked by in Germany is how few homes and businesses have air conditioning (A/C), which is a given in most regions of the United States. Especially if they happen to arrive during a warm spell in summer, Americans find it hard to understand how or why any place would choose to go without instant cooling indoors.
So, what are the reasons for this difference?
One of them is how Germany’s northern European climate is generally milder in the summer than most places in the States (remember that other than Alaska, the most northern point in the U.S. is roughly even with Mannheim, Germany). Another is that energy prices in the U.S. are extremely low by German standards.
In 2021, U.S. homes used around 886 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per month whereas German homes used a little under 300 kWh per month in 2022. Despite that huge difference, average monthly bills in both countries came out to roughly the same amount: around €120.
And those prices – as well as some differences in traditions and regulations – lead to another reason German homes can get by without A/C while it’s almost unthinkable to many in the States: People in the two countries build their homes very differently.
Most modern German houses are made of thick stone blocks that insulate well and maintain internal temperatures for long periods. So when Germans open their windows to cool down their homes in the evenings, nights, and mornings, that coolness sticks around as the temperatures outside rise.
U.S. homes typically have thin, wooden walls filled with artificial insulation that doesn’t maintain temperatures as well as stone. When it gets warm outside, that warmth quickly finds its way inside. Without A/C, being indoors in the many places in the U.S. with typical summer temperatures over 30°C and high humidity would be extremely uncomfortable.
Of course, if energy prices were higher in the U.S., architecture would likely adapt to allow people to be more efficient. It will be interesting to see if this occurs as the world faces the realities of climate change.
Bare kitchens and missing closets
It’s not just the absence of A/C that will catch Americans’ attention in Germany. If they were looking at homes for rent or sale, they’d probably be mystified by the empty kitchens and lack of closets.
In the United States, it’s normal for houses to be rented (and sometimes even sold) with finished kitchens that include all major appliances. So when Americans walk into completely bare kitchens in German rental apartments and homes for the first time, it’s a huge surprise to learn that they’re expected to have their own refrigerator, oven, and stovetop (not to mention counters and drawers, too).
And after Americans get over the empty kitchen, they’ll start wondering where the closets are. U.S. homes typically have closets in bedrooms, hallways, kitchens, laundry rooms, and elsewhere that offer built-in storage spaces for things like clothes, bed linens, and cooking needs. Again, having to buy wardrobes or other pieces of furniture just to hang up shirts or store bed sheets is a surprise cost to many Americans looking for a place to live in Germany.
distinction – Unterscheidung
to resist doing sth. (resist + verb + ing-Form) – widerstehen etwas zu tun
be amazed – erstaunt sein
have/has to (had to) – müssen (mussten)
single built-in closet – einfacher Einbauschrank
which is a given – was selbstverständlich ist
a warm spell – eine kurze warme Periode
despite – trotz
average monthly bill – durchschnittliche Monatsrechnung
roughly – grob, ungefähr
get by without – zurechtkommen ohne
insulate – isoliert, gedämmt
maintain temperatures – Temperaturen speichern (halten)
rise – ansteigen
artificial insulation – gewollte Isolierung
humidity – Luftfeuchtigkeit
bare kitchens – leere Küchen
absence – Fehlen, Abwesenheit
catch attention – für Aufmerksamkeit sorgen
be mystified by – verblüfft sein über
lack of closets – Fehlen von Einbauschränken
major appliances – Hauptgeräte
rental apartments – Mietwohnungen
not to mention – ganz zu schweigen von
counter – Theke
drawers – Schubladen
built-in storage space – eingebauter Lagerraum
bed linens – Bettbezüge, Bettzeug
cooking needs – Kochutensilien
wardrobe – Kleiderschrank
Excite Your Senses
On our YouTube channel, you can follow along as a native speaker reads this month’s Learning Nugget accompanied by music and pictures.