3 ways Americans can learn from Ze Germans

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My humble observations

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a patriot to the core and I love the ideals we live by in the US. Nonetheless, I’ve traveled enough to know that we, as a nation, can learn a lot from other parts of the world, and vice versa. I’d like to share 3 fundamental and simple ways we can change our behavior for the better. I’m sure many of us already do these things, and that’s great. This is a simple reminder that there’s always room for improvement.

1. Walk, don’t drive

Berlin is a big busy city with really great public transit connections, so most people get around with trains and buses or they simply walk if it’s a mile or less. At home (San Francisco Bay Area), people seem to automatically default to using a car even if it’s no more than a 10min walk to the destination. This is certainly a cultural behavior. While I was home, I’d try to walk as much as possible for the simple reason that I enjoy it more than sitting stationary in a car, it just feels more invigorating to move. But every time I decided to walk somewhere, my friends and family would suggest that I take a car and found it weird that I’d rather walk. It did feel weird at times, especially in suburban areas like the East Bay, but I quickly got over that feeling and managed to minimize my car usage.

Two simple ways to integrate more walking in your daily routines are:

    • If your destination is less than a mile, resist the urge to drive and walk instead. It will take about 15min to walk a mile, probably the same time it takes you to get into your car, start it, buckle up, wait at traffic lights, navigate traffic, and find a parking spot. Plus, you don’t waste gas, you don’t pollute the air, and you’re safer walking.
    • If you need to take a car somewhere, there’s no need to park directly in front of your destination; just park in the first spot you find in the vicinity and walk. It will probably take the same, if not less time.

2. Carpool to & from work

As mentioned above, public transit is awesome in Berlin. Depending on where you live in the US, that may or may not be the case for you (probably not the case on average). But you can still be more efficient with your commute by carpooling. I saw so SO many people on the freeway at home, driving gas guzzling cars, and only transporting a single person. Carpooling is still massively under-utilized and it’s a shame, because we’re probably commuting the same route to and from work 5 days a week and I’m willing to bet there is another person (if not 3) that have a very similar route that you can team up with to carpool. Maybe it takes a bit more coordination, maybe it takes a bit of extroverted-ness to get comfortable with 3 strangers, but it would be make a lot of sense to do so. I just googled “find a carpool partner” and the top hit is a website dedicated to this exact purpose: http://rideshare.511.org/carpool/.

Three immediate advantages of carpooling:

  • Save on gas money.
  • Save time commuting by using the carpool lanes.
  • Keep the air clean, by reducing the amount of pollution you produce.

3. Turn down the AC a notch

I always joke that if the entire world were as energy-conscious as Germany, global warming would never exist. But seriously, Germans are highly aware and conservative about their energy usage. In the summer, it gets pretty hot and humid in Berlin; instead of blasting the AC in every car, bus, train, and store, people here use AC in moderation because as long as it’s somewhat cooler and dryer than outside, it will have the same cooling effect. Whenever I come home in the summer, the extreme temperature difference between indoors and outdoors is just unnecessary, and at least for me, rather uncomfortable. And this behavior applies to everything that has an impact on the environment.

Three behaviors you can improve starting today are:

  • Turn the lights off when you don’t need them, even in office buildings.
  • Bring your own reusable bag to the supermarket to reduce plastic usage.
  • Recycle anything and everything possible, because the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is only getting bigger.

Thanks for reading and I really hope you take these matters to heart. If you knew me, you’d know I’m not some tree-hugging hippie, quite the opposite actually, but these small changes in our behavior can slowly improve our daily lives. If you have any quick tips, please share them in the comments below.

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