Friday, July 25, 2008

Cultural Differences II: Appliances

Another interesting difference between Germans (and I'm guessing this applies to most of Europe) and Americans are the household appliances. For one thing, German appliances are small and cute. Our dish-washer, for instance, can do at most one dinner's worth of dishes, pots, and pans. This does mean you get to use the dishwasher every night, and also since the tablets hold the same amount of detergent as the US ones, the dishes get much cleaner.

The big difference, however, is that American machines (like the washing machine and the dishwasher) are optimized for speed and volume, while German machines are optimized for energy and water savings. (250 Euros a month for a 2 bedroom apartment is not considered out of line, even though German apartments are better insulated than American houses by and large)

The result of this is that the appliances are first of all expensive, and they are slow. A typical washing machine in the US will do a load of laundry in about 45 minutes. It would not be unusual for a German machine to take 3 entire hours to do the same load, with the same settings. The process by which it does so is entertaining --- turn on an American laundry machine and you will hear water immediately start pouring in and soaking the laundry. The machine will then burst into action, agitating and making a host of impressive sounds.

The German machine, on the other hand, will first run the water as well, but the process is gentle and slow. You can then, if you are patient enough, watch the water seep slowly down into your clothing. The machine will then spin for about half a spin, and then stop. If you didn't know better, at this point you would think that the power had cut off. But a patient man is rewarded by the machine spinning for about half a spin in the other direction and then pausing. My only guess is that the machines are modeling the fluid dynamics of the laundry system it's got loaded, and all that number crunching means that it can only run the motors that much before it has to pause to compute the next cycle.

Nevertheless, what comes out of a German machine is very clean --- so much so that many machines come with a "short wash" option --- meaning that instead of taking 4 hours for the computation to finish, it only takes 2. Our dish washer is similarly slow, and can take 3 hours to do an entire cycle.

As one might guess, as a result of the high energy costs (which are driven by environmentalism more than by necessity), most people don't use drying machines, but instead hang their laundry to dry.
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