The first time I went to Germany, I had not done much research about what the country was like, other than the vague grasp of its history (i.e. what we had learned in school about World War II, which is hardly comprehensive). The second time around, I had done a lot of "research" by reading tons of expat blogs and books written for expat Americans. As a result of what I took from the readings and my own imagining, I had a new set of preconceived notions about the country.
Before I moved, I had all sorts of ideas of how life would be. I imagined that Germans would be slightly gruff and reserved. I would be lucky to make any German friends and it would take eons to move beyond the role of a Bekanntin (not quite a friend, but more than an acquaintance). If I sinned and jaywalked, I would be told in harsh German the errors of my way. If I incorrectly sorted my trash, I would be berated and possibly ticketed. My apartment would be consumed with mold.
On the positive side, I believed that I would enjoy wine festivals and excellent, reliable public transit. I would hang out with tons of Americans and possibly people from the military community. After all, we would have so much in common, right? I would be fluent in German within a year of moving here and Germans would be impressed with my prowess.
I think that this new set of notions was almost as ridiculous as my initial ideas before I had even visited the country. I don't blame the blogs at all, but I also didn't fully evaluate what people had written. We tend to focus on extremes: just think of the news. Strife and major events make the news; how many times do we hear about everyday people, doing everyday things? Experiences that are very positive or very negative are what stands out to us. I realized that the blogs I read fit within that. For example, the person who was chastised by a local for jaywalking remembers that clearly but might not recall the times when someone on the street smiled at her or performed a small kindness.
I have been pleased to find that many of my negative assumptions have been dispelled. I have been treated kindly by many people here and have not been yelled at. I have some German friends and have met plenty of locals who are willing to get to know newcomers. I have also learned that the public transportation here is not actually flawless so it's good to plan for contingencies, especially when connecting to a flight. Much to my dismay, I am not at all fluent in German and it's been almost two years since I've moved here. I guess that one must really make an effort. D'oh. I didn't realize that I would be the one frustrated by my neighbors' lack of skills in sorting trash/recycling.
The best way to get to know a country is to immerse oneself in it as much as possible and to keep an open mind. I am finally taking this to heart and have really enjoyed the ride so far.