Jeanine, telling me my business, thinks I should use my blog to talk about my experiences as an American expat in Germany, in addition to blogging about political things that only I care about. I'll give that a shot.
The first surprise (no so-called culture shocks yet) I had in moving here was seeing how easy it is to be be a vegetarian. Since I've been here (seven or so weeks now) I have had meat a few times, but that's usually been because of my laziness/shyness. Basically, I've been faced with a menu and, being illiterate, I've ordered things that I had guessed (with about 70% confidence) were meatless but in fact were not. I could have asked, since nearly everyone speaks English. And in fact I could have made German-like noises that got the gist of an inquiry across. But I've been lazy. Not losing sleep over it.
My favorite places to eat are the Turkish doner joints, which offer a number of options for vegetarians, including falafel, vegetarian döner (the same sandwichesque vessel minus the meat; the vegetables are plentiful and varied enough that this is usually satisfying), vegetarian yufka (a wrapped döner, but in this case without the, you know, döner meat), and any number of vegetarian pizzas. Yes, for some reason, nearly all the döner joints also make pizza. Since the only business more numerous than Turkish holes-in-the-wall are bakeries (handy, or mobile phone, shops come in third), I'm in pretty good shape. But there are also Chinese restaurants and Indian restaurants, which of course have veggie options. And even burger places usually have something that passes as vegetarian. It's not always healthy, mind--at a popular student hang-out near the university I had a mozzarella burger, which replaced the meat patty with a grilled slab of mozzarella cheese. Even when I went to see Symphony X in concert I was able to have something called a tofufrikadellen. It wasn't even as freaky as the name implies. Finally, the big grocery store near my barracks has an entirely adequate meat substitute section, comparable to what you see in most Safeways back in God's country. I got a sampler mix of faux meats meant for barbecues and the pieces I've tried have been pretty good, with diverse textures.
The one time I was at a restaurant where there really was no meatless option on the menu was a fancy, 25 euro per plate restaurant. Not even a risotto or the dreaded grilled vegetable platter. This is pretty similar to what you find in America, and brings out my populist, anti-foodie Angst. Why is it that expensive restaurants give you fewer options, smaller portion sizes, often lackluster service, and still get away with charging more? One idea of course is that they focus on a small menu set so they can really make those dishes extra special. There's something to that. At the expensive restaurant in Karlsruhe I had some sort of pork that was falling off of some sort of bone and it was really quite fantastic. Fine, focus, but that's no reason to ignore the 9% of Germans who are vegetarians. And isn't it cheating, just a little? I'm not one of those vegetarians who claim not to like the taste of meat. On the contrary I think it's often delicious. And so it's a lot easier to make a decent tasting meal with meat: take some meat, add a vegetable side, and serve over a complementary carbohydrate, voila. It takes a little more effort to make a compelling vegetarian meal. If chefs at fancy-pants restaurants are so status-starved, then why don't they man up and offer more vegetarian options to show off their prowess?