American paper is short and fat. The dimensions of regular old US Letter sized copy paper are 8 1/2 x 11 inches. That’s a quarter inch shorter and two-thirds of an inch wider than the paper that comes out of every copy machine in the rest of the world: A4 standard sized paper. Cut it in half and it’s called A5. Half of that is A6 and so on. It’s pretty hard to find A4 paper in America, and equally hard to find US Letter in European shops. With this information, you can conclude that your folders, binders and papers will not be compatible with the office supplies overseas.
You’ll find that offices have big binders and magazine boxes on shelves and not many filing cabinets. The big binders might be new to an American, and it’s good to know how to organize one. First, you have to get the sucker open:
If you have documents from three-ring binders, the holes won’t match up with the German two-ring or four-ring binders. If you have plastic document sleeves from America, the German paper will stick out the top. Luckily, a standard tool in every office is the two-hole punch, and you’ll be able to make extra holes in your American paper. But it will be too wide to fit in any of the plastic sleeves that you might buy in Germany:
I wouldn’t be saying any of this if I hadn’t watched a colleague try to cram a stack of Canadian paper into German binder sleeves. She wouldn’t take any advice, so she struggled for 20 minutes and ended up with a really odd bulging disaster.
It’s common to add chronological documents from back to front. For example, if you’re keeping track of your electric bill, the one from January would be the first in and stay at the back as you add February on top of it. The most current document is the one you see when you open the binder. It’s not a rule as much as a national habit, and it will help you navigate a new office environment.
Binders, document sleeves, and copy paper can be found at stores like Kaufland, Karstadt, or Kaufhof. Sometimes 1 Euro stores, Tedi, and Kik carry them as well. Or you can order them from Amazon below. You can even look on the eBay “Kleinanzeigen” under the category “zu verschenken” to find free office supplies that people are giving away.
Or go to Amazon and buy in bulk: