A Year In Germany (Part 2)
You’d think that living in a highly globalised society, and having German friends (prior to meeting Chris), nothing about Germany will surprise me. Well, not true.
To my (pleasant) surprise, there are still plenty of interesting traits and habits that I’ve come to discover. They don’t shock me but it sometimes make me go, “What the hell…”
The German Culture That I’ve Come To Understand Better
For one, most Germans sleep with square pillows. Don’t ask me why, but most of them are flimsily-stuffed and soft, thus giving me a huge neck ache. When looking to replace the pillows, it then hit Chris that, rectangular and firm pillows are rare to find. Even Ikea stocks mainly flat and square pillows. The sort where you pay RM10 for would cost more than 10 Euros here, just because it’s not square!
Then, there’s the waste separation thing. In Malaysia or in Singapore, we tend to throw everything into a bin. At the end of each day, you’ll tie up the plastic bag full of rubbish and take it out to the huge black garbage bin out there and pray that DBKL would do their job. In a typical HDB in Singapore, it’s not so different either. The plastic bag of garbage has to be pushed down the chute instead. (Ya-loh, the waste system in South East Asia leaves a lot to be desired.)
In England, France or Australia, at best, I remember having to separate between recyclables (glass, paper, cans, etc) and perishable garbage. But Germany-man, no one messes with Germany’s waste disposal system.
Because it’s almost a complicated that every foreigner has to master, the German language textbooks actually have a section devoted to teaching it. When I moved to Germany for the first time, I stood and stared at my home’s double-compartment bin for 5 full minutes. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember where an empty yogurt tub should go. Plus, there was also the half-peeled foil on the tub.
Does it go to the regular waste, marked with a green line, or to the recycling bin, which is marked with a yellow line? What about the supermarket brochures? Oh, they don’t go in either of them? Ah, okay, you should throw them into the blue bin. What about the jam jar and the wine bottles? Oh, you mean you collect them? Once your box is full, you’ll then you make a journey to the closest glass disposal bins to get rid of them? But these glass disposal bins are in white, brown and green! Where should the wine bottle go? (Confusion arises again). Oh, a green glass bottle goes into the green bin. Right.
Then of course, there are those “Pfand bottles” where you could bring them to a supermarket, shove it down one of the huge machines that gobbles them and get a cash voucher in return. Here at least, you’ll get a return of investment for your effort and Mother Earth would thank you.
Next comes the talk of time. As a Malaysian, time is rather relative. Being on time, could mean 5 to 10 minutes late. If someone is late, it means the person must have come 45 minutes to 1 hour later—else he or she is not considered late.
Here, every second counts. If you say you’ll be here at 5.05 pm, it means 5.05 pm on the dot-not a minute earlier or later. The Germans take punctuality very personally. Your tardiness will become a personal insult to them. It’s almost as if you don’t respect their them, as they have their day planned out and are not obliged to wait for you at all. One of my German Language teachers felt miffed whenever the students came in late. Even when they tried their best to make it at 9.02 am, the teacher would grumble.
“But teacher, it’s only 2 minutes,” the students beseeched. “2 minutes is still late!” would be her reply.
The next thing that comes to mind are festivals and celebrations. A humourless and practical German is a well-known stereotype but after living here for a year, I know now for a fact that it’s not true.
Yes, they are practical. Yes, they play it safe mostly (that explains why they have so many types of compulsory insurance available). But they party often and they party hard. And they do more than just Electro parties and Oktoberfest.
The merry-making doesn’t just belong to the young and active; it also belongs to the old and the families.
To my surprise, I was introduced to a litany of festivals and parties, both traditional and non-traditional throughout the year. I thought Malaysia took the cake with three ethnic races celebrating as many cultural traditions as they can but I take back my claims after living here for a while. In Malaysia, there’s always a reason to eat and in Germany, there’s always a reason to drink.
From Männertag to Zwiebelmarkt, from Fasching (Karneval) to Maibaumsetzen, not counting the amount of street festivals for every season, there seem to be all sorts of reasons to celebrate — even if the celebration has less to do with traditions but rather with just lots of alcohol consumption involved.
Like Christmas in 2014. I was a new transplant in Germany, more specifically to the small town that I’ve now come to call home. Almost every other day, Chris and I were flooded with invitations to hang out at a Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market). Once in Erfurt, another in Bad Klosterlausnitz, another in Mühltal and so on.
“Why are we visiting so many Weihnachtsmarkt for?” I asked again, as I hurried to throw on my thick winter jacket on our way out.
“Huh? To hang out and drink Glühwein of course,” Chris said, with a look that says, I can’t believe I’ve to remind you again.
“But it’s freezing out there!”
“That’s why we’ve to drink it.”
“But Gluhwein tastes the same everywhere, whether in Zwickau or in Jena,” I mumbled, not really seeing his point. I enjoy the warm, mulled wine, I really do. But do we really have to drink it every other day?
Do I Travel As Much Now That I’m Based In Germany?
Hell, yes! Perhaps not as intensively as before but it’s hard not to travel when you’re in Europe. Every other country is easily accessible by land transport or budget airlines like RyanAir or EasyJet. While living in Hermsdorf doesn’t offer us the luxury of having an airport nearby, we still would drive 2 hours to Berlin and go somewhere.
Last year, I celebrated my birthday in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic. For Chris’ birthday, I treated him to a fancy all-you-can-eat Japanese restaurant in London. Late summer, we drove through 4 countries for 2 weeks: Austria, Slovenia, Italy and Croatia. And not too long ago, we spent a fun week in Latvia.
I don’t think I can ever get rid of this wanderlust streak of mine. If anything, being with Chris intensifies it. While he’s not as restless as I am, he always has the energy to do new things, get into random adventures and try new food.
One of his other favourite things to do is to rent a high-end car and do mini roadtrips with it. He loves cars but would never pay for them (they’re a liability after all) so he reconciles with his passion by renting them for an affordable price every now and then. Normally during the weekends, Sixt Car Rental would offer some really good deals for cars like BMW 5 or 6 Series, the convertible category, and so on. With a nice car, we’ll pump up the music and explore Germany with it. I never thought I’d say it, but driving through the country roads in a swanky car does offer a different experience to a regular travelling experience. As we swooshed down through the windy roads and see the canola fields in full bloom, I had this bursting feeling that doors of possibilities were flung wide open and that anything could happen.
How Does It Feel To Be One Of The Very Few Asians Living In Hermsdorf?
Honestly, I don’t know if there are any other Asians living here but there is a little Vietnamese Food Kiosk that cooks up some amazing friend noodles for not too much. There is a bigger Asian community in Jena, as it’s a university town, but in comparison to the mega cities in Germany, I think we’re still a generally niche community. I do find that people sometimes stare at me, probably not out of rudeness but out of curiosity but I find that attention mildly disorienting.
Apart from that however, I don’t find myself being treated differently. If anything, they treat me like I’m a native German. Which means, I’m expected to speak German just like everyone else (face palm). People are generally nice and polite, sometimes even funny. For example, there was this train conductor, who after checking my ticket, rambled on about something, which I didn’t quite get at that time. He was laughing and patting my shoulder, while I was thinking, “What the hell is going on here.” Either way, at least it was friendliness he showed and not hostility.
That pretty much sums up my year. Looks like I’ve been settling in comfortably despite inevitable frustration that comes with not speaking the language fluently. But I believe with time and patience, it’ll all work out. Besides, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.
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