Monday, September 01, 2008

Deutschland Days...

Today I finished two years of my stay in Germany. It is still fresh and vivid in my memory the day I had landed here...Old readers of the blog might remember me sharing the first impressions of the country as a novice first time overseas traveler...It seems the other day I wrote about that flight and subsequent glimpses I had of this magnificent country.

The first month when everything was completely new and futuristic to me. I was in awe of the people, the modern infrastructure, spic and span roads and the air-conditioner like weather. It was ofcoz the period when my personal “blunder graph” hit the peak with countless mentionable and un-mentionable incidents. Now looking back I sort of miss that child like curiosity with which I looked at this place. I still remember the first day when I had to visit the main central station in Hamburg. A friend of mine had written in a slip of paper the German word for the main central station--> HAUPTBAHNOF…It was not funny when I was asking a passerby the way to….

“HO”...”HO”…”HOO”...*ahem* HOOOPPTH…..”

Before I could finish, the gentleman showed me where Hauptbahnof was…This happened to a guy who could say Thiruvananthapuram 100 times in a minute…I was floored by the language on day one itself. Considering that, worthy of mention is my current project to pronounce Fingerspitzengef├╝hl and Streichholzsch├Ąchtelchen which by the way I hope to complete by 2015.

Staying here for like such a long time has allowed me to have a close perspective of the country and the regular Germans. I have got to see the good and bad in them. Most people in the world are used to negative portrayal of the germans for obvious reasons...esp the older folks. I never felt the same coz for me the early impressions of this country as a kid were pictures of autobahn or Audi’s and Faber-Castell Pencils. But unfortunately, many stereotype the germans as an evil race even now. They say the French are romantics, the Italians are stylish and the Germans caused the World War II.

Having interacted with Germans for quite a fair amount of time I can assure that the cynics are wrong. In a personal way the typical german qualities are perfectly in sync with my ideals and it helped to fall in love with these people. Germans respect time and law, two qualities which I admire a lot. Trains and buses running late even by a few minutes is a rarity here, people jumping the traffic light are frowned upon, cars follow the driving lanes to precision and the system is so perfect that you almost miss chaos in this country!!

German work ethics though may look drab, as it gives stress on the quality of the product than the speed with which we finish the job. It is the perfect antithesis of Indian work style. Coz we give more stress on finishing a job quick rather than create a defect free product. Our style gives prompt results but to see why the German style is better just look at their products!!! The stress on quality of a product is evident from the fact that even the cheapest of gadgets bought here have a warranty for two years. And the penchant for precision is evident everywhere , be it in the higher end engineering works to a regular road construction to the way in which a person arranges the files and folders in his office. Efficiency is the second name of a German.

The people

I have a small but close circle of friends here. Two weeks back I attended a barbeque party at one of their house. Of the dozen attendees, I was the only non-German. I was amazed at how the entire group spoke in English during the party for my sake. It was heartening to see even folks who were not exactly fluent in English trying the same to make me feel not left out in the party.

Camaraderie is not generally associated with the Germans. You don’t make friends with them easily like say with a French or Italian, but you build the friendship over time and once the trust is established the germans are the best friends you could possibly have. They are very open-minded and go over the board to help you. They are brutally frank and you can take whatever they tell you in face value and that is one quality which I hope to possess someday.

The War

As I mentioned before, for most of us it’s the war that is synonymous with the germans. The fact is that the current generation (a huge majority of em) in Germany hate the Nazi’s far more than rest of the world does. It is an unfortunate baggage which these people are carrying for a crime which an entirely different generation did. It is interesting to note that the children here are actually consciously made guilty of it to avoid future mistakes...

What I don’t like

Sometime ago while I was traveling I saw one old lady trying to get down a bus from the exit near the driver’s side. (Here the passengers are supposed to exit through the middle door). As she was waiting for the driver to open the front door she was ridiculed by this young driver showing no respect for her age. The lady probably around 80 years old was asked to go back and get down via the middle door. Even more shocking was the apathy the fellow passengers were showing to the whole incident. This country gives probably the best of facilities for old and handicapped people like special seats in the bus, remote controlled wheel chairs and other gadgets. But these people are simply ALONE!! At least back home we may lack in the hi-tech, but we still respect the old and what we lack in tech is more than made up with love.

Two years is longest I have stayed in a single city since Trivandrum. There are several people who helped me here so that I didn’t miss home. My Indian colleagues and malayalee families , few European friends who made me love the people here, many of em who invited me to their parties or family events. Olaf told me that he was amused when I started arguing with a French guy who was saying something about Hamburg which I did not like. I realized then I was suddenly vouching for his country... almost as if I had fallen in love!! Living in a foreign country helps us learn a lot…I don’t think I can write all that in a single post…It helps us realize the value of our country...It helps us realize of things we are lacking in...And above all it helps us realize that no matter how good the foreign land is, there is nothing as good as to feel like “in my own country”!!

Pic: Elbe River, Hamburg...I cross this river daily to office.
P.S .Listening to this beautiful song by Dido


Priya said...

Are you leaving back home Mat? Is that why the post came in. As u said about the time, I have seen it and it runs on time. I like Europe better than NA.

Anonymous said...

This was nice to read. Ok my comments are going stereotyped. Mm ok this was educational :-)

Hari said...

Wow. Germany looks like a nice place to spend time on. Your narrative makes it even more endearing!

*Sigh*, perhaps when I make more money... :-(

Hey, are you hitting home? Back to Trivvy? :P

srijithunni said...

My friend is doing his Ph.D in germany, and he often speaks about these same things.. That a nice bond you've developed with the country.!

thomas said...

I can totally empathize with what you're saying. Mention the word "holocaust" in Germany and you're in trouble; true that this generation Germans hate talking about WW. You forgot to mention the extreme hardworking mentality of these people; but that's obvious i guess. Enjoy your life over there!!

P.S. I've been in Germany for about a year long long time back. In Aachen to be specific; dad was a postdoc in the Tech Univ of Aachen (rwth). You know what, i spoke German, but you know it's so so easy to forget a language. The only words i 'member are Frithen, Kaput, Gutentag. :)

silverine said...

Interesting...thats quite a lot of new information! Wanted to comment more, but am down with flu..sigh!

Abhi said...

Loved the post, the descriptions really are lovable. But you didn't mention a word about the german chicks. Maybe Mat's being a mechanical engineer in the truest sense:)

I'd always thought what's the big deal about a guy writing abt missing home, missing his parents when i used to read your posts when i was home. I never thought i'll also feel the same a year later. I'd always wanted to get out of home, be away from my parents etc etc. But now. I can't wait to get home n hug my mom n go out with my sister for a movie. Have a great time in deutschland, hope i got it rightly :)

mathew said...

@Priya here for the year..and probably for sometime next year..though would love to hit the shores as soon as possible..I like Europe more than US atleast from what I heard of how its there..;-P

hehehe..its a geography text book..;-P

It is indeed a nice place..Hard to find anz mistakes here..And you never when you are hitting home in this field..atleast not till december..

mm..I think the bond develops with any place once you stay long enough..

depends on whom you are talking too..coz you can very well talk to close german friends about it strictly from educational point of view...thats not a question to be asked to a regular german..

nice to know u were here sometime..
talking of hardworking mentality its pretty debatable now..coz it was in the 60's to 80's when all the economic miracle did happen..its not as good as it was back then..viel spass..;-P

I told you..I told you to take German beer..!!!the ultimate cure for all illness..;-D
get well soon bud..cheers...

German ladies are beautiful..but they all look like the ramp models..sometimes you miss the feminity of indians..;-P

I think you will lots of fun for onam..enjoy maadi..

Nanditha Prabhu said...

long time since i blogged and also read all he wonderful blogs. just go my net connection .. yes ... i am back home.... i can relate to ur last para so well... when we come back we just cry from with in ..when we see what we r lacking !.....our whole infra structure should change....i have loved each country i have stayed and made good friends too... always wanted to be back home.. but when we are back homwe....(write a post on wha u feel when u are back in india after a long stay abroad!)

Divs said...

:) nice read...
Err.. what were those words? God! its really difficult to even see it.. let alone read it out loud once.. n even S..L...O...W...L...Y... :P
When you come back.. i bet there will be an overwhelming feeling that you can't even put in words.. :)

Mishmash ! said...

A well -worded and thoughtful post. You re right about those people carrying an unfortunate baggage from the past......and I guess it is our (rest of the world's) ignorance and inability to accept the fact that people change , things change for good.....many fail to look at from that perspective.

And what Nanditha has raised here is a valid thought too...but again it is all about what you weigh more I guess...It is hard to find a perfectly balanced place, as u had written it all depends on what we define as perfection and the definition of perfection differs to each one

Anonymous said...

This is a... different post. :)
The German stereotype we know is VERY different from what they actually are, I see. Well, that is hardly surprising, since we read/watch mainly English books/movies. It is nice to know that your average German isn't likely to do the the Frederick Forsyth/Colin Forbes German act. :)

It's a dream of mine to spend some years of my life in Europe, preferably England. Germany just made the list too. :) How's the football there? And hooliganism?

Philip said...

That is some view you get to see every day :)

Good post. All your thoughts and observations over 2 years seems to have gone into making this one.

scorpiogenius said...

Now, I ve read this post twice already...twice...and may still come back to read it.

Its surprising even to me, some of the things you've specified. Germans are stereotyped, surely, and they are carrying the stigma of the war, even after 50 yrs. Well, I developed the same impression about them, courtesy my Irish folks, and how wrong I was!

I'd say, I believe what I read here, and how well written! Thanks and appreciation..:)

Incidentally enough, my feelings about the Irish echo most of the thoughts you've attributed to Germans. Be it making you feel comfortable in a group setting, about their work culture or ethics(though not as precise and prompt as the deutschs), frankness, friendliness or about that geriatric loneliness, it all looks like a mirror of Eire.

And I'd fight for Ireland too, and I've started to call this island home...already! Oh, and curious enough, it was also my 2 yrs in Ireland, a couple of weeks back!

PS: You had problem with German placenames and words? Ok, just try Polish and see... ;) Praise God!

Anonymous said...

Mathew,thanks for this post.In fact i am new to this blog.
Germany..yes,we are all familiar only with second world war/halocaust/hitler and so on..For me,most of the films i am obsessed with are on Europe based on war.Perhaps coz of the mesmerising visuals of Kiewslowski,Wajde,Bergman,I have for many years now,developed some special attachment with the people living here.In that respect,reading you gave a lot of information and pleasure,as you were narrating something you experience.
I used to criticize people who come back from a foreign land and finding faults on our traffic,timings and so on.But thats long past.Today,after living in almost all parts of the world,in the so called developed and under developed ones,One thing I am sure is that almost all the cultures and their work cultures are closely related.And as you mentioned,i too feel often for the country i belong to,especially after living in a terrorist struck,under developed country.You know mathew,when i first tasted the curry powders of this country,I could taste my colorful childhood.It was such an amazing feeling and finally when i understand it was the authentic raw taste i was missing in my food all these yrs have brought back those good old days,I was terribly disappointed..So one question i myself asks now,As Achuthanandan puts it ,"we should think about meaning/context of the term development..What I am asking is adulteration of food,making use of the helpnessness/converting the same as the real taste of a people can be considered as Development ? May be we are trying to serve other countries and people by exporting the best quality and persuading ourselves to use poor ones,thus make us train to climb the ladder of development ?

mathew said...

glad to see you back in the blog i can read rest of the car story..:-)

Yes, i love this country too..but in a different sort of way..yes I might be tempted to be judgemental when I get back home sometime but I guess then thats where we came from and nothing would belittle that...I hope the leaders who take those foreign trip try to implement the good things out here..

hehehehe...there are several of check out the linked posts to find how catastrophic those words were for me..;-P
I am on a vacation in december and am so eagerly looking forward to it..:-)

I make a point to inform people who seems to have the wrong impressions of the people here..they are perfectly likeable people..never had to face any racist slur which is so commonly attributes by the rest of the world on the germans..Yes..each place has its own merits and demerits which we have to accept..

thanks for dropping here..
yes ofcoz the Germans are really nice people..atleast the ones i have met..and since its the americans who make all the movies or brits who write all the literature we get it gives a completely wrong impression..
Hooliganism is minimal here with the polizei here showing no mercy on them!!;-D

Yeah..Though I think there are plenty of things which are still be discovered here..its nice to see when the germans open up and talk about how they percieve the world..

@scorpiogenius I have similar German prespective of the brits too..;-P

Surprising was that even my parents turned to die hard fans of this country though I took em to Italy and France as well.

and yeah I do have polish friends and i know one simple word which they use.."Papa" which means bye!;-)

mathew said...

Thanks for visiting and the long comment which was a nice read itself..:-)

I am a sucker for war movies and literature too..This time i caught up with a few german movies on it like Das Boot...It might come naturally for all foreign returnees to find fault on our country..But at the same time it is coz of the inherent desire to see our country developed and stand high in the league of nations..

Though I dont miss the curry smell here(I have got enough here myself), I do miss the simple feeling of meeting people of our colour and tastes..its even harder here in germany since we have very few indians here unlike UK or US.

And you have correctly mentioned about or export saga where we do it at the expense of our own people..I cant think the Germans or any european country doing the same. My mom was shocked when she saw some indian made products here which were far superior than the ones we get back home..I hope as the buying power of indians go higher there would be a corrective action in the market..I must say we give the best to outsiders is a glorfied version of "athithi devo bhava"..but unfortunately here we do it at the expense of the well being of our own..

VIDYA said...

:) t was a lovely post. the river s beautiful!

Priya said...


In NA you can see long bridges and tall buildings and u cannot compete with old European history with its architecture, art and wat not.

Staying in Euro' u landup learning more languages than people in NA. Isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post ! Well written.

Having lived in Switzerland for 1 & 1/2 years I can totally empathize with what you're saying. It struck a chord.
So, now you can speak fluent German ? :)

Deepti said...

Thats a whole new perspective of a place :) and it was real good read too!!

J said...

All you have written is very true and echoes a lot of my sentiments about a home away from home. Though I go to India quite often, it does hurt to see how much we lack there in terms of infrastructure, punctality, cleanliness and so many other aspects. But as you said we certainly have more love and respect for our people than all the techology we lack!

Neena Padayatty said...

evaluation...neat blend!

True,war movies and those anti-Nazi stories in RD always portray Germans as gorgeous people with a cold heart.

"Hamburg"...the name sounds fairytale-like and that picture justifies it.

Hope you have wonderful time there :-)

Anonymous said...

Wow Seems like you enjoyed your stay.
Celebrating onam, may be you should cook some of our onam recipes and give a party to your friends there.

Jans said...

I'v bn on a busy schedule at work the last few weeks n realised all the beautiful reads i missed...Was on a spree this morn n i read all ur recent posts...good as always !!!

Deutscland Days - Loved your description of the place n the people.Yeah,our perceptions r mostly proved wrong wen we experience the truth (Germany for most of us is always linked to World War 2) At the end of the day...there is no place like home n i can so relate to that. Being away from home has only made me appreciate it all the more !!!

Ethan & Joan - loved the poet in you n the story-telling. Evrytime i peek out of my bedroom window n spot a squirrel by the giant oak...i think of Ethan :)

Food for the Distraught - Hahaha...brought back good old memories of hostel days. Roaches seemed to be an ingredient of most dishes then. I give credit for my mysterious immunity to the hostel nourishment.

Great work Mathew !!!

Praveen said...

nice post... i was beginning to get a doubt whthr u love germany more than India. but the last line erased all my doubts and made me happy too:D

Merin Jose said...

Interesting....the post puts across many new things about germany n germans...loved the last line... nothing can be so close to one's heart as his own homeland.
And the pic f river Elbe is too beautiful...!!

starry said...

I remember when you first posted about time flies.Interesting post and got to learn a lot about germans that I did not know.

mathew said...

thanks a lot..

oh..but i still love to have a chance to work in the states atleast for sometime..;-P

thanks for dropping by.
Swiss and the germans..hehe..I havent yet learned too lazy for it..;-D

Thank you..

Maybe the next time I go home I ll go through the same feelings you say..but am usually more overwhelmed by the happiness of being there..

Thank you...:-)
RD defintely wont make saints out of the germans..hehe..

I am in love with the city of Hamburg..its probably the greenest city in the world..

mathew said...

hahaha..For Onam i am waiting for a call from Malayalees out here..Last year I had onam sadhya with fork and knives..:-(

thanks a lot :-)
" Being away from home has only made me appreciate it all the more !!!" so true....

There is a squirrel just outside my apartment too...:-)

hahaha..yes yes..hostelier are tailor made to survive anywhere..;-P

ofcoz not..i cannot imagine myself loving another country as much as my own..

There isnt much material which actually gives a postive portrayal of the germans...If you find try reading "Springtime in Germany"..I forgot the author gives a completely different picture of this country..

Thank you...

@starry nights
yeah..that was the time i was actually new to blogging and you were among the first readers.. :-)

silverine said...