I did not know the day I became rich. And I did not know the day I became poor either. Simply because I don’t understand German.
Let me get to the poor bit first.
My German bank gives me pretty poor service. I say this because they do not fulfill the basic expectation of an international customer- communicating in a language the customer understands. By language, I do not mean Swahili or Igbo. I mean English, a language spoken by many in the western world. I have often gotten the “deer in the headlights” look whenever I request to be spoken to in English- in person, on the phone, or in emails. Last December, I started getting a series of emails from the bank. Every time, I replied, asking to tell me in English instead of German. No one replied. Then one day, just like that, they deducted €5 from my account. Just like that. Since my bank statements are also in German, I had no idea what I had done.
In Hindi, we have a saying about the iron cutting the iron. I let the German cut the German.
I asked a German friend to look into this. She called the bank. Apparently the emails were about asking me to confirm my home address. Since I had replied in English, instead of replying to their query, they assumed that I had changed addresses without letting them know, and they deducted €5 as penalty. €5 is not a lot of money, but it was wrongfully taken. I have been promised that the money will be deposited back since the confusion was cleared. Time will tell.
Banking in Germany is funny. In India, you get interest when you put money in the bank. In the USA, you do not get interest, but you do not have your money taken away either. Germany is a different beast. Here, I pay money annually to own a credit card. And with every transaction I make (when I spend money, and even when someone puts money in my bank, like my salary), the bank deducts some money as transaction fees. It will take me a long time to understand this country.
Now about the rich part.
Last December again, I had applied to the German government to give me some travel money to go to the USA. They said that they will let me know by March. I assumed that let me know in this age means sending an email.
I never check my mailbox (letterbox) simply because no one writes me letters. So when the German government sent me a letter two months before their March timeline, it lay in my mailbox for two weeks, unattended. One night, I was bored and could not fall asleep, and decided to kill time by checking my mailbox. I took the stairs, went up, and opened my mailbox, expecting an empty one. There lay a big fat envelope. With shaking hands and bated breath, I opened it. Five pages of German text. Not a single word I could decipher. Not even a keyword like “Herzliche Glückwünsche” (congratulations) or apologies. Just five pages of plain German text. Imagine my plight, holding the result of my application and not knowing what it said. I waited the entire night.
The next morning, the same German friend came to my rescue. My application had made it, and it was five pages of rules about what I should do or not do to be able to claim the money after the conference. I wonder why they didn’t send an email instead. Imagine, the letter lying there for two weeks. I could have been a happy person half a month earlier.
On a different note, I recently got an award from the university for being "an impulse driver for innovative, trend-setting teaching" at the university. Two eminent people from the university even signed it. I haven't received an award like this since the sixth grade, but some kind of validation is always nice. These days, I've taken validation-whoring to a whole new level. Any award, any publication, anything CV-worthy happens, and I get busy updating the CV. Traits of someone on the job prowl, you know!
Always a fan of the German way of doing things, I love how they even framed the certificate and directly put it in my mailbox. No drama, no ceremonies, no blowing kisses in the air and hugging people and fake tears and making false promises of changing the education system on my part. The funny thing is, I don't really know what exactly the certificate said, since it is once again in German. Colleagues kept coming in and out of my office, congratulating me and admiring it, but I had no idea what exactly was written. It was later that a kind co-worker nicely translated it for me in a word document, formatting it exactly the way it looked, but in English. It's an interesting experience for me, being a part of a system and navigating mostly out of instinct, fulfilling the expectations and achieving the benchmarks, but not really getting it.
I emailed the award-issuing person, thanking them, and asking if they could send me a translated version of this award in English. I still haven't heard back. I'm sure they rarely get an email from an awardee, not happy with what they have and asking them to issue another award.
So that is the summary of my life in Germany. A part of a heterogeneous mixture, and not necessarily a homogeneous solution. I am a part of the society, but I don’t blend in. I stand out. And while I struggle with the language, life happens. I get money. I lose money. I get awards. But I still don’t get the language. The analogy I love to tell people is, living in Germany is like living in with a very good looking man who does not speak to you. I am enamored by this place, and how beautiful it is. But the place doesn’t speak to me. We live like two separate entities, like two strangers in the same house. Together, but not gelling in.