Monday, June 06, 2016

Lost in (Deutsche) Translation

I don’t know how you started your new year, but I can tell you how I started mine. By logging in to my German bank account, to see if they deposited my salary on time. Not that the Germans have ever been tardy. However, even after all these years, I get a kick out of seeing my bank balance slightly go up at the beginning of every month.

I typed in my user id and password, to get the following message in German (that I Google translated):

“Dear Customer,

Your account has been due to PIN input errors provisionally blocked for security reasons. However, you have the possibility to revoke the provisional ban by entering your valid PIN and using a valid TAN. Please enter the current PIN twice, and confirm on the following page to enter a transaction number (TAN). Please note that a final PIN lock is carried out by an erroneous entry of the PIN. The final PIN lock can then be lifted by your institution.”

Honestly, I have no idea what they are talking about. What PIN? What TAN? What institution?

You see, my entire banking happens in German. Despite claiming to have an “international” customer base, they do nothing for international customers who understand “Kein Deutsch oder nur ein bisschen Deutsch” (no German or very little German). The customer service representative speaks in German, and gets upset if I do not reply in German. The bank emails go out in German. Last month, they deducted some money, and I have no idea why they did, because they stated some random reason, all in German. So now, I will have to catch hold of someone bilingual at work, log in to my bank account, have them call my bank, and figure out why I cannot access my account, and what made the bank take my money without telling me about it. It’s a constant struggle, a constant uphill battle everyday. To understand, and be understood.

“This is how we do it. Sorry.”

“You should have spent more time learning German seriously.”

“Don’t worry. You will figure it out. You have a PhD.”

“It was your choice to move. Why complain now?”

These are just some of the many things I am told that do not make any sense to me. And this message from the bank, all written in German, has been the summary of my life in Germany so far. Get stumped by something totally mindless, like checking the bank account. Get stuck. Wait patiently, trying to figure it out. Ask for help. Wait to get help. Get help. Thank people after getting help. Move on, until the next roadblock.

What it results in is huge cognitive overload. Getting stuck to do even the simple things. Putting the more important things on hold as a result. And wasting a lot of time in the process. A perfect example of how a familiar language can be the elixir of your life, your connection to the world. And how an unfamiliar language can become the bane of your existence, isolating you from the more local experiences, the people, and create a schism between you and your social world.


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