By: Jackie Northrup
German Business and Culture
Will I get stuck in the Starbucks bathroom again? I still remember the line I met once I had finally escaped it. That lock was as intricate as a BMW engine in my opinion. Maybe I stand alone on that. I do know that you don’t need to understand German to gather when they are laughing at your expense. Even the toddler in line was laughing! And they probably didn’t need to hear me speak to guess that this short, frizzy-haired, freckled girl must surely be American. You could say that I am definitely replaying that scenario in my head as my trip approaches. That, and the other embarrassing moments that condemned me to obvious-tourist status.
You would think maybe this time I would not be so scared to travel to Berlin again, after my two weeks in August 2014. I have a head-start over most of the students. But, you don’t forget how shocking the feeling is, when you realize the whole world is not America. It’s exhilarating to adapt all over again, and it is for this reason that I am so excited and terrified to go. In fact, I cannot distinguish from fear and excitement anymore. But hey, if it’s bound to scare you and excite you at once, it’s probably worth diving into! And so with a great deal of apprehension and eagerness, I will be departing for Berlin in only a matter of hours.
So what kind of tourist-like behaviors are scaring me as potential replays? A couple. I can try to educate you to the best of my limited knowledge. Then you might understand why it’s nerve-wracking to be going, if you’re aware of how dorky you’re likely to look. But, hey, its study abroad…you’re supposed to mess up a little bit culture-wise! (That’s what I am telling myself at least). At any rate, I may not know how to be German, but I know how to be less of a foreigner.
So something you should always try in the German Starbucks bathrooms: twist the lock until it won’t twist anymore. Eventually you’ll get that sucker open! Don’t give up! But I would suggest practicing your most dignified face, for potential social disasters. You can use that in rotation with your sheepish shrug. Also, don’t go there expecting your American bubble to remain intact. I know I now have to re-accept that Germans will have no problem grabbing my shoulders and physically steering me out of their path. Oh, and when you’re walking on the sidewalk to gawk at the city, just remember that “red is dead.” Don’t walk on the red bricks. I learned pretty quick that they have bike lanes all over…and that you don’t want to stray into them. I truly believe you would get more mercy in the actual road. Which also reminds me of how intense it is if you ever decide to jay walk. You’re definitely blowing your cover if you try, and the locals will promptly call you out. You learn some great vocabulary this way though. I’ll also have to watch the natives when they open the doors. Otherwise, I’m left to guess what “ziehen” really means. I could rehearse but I think I like the idea of jumping in all over. Maybe a more important interaction to know is when to say goodbye. I’ll never forget the crestfallen look on the baker’s face when I ignored his chipper, “Tschüss!”. (No, this has nothing to do with “shoes” as I first suspected). You’ll be ahead if you can remember to say goodbye whenever you leave a public place. Otherwise you’re breaking German hearts everywhere. You can start out with what I call English training wheels, and just shout the word “shoes” at them while waving frantically and smiling. They’ll appreciate the enthusiasm, and might overlook the horrible pronunciation.
So, now you might know why I am a little nervous. There is unlimited potential to ‘mess up’. In reality, whether you know the difference between German pull or push, you’re still in for a surprise. These might be a couple things I learned in my short time, but I am looking forward now to learning so much more! The truth is, I really don’t know a lot about the culture, the language or the people, which is why I have decided that studying abroad might be the perfect amount of ‘uncomfortable’ I need! I cannot wait to embark on my field study, no matter the fear of embarrassment or of the unknown. Anyway, ‘shoes’ for now! Bis bald!