Compare and Contrast: Working

Working in a foreign country (Germany), in a foreign language (German), in a region with accents so thick, it’s almost as if I have no language skills at all (Schwabisch) is unsurprisingly, tricky. But aside from the language situation, working in Germany still manages to present itself with a few tricks and challenges not normally seen in the US. These would include:

*Morning greetings: In theory, it’s a nice, friendly way to start the day, while also ensuring all coworkers and managers know you’ve arrived. In reality, greeting everyone in the immediate vicinity with a handshake and “Guten Morgen” seems to be a great way to pass on the Grippe (flu) while also feeling a bit…forced. Especially when some of these colleagues don’t speak a word to you the rest of the day. It’s tempting to try and make it uncomfortable as possible, just for kicks.

*Du/Sie: Normally, new employees or perhaps very strict offices would use the formal “Sie” when greeting colleagues, which would be the equivalent of using Mr./Mrs/Sir/Madam to your cube-mate or manager. And that is something I can totally work with. So the office is formal? Fine, Sie it is, let’s get to work!

Unfortunately, many of my colleagues like to speak English with me in the office to improve (show off?) their skills. This is all well and good up until I have to speak German with them in a meeting or around other, lesser-known co-workers. Suddenly, the rest of my German knowledge completely falls out of my head as my brain panics with the issue of formal or informal?? Have they said “du” to me? Which verb tense did they use last? Is there a way to phrase my question without any pronouns at all??

I mostly go for a mumbled mix a pronouns and hope something works.

*Introductions: Following morning greetings and formal/informal pronouns, introductions are another tricky area. In first introductions, it seems standard to shake hands and say your last name, e.g. “Hello, Smith.” Which to my informal/small talk conditioned/American brain feels odd and abrupt. Similar story for phone calls but reversed, “Smith, Guten Tag.” The name is the first thing to be said. Efficient? Yes. American? Very definitely not.

*Keyboards: Typing with a German keyboard feels to me like learning sign language while speaking a new language. It adds a third dimension to a situation (my brain + eye-hand coordination) that can barely handle 2D. To begin, the “y” and “z” are switched. Which, after two are three days would be fine, except that at night I go back to an American keyboard. My typing speed is certainly no longer impressive, as my brain struggles to remember where exactly the keys are and which keyboard am I using. Let’s not forget the new position for all special characters and the bonus Ctrl+ key and there is really no way for me to type quickly.

*Microsoft Office Products: Sigh. Since college I have used MS products for lab reports, essays and presentations. And everything was well and good until they introduced Office 2010. Conveniently, the new Office suite was installed only shortly before leaving my last job and thus I never became quite as proficient with it as I would have liked. Just as conveniently, my current job has the new program, yet in German. Menus in German, keyboard shortcuts in German and best of all, Excel formulas in German.

Clearly, this is fantastic.

Most days, it feels like I’m solving a large riddle. One involving “if” statements, and MS Help auf Deutsch and no internet connection with which to Google. And the part that is the most crazy-making? They use semi-colons rather than commas within the formula. Semi-colons, which on a German keyboard require a (shift)+(:). Double sigh.

Someday, I’d like to encounter a workday not quite so full of confusion. I certainly think my mind would appreciate it. And I’ve not even begun to whine about telephoning.

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