Since arriving in Germany, the only cultural difference that has really affected my interactions with citizens is the language barrier because this obviously makes verbal communication slightly difficult. Apart from that, my interactions with Germans are very rarely different from ones I would have with Americans at home. It is hard for me to clearly understand how conflict is being handled in the workplace because of my little understanding of the language, but so far I have never seen anyone lose their temper at work, even if I can tell two people are having a tense conversation. For the most part, Germans tend to work hard during the day to complete all of their work, and it is very uncommon for anyone to take work home once the day has ended. I am fortunate in the sense that almost everyone at work has been very welcoming of me as a foreigner and makes an effort to get to know me or at least say hello when they see me. So far, I have not met anyone within or outside of my job that has been hostile or unfriendly to me because of me being American. If I had to describe the German value system in just a couple of words I would use order and structure. For example, their trains and busses are always on time to the minute (much different than Pittsburgh!) and they frown upon little rule breaking such as crossing the road when the pedestrian light is still red, which is a rule that Americans never pay attention to. One big difference in living that I have noticed is that everything closes on Sundays. This came as a surprise to me because I tend to run a lot of my errands for the week on Sundays when I am at home, but here I have to plan ahead and get everything I need earlier in the weekend such as Friday evening after work.
Currently, the country is dealing with conflict between Germans and Turks living in Germany. This topic has come up a lot in both professional settings such as at work and social settings. I was told that recently Germany even eliminated its duel citizenship option partly to prohibit Turkish people from becoming German citizens while still maintaining Turkish citizenship. Unfortunately, this conflict and bias towards Turks seems similar to the way some Americans feel right now about various groups moving into the United States. However, I have not experienced anyone having too strong of an opinion about Americans living in Germany.
The beginning of this work week was similar to every other week. I worked in Accounts Receivable on various tasks relating to managing tenants’ rents. On Thursday, my boss returned from a business trip to South Africa to report our year end results to the public. Upon his return, I was invited to a presentation and meeting along with some of the financial controllers in the office to talk about the performance of Sirius Facilities this year. I really enjoyed the meeting because I learned a lot more about the impact and results of the work we do every day in the office. I took more notes than anyone else by far, as I was trying to keep up with what Diarmuid, my boss, was talking about the entire time, but I was interested the entire time and the 2.5 hours flew by.
On Friday I was placed in the claims department for the day. This is the department that tenants accounts are sent to when tenants do not pay for their rent after multiple warning and notices and legal action must be taken. I did not do much work myself that day, but instead got to shadow the corporate lawyers in the office and ask them questions about how the legal processes take work. I loved being in that environment and found it much more interesting than the Accounts Receivable department I have been working in in previous weeks. The lawyers were extremely kind and very eager to teach me about what they did and it was a nice change of pace from my typical work day.
Friday evening, I went to dinner on the Spree river with two of the other Pitt students and another American student we met up with. Right now the whole country is very excited because the World Cup started, so every restaurant has televisions playing the soccer games and we got to watch the Spain vs. Portugal game while eating. After dinner we walked along the Spree for a little and found an area where there was a DJ and swing dancing, so we all stopped and joined in for a little while. It was so fun to listen to the old time music for a change from the typical kind of music that is popular today.
I spent Saturday at Museum Island, an area of five museums all placed close by to each other. There is an all day pass you can get which is a ticket to get into all five museums and is the ticket I ended up purchasing. We only made it into three of the five museums, however, because all five would have been a little too exhausting for one day. The three museums I saw were mostly focused on historical art. The Pergamon Museum is included on Museum Island, which is one of the most popular museums and tourist attractions in Berlin.
After the museums, we walked around the area we were in for a little while and stumbled upon a ton of flea markets set up. The stands sold various jewelry, clothing, artwork, food, and other homemade products. I definitely want to go back to those markets at the end of my time in Berlin to get some souvenirs because it seems like the flea markets are set up every Saturday. We walked around the flea markets and shops until about 6pm and then got dinner at a little Korean restaurant, which made me realize how poor I am at using chopsticks!
Today the only things on my agenda are going to a public viewing of the German vs Mexico soccer game, calling home for Father’s Day, and finding a place to stay in Prague because I am traveling there next weekend for a few days.