Wednesday, 30 August 2017

German efficiency

If there were ever a stereotype I would like to be true, it would be that of German efficiency. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, it's all wishful thinking.

I have been living and working in Munich for about 5 weeks and nothing has struck me as particularly more efficient than in the UK! Quite the opposite, actually. Take, for example, the ticket machines at train stations. Not only do they not allow you to select a different starting point than the station you're currently at (God forbid you should attempt to buy a ticket in advance), but the machines also seem to, at random, not accept certain payment methods, such as accepting credit but not debit cards, and then take an unreasonable amount of time to cancel the purchase instead of allowing you to change one minor detail.

And while we're on the topic of payment... UK debit cards essentially allow you to do everything except get into debt. German cards on the other hand... I was issued with 2 cards for my savings account, 1 to be used for ATMs, online shopping and payments abroad, and the other for use in shops and ticket machines. The first card is also a credit card, so would let me spend money I didn't have, a function I specifically avoided in the UK. Oh wonderful land of efficiency, please tell me why the functions of 1 UK debit card need to be shared across 2 German cards?!

Being that Germany is a big producer of pharmaceuticals, you would also be forgiven for thinking that access to basic painkillers would be as simple as at home, where you can pick up a pack of paracetamol for about 30p. As I've learned the hard way, the same pack costs about 10x as much here, and can only be purchased from a pharmacy, not any convenience store as in the UK.

One thing that I've found interesting, however, is how every adult, regardless of their age, is treated with a similar amount of respect. Interns are referred to as Mr or Mrs Soandso, just as their superiors are, and I have found myself challenging my preconceptions on who counts as a 'real' adult in way I wouldn't have done in the UK. But as the German insist on using Sir or Madam in situations where we usually wouldn't in English, as well as the fact that nearly all job titles have a male and female equivalent with no option outside of the gender binary, I also find that identifying a person's gender has become essential, even just when addressing them via email or discussing a client at work. Perhaps this is why gender issues seem to be more commonly discussed in England than in Germany: here there is no other option than to adhere to one or the other, whereas the English language leaves a lot of room for variation, for example by using a non gendered job title or by using the pronoun 'they'. The German approach also requires a lot more words to express the same meaning.

There is a lot to be said about the impact of language on a person's world view, it would seem!

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