On Campus

The Germans are punctual, very punctual

Updated on: Jan 20, 2013
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I was going to Berlin using car pooling in my first month in Deutschland and I was supposed to meet a gentleman at 8 am. Old habits die hard and I was a few minutes late. At 8:02 I got a call from him. He sounded worried and he asked me if there was any misunderstanding about the time or venue. I learnt that in Deutschland, 8 is not the same as 7:59 or 8:01.

If a Deutsche-Bahn (one of the most efficient public transport networks in Europe) train is delayed by even five minutes, the train crew will apologise to the passengers for the delay. If you have fixed a meeting with your friend and if your friend is German, he or she won’t come a minute late and not more than a few minutes early. Germans believe in coming exactly on time! It was really hard in the beginning to inculcate this habit, especially when one is used to ‘Indian Stretchable Time’.

If you ask a German “Could you please get this for me on your way back from work?”, there’s a good chance that you will get a reply “I could. Should I?” This is an extreme case, but in general German people prefer a more direct version: “Please get this for me”. They can be alarmingly direct at times, but they are not being rude, it’s just their way of conversing.

I think Germans are bad at sarcasm. If you roll your eyes and say “Yeah, right!”, there’s a good chance that your friend will actually consider it an affirmative reply!

I got the chance to witness the Champions League finals and Euro 2012 while in Deutschland. If on a working day, you find all offices vacant, all classrooms empty, all streets deserted, you can safely assume that there’s a Deutschland-vs-somebody match in progress. Like most Europeans, Germans are crazy about football. Matches, followed by the celebrations and parties that run late into the night, are an integral part of life in Deutschland.

Deutschland has many rules and everyone follows every rule (except during football matches!). In the middle of the night, when there is no traffic and the streets are deserted, a lone German person walking by will stop at the pedestrian signal and cross the road only when the signal turns green. There was never checking of tickets in trams in Dresden when I was there. Yet, no one ever travels without a ticket.

Autobahns are known to be the best highways throughout the world and one of the few highway networks without a speed limit. And in spite of most cars travelling above 150 kmph (I once travelled at 200 kmph in a brand new Audi!), the Autobahn network is also known for its low mortality rate. This is possible only because there are strict rules and every person follows them.

Germans always form queues at railway stations, messes, offices and toilets. And unlike in India where queues are two- (in extreme cases, even three-) dimensional, the German queue is a single line, with people spacing themselves comfortably.

Beer is almost like a national drink in Deutschland. It is heavily subsidised so that students can afford it. It’s cheaper than bottled water! In big cities like Berlin, München, Frankfurt, etc, almost every person on the street knows English. In smaller cities, only people in universities know English well, but most often, in other offices too, one can find people who can manage to converse in English. So, language is not really a big issue.

There was really nothing about life in Deutschland that I did not enjoy (except the use of tissue paper in toilets). I loved the food (my vegetarian friends would disagree). I learned to cook German and Romanian food from my flatmates. Evenings were usually spent going around the city and socialising.

All the people I met were friendly, polite and warm-hearted. They are very welcoming towards foreigners and they respect your beliefs and principles. I developed a feeling of belongingness towards this place. Along with a motherland I now also have a Vaterland.

DAAD, a joint organisation of German institutions of higher education and student bodies, stands for Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst or German Academic Exchange Service. It aims to promote academic co-operation worldwide, especially through the exchange of students, scholars, academics, and scientists. The Regional Office for India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka is in New Delhi (2 Nyaya Marg, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi 110 021). Mumbai and Chennai have information centres. For more information, go to www.daaddelhi.org or write to info@daaddelhi.org.

(Jayant is a fourth year dual degree student of Electrical Engineering, IIT-Madras. This article first appeared in IIT’s own magazine, The Fifth Estate . He was in Germany over summer as part of the DAAD student exchange programme.)

Published on January 20, 2013

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