A Colombian journalist studying at Potsdam University shares his outrageous experiences as a newcomer and gives some insights into international students’ cultural shock. By Cristian Bustos.
I am queuing up at this minimarket in Berlin, waiting to get to the only operational till point at the moment. It was a week after having flown more than 7.000 miles from my native Colombia–the land of coffee, Shakira, and “La Camisa Negra” hit song– to start my current MA at Potsdam University in October 2015. Germany was a whole new world to me. Suddenly, another till point is made available and people start rapidly changing to the new queue, and I am quick enough to get ahead of the old man standing behind me.
Welcome to Berlin
I get to the queue first, and after a few seconds, out of nowhere, the old man starts ramming me with his shopping cart. I turn to him and beg for my life: “Hey sir! What are you doing! Stop! Are you trying to run me over?” The man, fuming at me and completely out of sorts, starts screaming, “You’re jumping the queue! I got here first! You’re jumping the queue!” Back home, upon telling this story to my German girlfriend in complete awe and disbelief, she just snaps, “Welcome to Berlin!”
As an Ausländer, I believe I have a nominal right to report on some of the vicissitudes since landing in the land of Goethe, BMW, Claudia Schiffer and Michael Schumacher. My German friends are ever so interested and always ask things like, “How do you like Germany? Do you like Berlin? Do you like Potsdam?” I reply, “Oh yeah!” with genuine excitement, as the opportunity to further my career in journalism in Europe’s biggest economic enclave, really has no parallel.
But I have found myself being either subject or witness to some other peculiarities like the one already depicted in these lines. Ones that have made this incredible experience even more particular and worth sharing with German and international students alike.
At the Christmas market in Potsdam last winter, I saw this woman in her late 40s buying some candy at one of the little shops. The shopkeeper was this tiny Asian girl in a Christmas attire, and she was putting some toffees in a paper bag. Snow was falling with “in der Weihnachtsbäckerei, gibt es manche Leckerei” in the background.
The romantic nativity scene is suddenly cut dead when the customer in cantankerous fashion shouts: “I don’t have all day to stand here in front of you waiting for my candies. Give me my candies NOW!” The flustered keeper somehow managed to hand the bag to the lady who after checking the content, threw it back over the counter and just walked off mumbling a string of unintelligible German curse words. When recounting the experience with Moritz, my German friend, he said: “People can become rather crusty in winter”. “Certainly”, I quipped.
„A fantastic experience“
Before coming here, I also knew that some Germans were factual quietness fetishists. But what I witnessed one day on the S-Bahn on my way to Potsdam certainly draws a completely different level of quirkiness. A Mexican woman next to me was talking on the phone in her native Spanish, and this German guy in a suit who looked like a corporate executive, turned to her and said: “Excuse me. You are talking too fast. It really annoys me. Could you speak slower please?”. “Slower”, I thought. Wow.
Another distinguishing feature of some people in Potsdam and Berlin is that, whenever you are walking down the street and there is somebody coming in the opposite direction, you’d better give them way as they will keep their straight line; if you don’t, they will knock you over without muttering a single word, giving you a good taste of that German berraquera (strength) that has put this country where it stands within the current global outlook.
But all in all, I must say it’s been a fantastic experience. I have made really good friends at Potsdam University, both from Germany and other parts of the world. The beauty of the Park Sanssouci Castle at the University is everyday candy to my eyes. And with this written piece I intend to reflect, as an outsider, some features of the German idiosyncrasy. Who else but us, Ausländer, to do that for our German friends’ own amusement!