Sunday, September 6, 2009

Learning to love German beer.

I don't know how to talk about being in Germany. Generally, you take a trip somewhere and you spend your time seeing the sights. Well, we moved here and we've spent most of the time figuring out how to survive in another country. It's not that hard really. Primarily, there is the communication problem. I've heard that Germans speak a good deal of English but my experience here has shown that the English is often very limited - granted better than my German.

We've done well on the basics. We got an apartment. We got a bank account. We have a bed and some minimal furniture. We even own a washing machine now. We know how to get monthly trian and bus passes and we generally know our way around the city. We even have some basic kitchen stuff: plates, pots, pans, glasses, sliverware, etc.

The frustrating parts are often the simplest. You see, when you live in the same place for a long time, there are a large set of tasks that you take your knowledge of them for granted. Somethings don't change no matter where you go. I know how to tie my shoes and that doesn't change in Germany. Somethings are different - like reading a bus schedule. The thing is, almost every twelve-year-old in Jena knows how to read the bus schedule. Yet still, just last week I found myself asking a German what was meant by the schedule.

There are plenty more examples like this but I don't want to bore you with that. What stands out to me though, is that here in Germany, in many ways, my experience is equal or less than that of a child. This is what clearly marks me different than others here. I simply do not have the set of experiences common to every human being who has grown up here. It is fortunate then that the people I have met are so understanding with me.

There is, for me, one place where I feel differently - at work. At the TPI (Theoretical Physics Institute) I am in my element. Not so long ago, I would be comfortable in all the situations I faced whether it be work, social or anything else. Now, the only setting in which I am generally competent is at work. At work, I find myself regularly noticing patterns that many do not and I get new ideas at a good pace. My co-workers recognize it and appreciate my input. Further, my degree and position give me credibility and respect. I have the ability to bring special attention to a student's project or provide a place to those less certain than I. For me, my work is a refuge from all the differences that I experience everywhere else.

My wife has to deal with the differences and doesn't have a job where she can apply her talents currently. This must be more difficult. She's been filling her time with domestic tasks but I can already tell she's tired of having little to do. It's fortunate that she has two interviews for PhD positions this month. I think if she has a job, it will not only give her things to do in the day but also provide her own community to operate in rather than being dependent on those I meet at my job.

Since we're feeling so settled in today, and since there is nothing else to do on a Sunday (everything is closed), we'll be wandering around town taking pictures. There are some pretty parts: the market square, two very old churches, some of the neihborhoods. See you then.

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