What Doesn't Kill You Will Still Be Ridiculously Embarrassing

There are a lot of things people don't tell you before you go to a new country.  Maybe they don't tell you because most people travel with friends, or because most people don't start new jobs in countries where they cannot speak the language.  Regardless, the last few days have been.... eye opening.  I have never felt so out of my element, and I'm generally a very self-assured person.

Today got off to a supremely rocky start.  I arrived at work only to find that the laptop they've been having me use was not where I left it.  I immediately recalled that the office has, in fact, had several thefts over the last few months.  Cue panic.  For the next half hour or so I did my best not to cry while we waited for the guys who work in my department (currently I'm in Advertising) to arrive.  They had left after I did last night and we (myself and the secretary) hoped they might know what happened to it.  THANK GOD as it turned out one of them took it home since that way it wouldn't be stolen.  At that point I actually did start to cry.  Brilliant way to start the morning.

And, of course, things only got better.  The laptop they gave me to work on did't have any of the Adobe software [Adobe is a company that makes a range of specialized products for graphic designers, advertisers, and photographers; for example Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator], and it's too expensive to install it, so they had me working on someone else's computer who is on holiday at the moment.  But as soon as it came time to log in, I realized that (after switching purses this morning) I forgot my passwords at the apartment.  FUCK.  So then I waited around a bit to try and get a hold of the IT guys, but this was taking forever so I just ran back home, got the passwords, and returned.  Having finally signed in to my computer, we then tried to get me connected to the server that has the work I was supposed to be doing today.  We tried every damn password they assigned me before finally giving up and calling IT.  Well, it turns out that IT had to get permission from the Creative Director before they could grant me access to any of the servers.  And, wouldn't you know it our Creative Director WASN'T HERE TODAY.

This just feels like the latest in a string of mildly humiliating experiences.  Everyone is really nice, but in most cases not overly friendly.  I had been told about the famous Northern German frostiness, but mostly wrote it off as prejudice or the consequence of shy travelers.  This is not so.  The culture is, in fact, significantly more reserved than our culture in Canada, and so it has been a slightly depressing adjustment to make.  Everyone at work is really young, and while it's nice to be around people around my own age (most are in the 25-35 range) it makes me feel more ignorant when they have to explain something to me.  On top of that there's the language issues.  My poor coworker must have spent a half hour trying to explain what we needed to modify on a logo, and finally it turned out it was an exceptionally simple change that is well within my capabilities.  Trouble is that some words that are spoken the same in both languages - for example "logo" - but have slightly different meanings, which I'm sure you can imagine causes all kinds of trouble.  And it doesn't end there.  The keyboards here are arranged differently, and the computers are all in German too.  So every time a dialogue box comes up, every time I open an application, even the navigation bar at the top of the screen is ALL IN GERMAN.  Why don't YOU try figuring out what "Datei", "Bearbeiten", "Ansicht", "Chronik", etc means?  Through blind luck I was able to get to System Preferences and adjust the main language and the keyboard input to English, so at least I can now type at my usual rate without getting a "ü" where I might have gotten ",".  Unfortunately for all the languages changes to register I would have had to restart the computer, and my luck has been so bad over the last few days that I honestly did't think it was worth it today.

So the moral of the story is I spend most of my time feeling like a complete fool, which is not my favourite sensation.  Luckily the Advertising department's Creative Director is a very friendly sort.  His new favourite pastime is to teach me German swear words and then have me repeat them when anyone from other departments comes into our office.  Yesterday I learned "Deine Muder", which I gather is comparable to "fuck you".

My day actually wound up improving in the afternoon.  While technology in general still seems to hate me, most other things perked up.  Since we weren't able to get a hold of the Creative Director we wound up just using a flash drive to get me the relevant files, so I got to spend the rest of the day actually doing something productive.  Better yet, it was stuff that I'm familiar with and felt confident working on, so it was a really nice change not to feel incompetent for a few hours.

At lunch my two work friends came by to invite me to go pick up some groceries.  Often here we will grab a few groceries and then make group meals with 5-7 other coworkers, which so far have been both healthy and fairly tasty.  At work we also have an espresso machine, which makes impressively good coffee.  I haven't tried my luck with the steam-arm yet since it's apparently quite delicate, but eventually I'm sure I'll get around to making lattes and such.  We also get unlimited beverages (water, iced tea, and a bunch of weird European stuff) which helps cushion the blow of life generally sucking.

After lunch there was a bit of a lull in the advertising department's work flow, so the two boys (for simplicity's sake I'll call them Boy 1 and Boy 2) and girl-whose-name-I-can't-remember-or-pronounce invited me to play darts with them, which is an ongoing game in the office.  On the wall they even have a chart keeping track of everyone's wins.  Luckily Boy 1 is also new, and has only been here about two weeks so I'm not totally alone in my unfamiliarity.  He's quite shy but once you start talking to him he's really nice; he was the one who saved my laptop, so I feel rather indebted.  During work I sit across from Boy 2, who is the one who has to deal with me most often.  He's unfailingly kind, patient, and very polite.  I feel so guilty interrupting his work flow all the time to ask questions, but it has motivated me a lot to learn quickly and make up for it by being an asset.  Both Boy 1 and Boy 2 are in their mid-twenties.  Like I said it's a young office.  Girl-whose-name-I-can't-
remember-or-pronounce spends most of her time with her headphones in and she sits across the office so I don't know her very well.  I would guess she's in her mid-twenties too.

For the last part of the day the whole first-floor team gathered in one of the conference rooms to watch a film put together by a couple of members about an advertising festival they had attended.  I didn't understand most of it, but some ads were quite funny and we all got to sit around drinking beer and wine and eating chocolate and popcorn while we watched it.  In Germany they put sugar on their popcorn, which is of course totally bizarre, and when I told them that we use salt and occasionally cheese they all thought it was disgusting and hilarious.

Anyway, by the time the presentation ended I had just about enough time to shut down my equipment and head out.  It turns out that we're going to the Reeperbahn next weekend, so I'm thinking I might take tomorrow to go to the downtown area (about 4km away) and do some shopping/exploring.  If there was ever a time for retail therapy it's NOW.  Apparently they have lots of Starbucks down there and I could really use a taste of home, and I am also dying to get some english books so I'll have some entertainment besides my computer.

Until today I had no internet in my apartment, and I still have no phone.  I am learning just how essential these things are to life outside your home country.  I haven't spent any money yet (besides a coffee or two) because I don't know where to find anything.  I had no real way of finding this out besides walking, and when I get home I'm usually so tired (since I've been getting up at dawn every day) that I barely have time to change before I fall asleep.  On top of this the very few occasions I've actually gone into a store are really frustrating because I can't read any labels, and I don't exactly have a phone that can translate for me.  I had thought the most difficult part of this trip would be the end: saying goodbye, leaving Europe, feeling homesick after being away so long.  On the contrary, the first few weeks of this seem to be the hardest.  Cut off from the world, missing friends and family, not knowing anyone, being unable to do anything, not understanding the language.  I suppose the silver lining is that it can only get better.  I just hope it gets better fast.
That about covers things, and now hopefully you're all much more aware of the hazards of working overseas.  It is nothing like I imagined, but I will say this: once this experience is over I am quite sure it will have provided me with skills and abilities that will prove invaluable.

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