Tuesday, 25 November 2008

A New Order: Sign(s) of the Times

Since moving to Glasgow, and reading a hilarious book entitled "Happy Aua" by Bastian Sick (author of Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod) I've begun collecting whimsical signs. Some contain errors in spelling or grammar, others attempt a foreign language with little or humourous success, and still others are simply baffling unless you understand the cultural context.

Germans are famous for their rules, their organisation, and their bureacracy. As I've touched on before, few things work here without paperwork. Upon arrival, you have to register your address at the Registration of Address Office (Einwohnermeldeamt), and if you are not German you have to register yourself in the Foreign Residents Office (Ausländerbehörde, translated by LEO as "aliens department"). In order to get a student public transport ticket, you have to fill out a form, bring a photo, and get a stamp from your university (all before you can hand it over to the MVV office). For all of these things you need a passport, and a rental agreement, along with proof of your student status. It seems like a lot, and it is. And of course, it all has to be done upon arrival (or within 2 weeks). And If you are a student on exchange, you have the added bonus of matriculation (waiting time 3 hours minimum which is short compared to non-exchange wait times) , registration for health insurance, and of course the running around to pay fees to offices that are open 2 hours a day, collect the receipt and go to another office that has a three hour window for you to collect your ID, which you need for practically everything (including lunch, because to get a dining card you have to show your student card!).If your German is bad, the civil servant (or university authority) in question may have pity on you, then again this is Munich (they probably won’t). It's your job (foreign or not) to know that KVR, Kreisverwaltungsreferat, and Einwohnermeldeamt are all the same place. It's your job to know that the office hours are inconvenient (Monday-Thu. 8-12; Tues. 14-18:30; Fri. 7:00-12:00) because no matter when you go, it's almost worth it to camp out the night before in order to not have to wait more than three hours. It's your job to know which documents are needed and when. And of course it's your job to know and pay the administrative fee they will charge for something as silly as a stamp, or a slip of paper.

As if this wasn't enough the German language also has to be efficient. Long words are shortened to logical abbreviations… you just have no clue what they actually mean if you aren’t German. The University says your lecture is at 18:00 c.t. Zi. 509 Rgb. You are a foreigner. What do you do? Well, c.t. stands for "cum tempore" and means the lecture begins not at 18:00 but rather at 18:15. "Zi"is the abbreviation for Zimmer or Room and Rgb. is "Rückgebaude"or Rear Building. It would perhaps be easier if the University was the only one who did this, but everyone who has a name long enough does (I have yet to be called by my initials thankfully!). I've been here for two months and I had to look up what MVV (public transport) stood for (Münchner Verkehrs- und Tarifverbund, for those of you who are curious).

So how does one in fact learn all of this? Two words: Orientation Course. We spent a week and a half learning about all of these things that were taught because they were deemed as crucial to surviving the first weeks. I topics to the effect of "everyday life in Germany", but ended up with "How to write an e-mail to your Advisor of Studies and/or Professor", "How to sign away all of your rights", along with "Twenty things you have to do in German before you can speak German." OK, so you think I'm exaggerating, and to a certain extent I am. Those course topics (with the exception of the first) were faux. The truth is however that Germany, and Munich in particular has some crazy rules. And now you as how this relates to signage? Well, if you take a look at the pictures you'll see what I mean. And for those of you who don't understand German the one sign in German (From the MVV) says: "Dogs: 1 Dog Free. For every further dog, a child's ticket must be purchased." And don't think they won't control it. I've been ticket controlled twice since I arrived here, and it's kind of embarrassing to be fined in front of everyone because your dog was riding without a ticket. Don't you think?

1 comment:

Russell said...

I guess there is no German word for carbonation?

And in light of your troubles. I must say.. God bless America..