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The Paperwork Cult

I’m starting to believe that German bureaucrats belong to some sort of cult – the paperwork cult. Its members hide in plain sight, spend hours in their filing fortresses, feed on officially approved certificates and have mental Bescheinigasms 1 every time they use their seal to stamp a document. 

Truth be told, dealing with paperwork in Germany seems pretty straight-forward, at least compared to other countries. However, the system has a catch: the daunting amount of documents, forms and certificates necessary to accomplish any task, which makes any bureaucratic procedure a highly intimidating and time-consuming experience. At times I even think that the system is so convoluted so that you give up halfway through the process. Oh, and don’t get me started on the Amtsprache 2.

I wonder if Germans have ever thought about simplifying their system. If they were to, it would go like this:

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Paperwork cult, paperworkmania, German bureaucracy, Bürokratie

 

If you liked this strip, check out The Anatomy of a Beamter to unravel the secrets behind the insatiable bureaucratic monster.

Foreign, not deaf

Human interactions are fascinating, especially when the people involved in the linguistic exchange don’t share a common language. Picture the following scenario: a native speaker attempts to communicate with a foreigner. The native says something and the non-native looks puzzled. Then the native repeats the exact same thing in the exact same order and speed, just 30 decibels louder. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, language comics, life abroad, native speaker yelling to foreigner

My hearing works perfectly, thank you very much. I’m foreign, not deaf. Shouting is not going to magically make me speak your language or understand words that I haven’t previously learnt. Rephrase, use simpler structures, find more basic vocabulary… anything but yelling.

Two people don’t need a common language to communicate. They just need to be willing to understand each other.

British Sinks

Being abroad can be a nerve-racking adventure in which even the most common daily routines become a hilarious challenge. Take washing your hands for instance. British sinks are the place where dragon fire meets penguin tears. They have two taps: the hot one will scald your hands, whereas the cold one will shatter them into frozen pieces. So, why do British sinks have separate taps for hot and cold water? Foreigners around the world have asked themselves that question for decades.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, British sinks, cold and warm water taps, faucets

Back in the day when our grandparents were toddlers, houses didn’t have hot running water, just cold water that came from a main supply. Later on, hot water systems were added separately to each building for safety and health reasons.

British plumbers were concerned about the pressure difference between cold and warm water. The first came from a main supply with a much higher pressure than the latter, which was stored in a tank inside each house and relied on gravity. In case of an imbalance of pressures, one stream could force its way into the other and pose a number of problems.

There were also health risks involved. Old tanks were made of galvanized steel, which corrodes easily; and they didn’t usually have a proper lid, which made the tank an AquaLand for errant birds, distracted insects and sweaty rodents in need of a swim. Squatting fauna aside, hot water sitting in an attic tank was not considered safe to drink, for it created the optimal conditions for bacteria like legionella to proliferate and wreak havoc on human stomachs. So, what did the Brits do? They came up with regulations to keep them separate and prevent the hot water contaminating the cold water supply.

You might be thinking: “Sure, but that was YEEEARS ago. Why haven’t they switched to mixer taps yet?” – Well, in a word: tradition. Whereas continental Europe reinvented its water supply system after the war, Britain rebuilt its houses clinging onto the separate taps tradition. Chances are that mixer taps will take over in the future, but in the meantime, have fun flapping your hands between the two taps when washing them.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, travel and language comics, tea, United Kingdom, British problems

Schrödinger’s Immigrant

The human mind functions in mysterious ways. It believes what you want it to believe. Once it’s made up, it will scrape for ideas to support that belief, and it will dismiss every piece of information that contradicts it. It will blindly swallow whatever resonates with it and promptly reject everything that doesn’t.

As I mentioned earlier this week 3, I can understand that not everyone can be into languages and traveling. Maybe you had a bad experience in French class back in school, maybe you live in a fascinating country and never felt the need to go abroad. And that’s alright.

I can even understand that some people might be afraid of foreigners, diversity, and basically everything that involves a degree of strangeness. We gravitate towards what’s similar. The cultural bubble in which we grew up becomes the standard for “normality”. The mind feels at ease around what’s familiar and certain, and it startles at what’s different and uncanny.

However, being reluctant towards what’s unfamiliar is one thing. Another completely different issue is displaying irrational, latent animosity towards it. Where is this hatred coming from? Did that French class go really wrong? Were these people wronged by foreigners? Do they just have very small penises? So many questions.

I need answers. I ask and listen to their arguments. Their minds are made up, and will cling on to that belief no matter how poorly founded. The mind will recite he same ol’ broken record: “Immigrants destroy our economy. They steal our jobs, increasing the unemployment rate among locals; they are lazy shits who sit around all day leeching off of state benefits”.

Well, hold on a second. Are immigrants ambitious overachievers who take all our jobs, or are they too lazy to work? It took me a long time to unveil the logic behind this argument. Hours of complex thinking and scientific analysis. But don’t worry, I figured it out:

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Schrödinger's Immigrant, racist arguments, economy

 

Now, let’s get serious for a moment. Let’s assume that you did in fact have a horrendous experience with foreigners and your aversion is somehow justified. Let’s focus on the one thing that makes the world go round: money. I’m not an expert in economy (I’m not even good at Math) but I do have a basic understanding of it: those who work pay taxes, and that tax money is used – among other things – to support those who don’t work (retired citizens, children, etc).

The legal working age in my country (and I’m willing to bet it’s the same throughout Europe) is 16. Within the first 16 years, the state spends around 150.000 € per person in education and health coverage. Once you reach the legal working age, you can become a cog in the system and contribute to the gold pot with your taxes – although let’s be honest, in reality people start working much later.

When foreigners move to your country, they find jobs, and they start paying taxes from day one. Yes, their taxes aren’t as high as the average local, basically because foreigners are usually paid less – especially at the beginning 2. Yes, sometimes their salary is so low that they need additional support, such as reduced housing prices or food aid. Nonetheless, the amount of money that the state spends in these cases is laughably ridiculous compared to that initial capital invested in every national. No country takes in foreigners out of altruism. It’s sad, but it’s true.

So, you can keep hating immigrants as much as you want. You can keep reciting the same ol’ broken record and blaming them for the ailing economy.

But the fact is, your aging country desperately needs them.

The Octopus Cashier

Just as Romania has vampires and Ireland has leprechauns, Germany also has a species of its own: the octopus cashier. These powerful creatures dwell in grocery stores nationwide under a humanoid disguise, but their true colors surface whenever a customer approaches the check-out. This cephalo-mammalian hybrid is highly trained to scan a bazillion items per minute by unfolding its multiple extremities and hurling produce in the air at ultrasonic speed.

The customers, subjected to their slow-paced human condition, have no other choice than to randomly shove the groceries into their bags. Woe betide thee if your money is not at the ready when the octopus cashier scans the last item. This last item indicates the finish line, and if you are still packing, you will be scorned by the other humans in the check-out line 3. They will start rolling their eyes impatiently while muttering “Das geht doch gar nicht!”. Avoid this situation at all costs by trying out these tips:

#1 – Team work: Drag your partner to the store. Four arms still won’t equate to the manpower of the octopus cashier, but if you train your team-packing skills, one of you will be ready to whip out the money while the other finishes stacking whatever is left.

#2 – Go green: Buy tons of fruits and vegetables. They will slow down the octopus cashier considerably, since produce needs to be weighed and have its code entered in order to be priced. Also, fruits and vegetables are good for you and stuff.

#3 – Screw it. Get a cart and shove absolutely every item into it as the octopus cashier tosses them past the scanner. Pay, leave the store, and peacefully stack your supplies into bags. Warning: do at your own risk. This option usually involves a couple of broken eggs and burst yogurts.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, German Cashiers, high-speed, express register

Good luck with your future endeavors in your next encounter with the octopus cashier. You know what? I’m in the mood for calamari now. Maybe I should pay our molluscan friends a visit.