Please meet Lucrecia Magnanini. She is a student of Intercultural Communication and Cooperation at Munich University of Applied Sciences, where I had attended the same courses some years ago. Born in Buenos Aires and now living in Munich, she loves meeting people from different cultures, dancing without choreography and reading in order to try to understand other worlds. This is what she tells us about her experience:
“I have been living in Germany for almost three years. I like to call the experience of living abroad a life between two worlds: The one where I come from (Buenos Aires, Argentina) and the one here in Munich, my new home. I believe that I can learn and sometimes enjoy the best of the two worlds whenever I am here or there. That does not mean that I ignore things I don’t like about Argentina or Germany. Every place has both advantages and disadvantages. But if there is one thing that I have learned or rather realized in these three years: There is no such thing as a “perfect place to live in”. But you can build it. That’s why I focus on all the nice things that Germany offers to me every day: especially love and daily challenge.
The first time I visited Germany was during my exchange semester in Barcelona, five years ago. It was not only my first time in Europe, but also the first time that I was abroad for such a long time. In Barcelona I met Bernhard, a German, whom I married eventually.
I remember the first thing that I said to him was: “Are you German? But you are not blonde”. Yes, I had an idea in my mind how a German is supposed to look like: “blonde and with blue eyes”. I also thought that everyone might be living in Berlin, the capital of the world and the place to be, until he explained to me that he was living in Stuttgart — where Mercedes Benz cars are made — that was the point of reference because I hadn’t heard about Stuttgart before. Only after a few days, he told me that he came from a small village in Bavaria and I googled it wondering how he could live in a place with 4 streets. I also had a pre-conceived notion of small villages from Argentina, where roads don’t even exist and you need a car or a horse to ride to get somewhere nearby.
I spent my first three months in Germany in Hamburg learning the language. I was very happy after a long distance relationship with my boyfriend and very proud of my “Goethe Zertifikat” for the first level of German in my suitcase. However, it took me just a few conversations to realize that I couldn’t understand anything the people were saying to me. I still remember getting lost after my first German lesson in Hamburg. I tried to take it easy and to manage the situation with my German skills, after all I had a Goethe Certificate, right? After hours spent asking where the bus stop was, I was about to cry as I couldn’t understand any of the answers I received. Finally, a man took me to his workplace, printed a map for me and explained how to get to the bus stop in English.
The language became my daily challenge, with small victories, a cause of anguish sometimes and some small satisfaction when a word that I didn’t realise I knew, was spoken.
“The Germans”- Is there such a thing?
Many things had been written about “the Germans” that also helped me to understand how the things work here, how people organise themselves and interpret the world. I come from a country where things work sometimes exactly the other way around. That’s why at the beginning I made a lot of “mistakes” (and received some punishment), and even today I keep doing them and keep learning from them. I also try to take my process of cultural adaptation with a lot of humour, although it is not as easy as many may think. Still there are many things that nobody advises you about living here and I also think that it is better this way. At the end it is up to you, trying to find your place in this new world.
I like to observe a lot and I’ve always questioned everything. That is why it is hard for me to say: “Germans are very punctual” or “Germans are very rational”. It is not that easy and my experience is full of contradictions. I realized that on the surface things appear to be one way… but finally they are not like that.
Although some facts are true. Germans like the norms to be respected and everything has to work according to the rules. That means that there are no exceptions and no flexibility. We cannot question a rule that paradoxically was written by someone at a certain moment and was conceived for a certain situation. This order shapes the society and I discovered that most of the citizens are ready to keep this order working. That means that they correct and control your behaviour most of the time, for example if you recycle in the wrong container or ride your bike in the wrong direction. I also will like to mention the helpfulness of the people.
For example, yesterday I was walking with a blister on my foot and someone just came up, gave me a plaster and left. I was just about to say thanks and was ready to tell him the story of my new shoes, but he had disappeared. They may let you know if your shoelaces are untied or help you to park your bike in a difficult spot without waiting for any explanation or exchanging a word.
What I still find difficult? When to show my emotions is something I contemplate very often. The distinction between public and private shapes the way you have relationships with people. It all starts with the way you greet someone and the dilemma: should I give you the hand? Can we kiss? Shall we first shake our hands and then after a 10-minute talk, are we ready for a kiss on the cheeks? When can I address you informally without being disrespectful? Just give me a hug!
In my opinion in Germany you meet one of the most honest people in the world. You can always trust their words, and they are tolerant and respectful. I also think that there are some stereotypes that the Germans are trying to keep distance from, maybe even try to reinvent themselves. And don’t forget – like everywhere in the world, humans don’t tick all the same and – last but not least – we must not forget that one in every five Germans has a migration background.
I am very happy to be part of this intercultural environment. I have a feeling that I am living in the right place, at the right time.”
Thank you, Lucrecia! A big hug for you!!