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Culture Shock #2

First published in The University Observer, October 3rd 2006 (Day of German Unity)

So… what do I know about Passau? Well, I know that it has a population of 50,000 and is about the size of Athlone; that it’s home to a University of about 8000; that it was once in Austria, although that’s not a shock given that you can clearly see Austria from the front of the Uni; that it’s home to the world’s largest pipe organ – don’t ask; and that there is no single shop in the entire town that stocks a UK-European plug adapter.

I also know that because it’s in Bavaria and confronted with ausländer on a daily basis – whether from Austria or just the Erasmus types – there’s a certain Corkonian or Basque air of regional superiority to be found with a certain hardheaded breed of the natives. Bayern Munich fans, for instance, are generally despised around the rest of Germany because of their pompous arrogance when on away trips to other grounds. We had our first brush with one of these local blue-blood types on our train from Munich airport to Passau itself. Not long after hearing the five of us (the other four do, by the way, send their love to one and all) spark up a conversation in English, he turned to his Bavarian mates and began to mutter, in an ungodly thick local accent, about how these ausländer should be speaking German if they’re going to come over with a load of suitcases, obviously for an extended trip. So what do the Irish guys do, when confronted with their nationality in such a manner?

Ding ding, you’ve guessed it. We started chatting as Gaeilge, and by throwing in some expertly inappropriate French phrases too – how could ”re-lisez les instructions pour la Section A” possibly be relevant? – we had our beer-swigging acquaintance convinced that we were from some Celtic-speaking region in Brittany. And yes, I do mean beer-swigging, although there was substantial wine involved too: apparently alcohol is fair game on public transport, although perhaps it was just because the train was from a Munich in the grip of Oktoberfest. Strangely though, one of us was berated by a local busdriver for taking out a mobile phone while on board. You get the feeling that, as Ron Weasley once nearly said, this country needs to sort out its priorities.

Anyhoo, this cybercafe has eaten almost all of my coinage now so I must sign off. The next time you hear from me, I’ll have been to Oktoberfest. Just, er, watch this space. Wink wink!