Gavan Reilly's Portfolio writings, ramblings, mumblings

Culture Shock #10 – in which our hero gets stared at. Loads.

When you’ve never properly lived outside Ireland before, moving abroad will always be a daunting experience. One has to worry about accommodation, food, company, often the language… I really could go on. Throw in having to attend a University that works on a completely different modular system than the one being introduced at home and things become very, very complicated. So once one gets one’s head around the many individual issues that rear their varied heads in the adopted country, you’d think the rest would be reasonably plain sailing. And – to be honest – it pretty much is. Except there’s another thing about the Germans that most people would find pretty disconcerting.

Germans (or native Bavarians at least, though a trip to Berlin was no different), you see, can’t just immediately absorb any outsiders in the same way that the Irish, in this era of European inter-cultural mingling have graciously(!) learned to. Germans, instead, when hearing a language that isn’t their own, or seeing someone who doesn’t share their same uniform fairish skin tone, stare. And don’t just glance before turning back. They stare, scarily.

There aren’t many experiences that an Erasmus student in Bavaria can possibly come across that might give them the illusion of fame; but then again, there can’t be many other places in the world where five freckled Irish kids speaking English as they board a train carriage would cause anybody within earshot to immediately spring up out of their seat and stare at the people just boarded until they themselves found seats together and sat down again. Sometimes it’s humbling, as we convince ourselves they’re standing up to honour our presence in their picturesque province; more often, though, we see it for the truth: Bavaria’s a bit like South Park, and anyone else that takes a sejour there simply wants to take their jobs.

Even in pubs (of the still smoky variety – when German health ministers met last month to discuss a smoking ban, an escape clause was left for the beer tents of Bavaria. Assume to yourself that I cursed under my newly-wheezing breath) – well, in every pub except the local Irish one, of the type run by a Welshman – when five people walk in speaking the language of the Imperialists (that’s English, by the way) everyone stops to watch us. When we sit down in the college and people see the ILTG labels on our Quinn School laptops, people even stare at the labels, for fear of having them jump out and insult their society. Or something.

Apparently when the founding fathers of the USA were deciding the basic foundations of their Union and decided on things like decimalised currency, German only lost the ballot for national language by a single vote. Strange how one person could have changed my year so much.

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