On being an Ausländer


I wake up to the noise of the alarm clock. It’s seven in the morning and the clock is screaming mercilessly. I toss and turn soaking in just a bit of extra warmth from my cozy bed. I turn it off reluctantly and look outside the window. It’s still pitch dark and the moon seems to be smirking at me. Like it’s deriving a sadistic pleasure of the fact that its duty is done and mine has just begun. I make a face and venture into the kitchen to make my morning cup of coffee. Nothing makes sense without it. Caffeine in my blood, I begin the day. I toast some German bread chewing it for approximately seventeen minutes thereby consuming my breakfast. A little whoosh of wind from outside sends a chill down my spine. It takes about nine minutes to dress up to face the wind outside (I calculated yesterday). You begin with the thermals. Then, full-sleeved shirt, trousers, jacket, muffler/scarf, socks and finally shoes. It’s six degrees outside and we have been instructed to interpret that as “pleasant weather.”

Walking to the bus station, I read signs in Deutsch language everywhere. I can read everything, but I can’t make sense of any of it. I’m not even sure if I’m pronouncing it correct. I hear the language being thrown at me from all directions. I try catching a few. Maybe sneaking some into my pocket. But I fail. They are too fast. Or maybe too big to fit into my tiny pocket. I rummage into them and spot my euro bills. They look neat, yet used. I stare and calculate in my head of its monetary value back home. The math takes longer than I expect. And the bus arrives. I buy a ticket to the main station requesting the driver to issue me one. The driver throws a few more Deutsch words at me. This time I don’t catch any of them. I know it’s futile. I smile and nod and clutch onto the ticket for which I just paid two hundred and twenty rupees. Distracting thoughts, I scold myself. I read Mr. Fitzgerald for some fake consoling. It works briefly until my stop arrives.

I get down confidently. I know I have reached a place where there are lots of people. Probably not as lost as me but who cares? Numbers comfort me. A woman is taking puffs off her cigarette so fast, she’s probably afraid someone’s going to steal a drag from her.  I’m mesmerized by the smell. I don’t notice I’m standing on the bicycle lane until I hear a loud ‘trrring’. I lift my gaze from the nicotine sucker to the elderly couple riding the bicycle. They call it a bike here in the bicycle capital of Deutschland. I smile at the two wrinkle-y faces who smile right back at me, while they peddle their way to their destination. A couple is kissing on my left while another is dog-walking a creature that can best me described as a pig shrunk into the size of a baby skunk.

I’m supposed to take the next bus to my Institut and get down at Studstraβe (the ‘β’ is pronounced as ‘ss’, by the way) but I’m not sure if Bus 15 or 16 will go. I disturb a young woman who wears the University bag (thereby giving me the silent hope that, as a student, she will be friendly and open to a stranger’s help) and ask if Bus 15 would go to Studstraβe in English. She responds: “Yes. It would.” I do a silent jig inside celebrating the fact that I just caught the words that were thrown at me, this time in a language that I understand. I cling onto her and follow her into the bus silently making a note of never letting her go. A young German woman who is speaking in fluent English in Deutchland? That’s an endangered species. You ought to preserve it with lots of love, care, affection and genuine respect.

Main university building of Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster

Main university building of Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster

Incidentally (or probably because the Almighty has scripted my life in such a fascinating way), she also has to get down at Studstraβe. I follow her and her bike (another classic Münster person: human almost inseparable from his/her bike) to the stop. We exchange greetings in perfect English (my heart is still doing the jig), learn about each other’s backgrounds and walk for about fifteen minutes until I reach my destination. Endangered species is not only endangered in terms of her knowledge of English and German, she is also endangered in her display of extreme vigilance and stubbornness of ensuring that I, the Ausländer, reach safely before she moves on. I hug her tight before I greet Guten Tag! I’m amused as I realize that neither of us asked each others’ names.

I’m ten minutes late for my class on Social Anthropology of South East Asia. The only homework I have done for this seminar is to Google the exact definition of anthropology and learn what countries come under South East Asia. I sheepishly make my way into a small classroom filled with people of at least twelve countries sitting together under the same roof. The professor isn’t here yet, so I have been saved from the embarrassment of arriving late for my very first class. The lecture begins and I learn so many new things I’m confused between feeling enlightened at the flood of knowledge and feeling foolish at my ignorance. Everyone introduces themselves during the class and I realize that I just heard the Nigerian, Spanish, Brazilian, Mexican, Slovenian and Dutch accent at the same time.  My turn comes. I introduce myself. My name isn’t too difficult for my classmates and my professors as it just has two syllables (thank you, dearest parents). Everyone smiles at me. I reciprocate humbly and adjust my bindi. The class begins.

__________ * __________

To be continued

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14 thoughts on “On being an Ausländer

  1. a very critical analysis of your surroundings to start with I am sure you willadd more interesting things within a month

  2. amazing deepa. u have really taken us to the lovely land of germany. keep blogging whenever possible. if not everyday atleast i would look forward for atleast one blog a week from you. tks and god bless you.

  3. it’s beautiful and am sure you are happy- that’s all that counts
    social anthropology and studies will go on but it’s the time spent and the experiences which are going to stay with you. take care

  4. Very well written…it reminds me of the 1st day of my scool…Actually schools…i’ve changed so many…liked it very much!

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