‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’

I’m not yet qualified to write this commentary, I know. But the one standard question I get asked the most so far is ‘how are you guys doing?’

The one thing I have realised already is that living abroad is different. Whether it is Brisbane, London, Bonn or Beijing, its different and has different challenges than the familiar surroundings built up over 25 years living in Pretoria. OK, I do think living in Chifeng has a few extra un-pleasantries! Language, culture and all the little variations to what you’re used to add to confusion, challenge, learning and sometimes hilarious outcomes and experience.

Before reading this commentary, please take note of my disclaimer. I am simply stating a few things on face value at the moment and am not (yet) comparing countries, decisions or any such issues. I comment on my personal current reality.

The Good was known as Blondie. He was a man of few words, but he stuck to his guns. In that sense, living in Germany is sometimes similar. Rules are rules. If some or other standard operating procedure or governance principle states we do it this way, its done that way. Zat iz ze rule! And there are appropriate consequences if rules are not adhered to. Pedestrians walk because the car will stop and we wait for the green pedestrian light, whether there’s a car coming or not, nearly in a nerd way. Cyclists use hand signals. My experience is mostly that the rules are there to govern order and discipline, probably the thing most lacking where I come from. In business, there is a process, everyone knows the process and as long as you comply, there’s no problem. Quality of education and the discipline of delivering on education, for example and not the length of a boy’s hair is success factor. The result is a society that is responsible for the strongest economy in Europe, with all that German precision and quality that we are so aware of.

We all know about the autobahn, where there is sometimes no speed limit. It works simply because there’s no-one cruising in the fast lanes due to either stupidity or arrogance. All heavy vehicles stick to the slow lane. Society understands the logic and the bigger scheme of what needs to achieved and they adhere.

Furthermore, and obviously, the safety is good. It can never be entirely safe and I appreciate that we can make a huge mistake thinking there is no crime, but old people walk in remote parks even after dark and its OK. Kids travel alone by train, tram or bus from Bonn to Cologne and back to visit their friends and its OK. I think we have lost the belief that that is the way its suppose to be, by default it should be safe, not the other way around.

Some other ‘Goods’ include Kölsch, bratwurzt, autumnleaves, the Rhine, daylight saving, rauchhaar daschund and the fast lane on the autobahn.

The Bad (Angel Eyes) spent most of his time following the other two through the harsh cowboy terrain, sort of with the hope of scavenging from them when they make a mistake. There’s no scavengers here, or at least very few. Coming from South Africa I experience an obvious lack of diversity. That means in practice that you have 82 million people of which only about 7 million are “different” by being foreigners (and bring diverse thinking). That is bad. Diverse thinking is crucial in my mind. To understand this in real life I can share two recent examples.

  • Heleen had the opportunity to subscribe and the first 50 entrants would receive the Steve Jobs ebook for free. She was quick and enthusiastic and was one of the first 50 and yes, she did receive her free copy, a German version!
  • I bought my new laptop and obviously had to buy the Office suite as well. After sucessfully installing the software I realised it was in German as well. And after various Google searches on how to rectify the problem I came to the conclusion that that’s the ‘vay’ it is. Thus I am navigating this edition of my blog using Word functions such as Datei, Bearbeiten, Anzicht, Einfugen. I did not include any Fußnote to this document.

This non-diverse phenomonen creates a funny kind of feeling that the people of Germany are sort of old fashioned. Its contradictory Iknow, since with certain things they are very liberal, but I still experience a sort of 70’s type feeling. But then this one of the leading nations of Europe. The country and the individuals don’t always seem to match up!

Again what this means in practice is that there’s few cafes or coffee-shops with the variety of Bugatti’s, Cappuccino’s, Tasha’s or Cafe41. There’s plenty beer, wurzt, kebab, pizza type restaurants, but that one-stop-get-all café scene is scarce.

Well, if you start missing the familiar things back home, best is to do them here as well, or at least try! We decided we’re gonna Sunday braai before the real winter sets in.  Bought meat, (but stuck to pork as the rump steak price tag was a hefty euro 32.90 per kg (times R11 at the moment!)) and bought a little through-away braai! Charcoal is definitely not on par with the rooikool or hardekool wood I’m used to or even the charcoal. But after heating the chops on the braai the stove and pan quickly finished the braai job.

The well dressed chef
Best effort to braai four pork chops

And then there was the Ugly,  Tuco (Benedicto Pacifico Juan maria Ramirez) played by Eli Wallach. We don’t talk The Ugly here. Its in the past and ended in suicide in a bunker in Berlin in 1945. Its all about looking forward now.

So, when I’m asked how we are doing I can honestly still say that we’re good. Sometimes we struggle with language, different ways than we’re used to, unfamiliar substitutes and simply new things we haven’t seen before, but we’re enjoying the learning curve and are learning at rapid pace. We have settled into the American Protestant Church in Bonn and the kids are well settled into their school. We have by this time also realised that its not an European holiday as was the previous visits but a new home and that requires chores and tasks which may even be new to us spoilt Suffas.

Human beings are very very adaptable. ‘Its an adventure Harry, is good for you’