April 11, 2007


After two long, lonely months, I finally have Internet access at home. So those of you who are sick of hearing my excuses about “why I don’t write more often,” don’t worry; I’m out of excuses – except maybe for that backlog of e-mail and news and blogs I have to catch up on.

I know I moved to a foreign country and all, so I shouldn’t expect things to be the same as they are back home, but I really never thought that it could take so long to get connected. After moving into my Boston apartment, it took me three days to get Internet service. The day after moving into my Würzburg apartment, I marched myself down to the T-Punkt and signed up for the fastest router and the fanciest service plan that money could buy … and the sales lady told me it would take three weeks, “at the very least.”

I could not quiet find the right German words to express my shock and horror, but I think my face must have said it all. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” she told me (without looking the least bit sorry), “But unfortunately it cannot go any faster.”

In fact, it took five weeks. Five weeks of walking across town to the Internet café once a day, or even twice a day, rain or shine, barefoot, and uphill both ways. Upon hearing about my plight, a German friend recently said, “Isn’t it a shame how dependent we are on the Internet?” As if it were self-evident that we’d all otherwise be sitting in a café, reading a book, or enjoying the beauty of Nature.

“No, it most certainly is not a shame,” I wanted to say. “It is self-evident to me that the Internet is an amazing invention that makes our lives easier and more interesting; keeps us connected to friends, family, and world events; and allows us a creative forum for documenting our debacles in foreign lands. The only thing wrong with the Internet is not having enough of it.”

Not surprisingly, few Germans share that sentiment. What is surprising is how long they are willing to wait for pretty basic services. Kevin and I recently spent an hour trying to make eye contact with a waiter in order to pay our bill, and he’s like, “Where’s the rush?” Three months ago, I applied for a train pass. I’m still waiting for my train pass. Meanwhile, my nonrenewable, temporary pass has expired.

I say this is surprising because the Germans are not exactly famous for their patience. Queuing is a foreign concept in these parts, and the way they push on and off public transportation would make a New Yorker blush. Twice, on trips to France and Italy, I was nearly pushed into the Mediterranean by German tourists eager to get the best snapshot or the best seat on the water-taxi. And yet, they’ll wait three-to-five weeks to receive Internet service, when it need only take three days.

I have finally come to the conclusion that it all boils down to differences in value the two cultures place on the object for which they are waiting. For instance, there is no reason why a train pass cannot be issued at the local train station where it was purchased. It’s really nothing more than a simple magnetic ID badge, which any Student Services or Human Resources representative can make in about thirty seconds. However in Germany, your “application” must be sent to a central office where they lose your photo, unleashing a chain of snail mail correspondence that will never end.

But I think Germans are willing to wait three months for their train passes because they place a high value on the job security of the government bureaucrats who process their applications. (This is perhaps not surprising in a country with 14 percent unemployment). I also think it has something to do with the German love of “official-ness.” They really like those important looking stamps that they put on all “official” paperwork.

Similarly, I can imagine why Germans do not prize fast restaurant service. Here, the goal is not to eat, pay up, and leave; it is to sit for hours on a sunny terrace overlooking rivers and vineyards and castles, to eat, converse, and digest, to read a book, sip a cup of coffee, and soak up the beauty of a sunny afternoon. It’s kind of hard, but I am starting to get the hang of it. However, you can’t tell me that sitting in my pajamas at my own kitchen table eating a bowl of cold cereal and catching up on the latest celebrity gossip, doesn’t come in a close second.

Are we having fun yet?

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