The Truth About Customer Service In Germany

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Credit: : zachtrek

Customer service in Germany gets a pretty bad rap.  There are thousands of blog posts, forums posts and social media updates about how terrible customer service is here and how rude everyone working in any customer service position is. From my experience, the truth is far different. I feel that these negative views about customer service come mainly from Americans who haven’t experienced customer service in any other country but here in Germany and in the US. American customer service is far different from the customer service in my home country of Australia and that I’ve experienced in my travels around the world. People working in customer service in the US are desperately trying to prove that they are providing good customer service that they go a little overboard.  As soon as you walk into a shop you are besieged by someone whose face is plastered with a huge fake smile asking you a million questions about what you are seeking.  I find it extremely overwhelming to be honest. Here in Germany, people let you shop in peace.  If you want to know something, you find someone and ask. That tends to be perceived as bad customer service by those knowing no different than the US model.

To be honest, and again these views come only from my personal experiences, customer service in Germany is pretty good.  Yes, of course, you encounter a whole range of people working in customer service from the extremely helpful and friendly to the downright rude and insulting but that is the same as in any other country. On the whole, people here are willing to help you if you don’t be demanding or rude. There is some negativity if you refuse to speak any German and insist on only speaking English. But let’s be real here, would you expect in the US a minimum wage worker to be able to speak a second language? Then why do you expect it here in Germany? Yes, kids do get taught English at school but it doesn’t mean that they actually learn how to speak it with any great deal of confidence, if at all. Use what German you do know and try and laugh off your mistakes or at least don’t get visibility upset or stressed about it and the customer service you get back will be a thousand times better than if you insist on speaking English. Hell, I even had a running joke that lasted for months on end with my local bakery staff that stemmed from my colossal language fuck-up when ordering one day. Germans get how hard their language is to learn and they will, on the whole, give you a lot of patience and understanding (and sometimes help) if you just give speaking it a go. If you are a regular there, they will also remember you, especially if you are the only one who speaks German with an accent and you can build up a really friendly rapport. I have inadvertently trained four different sets of bakery staff over the years to remember my breakfast order including the current dour-faced grumpy one who will even grace me with a rare smile that the German customers most definitely do not get. Seriously, a smile and a friendly attitude will get you better customer service than a frown and being a bitch will.  Germans service staff are not required to be nice to you like the poor sods working in the US are.  If you treat them rudely they will not hesitate to do the same.

Ok, one last story cause this really blew me away. Just this week I dropped a prescription to the pharmacy and one of the drugs I required was no longer available.  Not only did the pharmacist ring me to tell me, they also called the manufacturer of the drug, who was located in Austria, to find out why they were no longer making the drug and then, unbeknownst to me at the time, also called my doctor to let him know. Therefore when I turned up at the my doctor’s all ready to explain the whole story, he was already in the know and had a solution ready.  Now that is beyond good customer service.

Good customer service exists in Germany but you have to be a good customer in order to receive it.  Remember always be friendly, patient and understanding to the person behind the counter. Yes, this is just common decency but you would be surprised at the number of people who forget to do it. Speak as much German as you able to and don’t get upset if you screw up. In fact laughing at your mistakes will more often than not earn you a friend behind that counter for as long as you shop there. Yes, the level of customer service you receive here may be different to the level of customer service you get back home, but it is just different not worse.  Also, keep in mind that assholes exists everywhere in this world and are not confined to a certain nationality.

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How I Got Here or How Not To Move To A Foreign Country

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Coat of arms of Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg

Coat of arms of Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I realised that on this blog I have never done a full detailed explanation of how I ended up living and working in Hamburg, Germany.  Sure, I’ve had that conversation a million times in real life, but never bothered to put it all down in written form. So here it goes.

Way back in July 2010 I had a 10 year relationship come to an end and at that time I decided to do something that I had wanted to do my entire life which was to live and work in a foreign country.  I was fortunate that I worked for a global company so I had the option to request an overseas posting if one became available and I did just that.  I fully expected to hear nothing back from my managers for a good 6-12 months, if ever. Therefore, I was blown away when I was asked the following day if I would be willing to move to Hamburg, Germany.  I was departing a few days later, coincidently to Cologne Germany, to compete in the Gay Games so my company gave me the 3 weeks I was away to think about it.  When arrived back in Australia at the end of August 2010, I told them that I was willing to move.  If my company had had their way, I would have been on a plane the following week, but since I was going through what essentially was a legal separation (ending a decade long relationship when you have shared assets is a messy thing), I asked them to give me 4 weeks in which to wrap things up and uproot my entire life.  BTW, four weeks is nowhere near long enough to do that, but in my nativity I didn’t know that.

I did all the things they tell you not to do when embarking on your expat journey. I didn’t do much research on the city I was moving to before I committed to moving there – what I knew about Hamburg was only what was on Wikipedia.  I didn’t bother learning the basics of the native language spoken there before I departed and my firm did not organise my visa before I left my home country (okay, that wasn’t my fault) but fortunately as an Australian citizen I could apply for a German work visa whilst in Germany, but the whole visa thing was touch and go and only got approved 4 days before my 3 month travel visa was set to expire.  The whole visa problem was why I spent my first 6 months in Germany with only the things I could fit in the one single suitcase I brought over with me.  The rest of my belongings (well 5 boxes of them containing mostly books and DVDs) were only shipped over once my visa was approved.

Because I was doing the whole solo expat thing, I had no support system awaiting me in Germany – no helpful partner who could tell me how things work or help me navigate through the challenges of living in country where a foreign language is spoken nor an fellow ally to join me on my journey of adapting to life in a foreign country.  If I wanted to know how something worked, I had to find out by myself.  I will be eternally grateful to my German boss at the time for picking me up at the airport and taking me to the supermarket before dropping me off at my temporary accommodation, even though one’s first expose to a German supermarket should not be immediately after getting off a 26 hour flight. And to the wonderful WEBMU gang on Twitter for answering the thousand and one questions I had about German life and for helping me get health insurance when my company refused to offer any assistance claiming it was a ‘private decision’.  You guys did and continue to make my life here so much easier.

Despite this chaotic and ill-prepared start, my life in Germany has been one of the best experiences of my life.  Almost four years on, I feel I’m finally starting to get the hang of things here and I have no plans to move on. However, I did get lucky. Things could have (& perhaps should have) gone very wrong. That’s not to say things here have been easy.  These last 3.5 years have probably been the most challenging years of my life, but my determination not to throw it all in and return back to Australia is paying off. In fact, I think I would find a life that was easy quite boring now. I rarely have a single day where I am not doing or learning something new, whether that is trying to explain a complex medical issue in German or trying to work out how to negotiate a new cultural situation or learning that my dishwasher was supposed to be regularly topped up with salt for these past 3 years (whoops!).

Expat life is exciting, challenging, chaotic and exhilarating and is most definitely not for the faint hearted.  I would recommend it to anyone who wants to experience a new way of living their life.  However, don’t go about it the way I did.  Learn from my mistakes.  Actually do some research and preparation before you make the leap as it will make for a softer landing.  Then again, if you want to challenge yourself, then I can totally recommend my way of doing it.

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Frühlingsmüdigkeit Is Real

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For the last three springs I have been laughing at the Germans and their supposed Frühlingsmüdigkeit (Spring Fatigue). I mean, who on earth gets tired simply because the weather gets warmer?  Now Wintersmüdigkeit – that would make sense.  Who doesn’t want to hibernate when the weather is cold and it’s constantly dark outside? But karma, being the bitch she is, has decided that this spring I’m going to pay for all my past mocking by slamming me with some heavy duty exhaustion.  It started at the beginning of last week when come 6pm I could barely keep my eyes open. I even had to miss work on Wednesday thanks to me sleeping for 11.5 hours the night before & then barely having the energy to crawl from my bed to the couch.  I was even too tired to contemplate sitting at my desk to use my laptop. That’s some serious exhaustion.  I thought perhaps I was coming down with a springtime cold, which in itself is just nature being cruel, but nothing has developed.

One week later and I’m still low on energy.  Nothing major, more of a general blergh feeling.  However, I’m not going to let it stop me enjoying the rare weather we are currently having in Hamburg.  Not only has the yellow thing in the sky made one of its rare appearance, but it is warm.  It got to 19C yesterday. 19C at the beginning of March – that’s crazy temperatures.  This time last year it was still snowing. Today it’s already 18C and the weather report is saying it’s going to stay sunny and mild for the next 5 days. I foresee much lying in the park drinking up the sunshine. Perhaps that’s the remedy I need to get rid of my Frühlingsmüdigkeit.

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Does Your Supermarket Make You Horny?

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Most of the times German TV and German ads by extension are pretty woeful, but sometimes, very rarely, they get it right and when they do the results are….. well, you need to see for yourself.

The ad below is for a German supermarket called Edeka. You don’t need to know what the man is singing to enjoy it, although there is quite a lot of English used, which is standard for German advertising as English is considered cool and sexy.  However, it probably helps to know what the word geil means since it is used extensively not only in this ad but in many ads and slogans in Germany. If you were to look up a German-English dictionary the translation of geil would be listed as horny. This translation is not incorrect, but it is not exactly how Germans use the word.  Geil can also mean cool or awesome, but in conjunction with the horny meaning, it’s kinda a sexy cool or awesome, if that makes any sense.

So enjoy the ad below for the sexy cool Edeka supermarket chain.

I would like to add that none of the people who work (or shop) at my local Edeka look anything like the people in this ad.

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Spaß ohne Grenzen

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This evening I was supposed to be in German class but instead I went to see the awesome gentleman above perform his latest stand-up show completely in German.  I figured it would be way more educational and fun than my class – and I was right.  It was incredible. A truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. Never again am I going to experience the pure delight (and surprise) of being able to understand a 75 minute show done entirely in German. It is kinda nice when you and the performer have a similar level of German.

Eddie Izzard didn’t perform this show to show off his German. In fact, he struggled for words here and there and the show itself used relatively basic German, but that didn’t matter to either him or the audience. In fact, I would say the audience loved him even more for it. I know I did.  He explained at the beginning of the show that his goal was to create Spaß ohne Grenzen – Fun Without Borders to show that comedy is universal and that comedians can and should do their stand-up shows in foreign languages.

The venue itself was rather initimate.

The Quatsch Comedy Club

I would say there was about 100 people there. It was quite different to the large theatres he plays at in the UK.  Apparently the audience contained the Who’s Who of Hamburg, but since I don’t know any of them I just nodded when my friend pointed them all out. I was impressed though by the guy that looked like Thor, purely because of the hair.

Was he funny in German?  Yes.  I was laughing the whole way through it.  However, he is much funnier in English, but that is only because he is comfortable in English (naturally) and can play around with the words and the audience reactions.  He was much more limited in German.  I say give him a year and he will be able to do the same in German.

Because the venue contained so few people, most of whom didn’t really hang around.  I was able to meet Eddie and chat with him in German about learning German and how he thinks doing stand-up comedy is honestly the best way to learn a language.  He was gracious, lovely and humble.  He also takes an awesome selfie.

The Transvestite and the Lesbian

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How To Be German

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I just discovered a fantastic You Tube video channel called Get Germanised which aims to teach native English speakers all about the German language and culture. The videos on there are rather fun and cover everything from slang to how to make pumpkin soup.

However, two videos that caught my attention and had me laughing before I had even ingested any caffeine were How To Be German Part 1 & 2.  He nailed it.

Part 1

Part 2

And as a bonus, 10 Things I Hate About Germany.  The vast majority of things in this video annoy me too.

And to end things on a positive note, 10 Things I Love About Germany. This guy has lived in Australia, so he gets it.  Many of his reasons are why I’m still living here too.

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Where Has January Gone?

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I swear New Year’s was just last week.  I can’t believe that we have only 10 more days until the month is over and February begins.  Where on earth has this month gone? It seems to have passed me by whilst I wasn’t looking.

Part of the reason why this month has gone by so fast is that I have found myself with something scheduled every single evening/day with the exception of Saturday – and then I use Saturday to catch up with friends.  This is what an average week is looking like for me at the moment;

Monday evening: German conversation with B

Tuesday evening: German class

Wednesday evening: Rumours rehearsals

Thursday evening: German class

Friday evening: Improv

Sunday: Rumours rehearsals

Some of the chaos will stop mid-February when Rumours finishes and then I will have some space to stop and breathe. Still, it isn’t all bad.  Yes, I’m insanely busy, but my mental health is better when I don’t have time to over think shit. But I would dearly love a day where I can give in to my inner sloth and just spend the day on the couch reading.

Everything You Need To Know About Living In Germany

Flag of Germany

Flag of Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I realised the other day that in the three years I have lived in Germany, I have written quite a bit about the German way of life that remained hidden in my archives, rarely seeing the light of day. Therefore, I decided to bring the best of them out of hiding and onto a page all of their own, which I have named Everything You Need To Know About Living In Germany. Yes, it is a rather ambitious name, but hey, why not aim big. Any new posts I write on German life will be automatically added to this page so that this resource will continue to grow and expand and hopefully one day it really will cover everything there is to know about Germany (again I’m thinking big).  Until then, please enjoy going through what I have compiled so far.  I had a wonderful time getting it all together and reliving some fun memories.

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Looking Back & Looking Forward

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Let’s face it 2013 was a crap year for most of us.  I don’t know what it was about 2013 but most people I know didn’t have a good one.  If I was superstitous I would say that was due to the presence of the number 13, but I’m not, so I have no idea why.

Still 2013 wasn’t all bad.  I wanted to make 2013 my year of travel and I definitely suceeded in doing that.  In 2013 I visted

Rome

Paris

Greece

Budapest

Prague

London

Not too shabby at all. In fact, pretty damn impressive.

In 2014 I still want to keep travelling.  If anything, 2013 has made me want to travel more.  However, travel will not be my primary focus.  In 2014, my mission is to find the joy.  I have been neglecting to find the joy in those everyday moments and for the sake of my mental health, I need to start doing this. I need to focus on the absurd stuff that makes me laugh uncontrollably.  I need to plan fun trips even if that trip is just to the Planetarium.  I need to stop focusing on the stuff that gets me frustrated and angry and start focusing on the things that make me feel good. Hopefully if I can do this, I will be in a much better headspace by the end of 2014 than I am at the beginning of it.

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A Bit Of An Update

The last time I updated this blog was the 18th October, that’s over 2 months ago and to be brutally honest the updates on this blog for a large chunk of this year have been few and far between.  I want to give you an explanation for this.  I suffer from depression and this year it has hit me hard.  Not so hard that I want to end my life and am unable to get out of bed, but hard enough that since around June the joy had been sucked out of my life.  You don’t feel much like blogging or doing much of anything when the world isn’t looking so bright.  I am thankfully seeing the tail end of it.  Life is starting to look more joyous again.  I find myself spontaneously dancing in the kitchen whilst I’m cooking for no reason whatsoever and that feels pretty damn good.

One of the things that helped boot me out of this depression was performing in my first stage show in almost 18 years.  It was just a small role as Aunt Gardiner in the play Pride & Prejudice.  I was in only 4 scenes and spent about 10 mins of a 3 hour long play on stage, but behind the scenes was where all the fun was and I was blessed to be surrounded by some of the most joyous and wonderful people. Every night for 2 weeks (bar 2 days off), I wrestled with a curling iron and hair that most steadfastly did not want to be curled so I could end up looking like this.

Check out that bonnet

Also, I got cuddles from this handsome young man whilst getting my make-up done.

This is the gorgeous Jasper

Unfortunately, I got really sick at the end of the play’s run and spent the following week in bed, by doctor’s orders.  I have never had the flu so bad.  I have also been never yelled at by a doctor in German for going to work and taking cold & flu medication – you know, what you normally do when you have what you think is just a cold.  I now know that my actions were stupid and dangerous by German standards.

I also started a book blog called Urban Dystopia as the only upside to this lovely bout of depression was that my book obsession became even more obsessive and to help get my mental health back on track I decided to blog about books.  I think it kinda worked.

Work has not been great this year and was a factor in my decline in mental health.  Those that know me offline have had to put up with my ranting and I thank you all so much for that, it has helped immensely to get those feelings out. Shit is continuing on the work front, but I am not able to blog openly about it. One day I am going to have some very interesting stories.

So, that’s a very honest update about my absence. However, I feel I’m back now or at the very least getting there. Hopefully blog updates will be a little bit more regular from now on.

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