Sunday, June 29, 2014

Trysts with a Real Person: Familiarity Fetish

Done. Finished. Funtoosh. Lo and behold, the second week is over. I think I'm starting to get more accustomed to and familiar with this place, the weather included (which has been the exact opposite of what I am used to in California).

That was a terrible segue into this whole familiarity business. Growing up, my life was very steady and practically unchanging. I lived in the same locality for seventeen years (there's that running joke amongst my friends about me being upset about a new Mother Dairy outlet when I moved, but let's not go into that), went to the same school for about thirteen, lived in the same city for about twenty three. While I enjoyed that sort of stability, I think it also bred some sort of an affinity for constants. Sometimes that fish out of water feeling when I just move to a new place becomes somewhat challenging. It's also something I've tried to fight repeatedly by putting myself into situations where I feel like a fish out of water. It happened to me when I moved to California after all those years in Delhi (faithfully documented on the blog), and still happens to me every time I leave the familiar spaces and faces in India and head to the US (also faithfully complained about on the blog). Little things I carry from home, like my packet of Bru coffee (way better than the crap they export) help shore up the familiarity walls till I settle back in. For weeks before coming to Bremen, I was nervous and I agonized about moving to a new city (even for a short while) where I knew no one and didn't really speak the language. Fortunately, I discovered old friends here and made a couple of new ones even before I got here. Things have been great these last two weeks.

The point is, it's all new - including the part where I have to look presentable for work every day, which is a far cry from my PhD student life (where I probably look public-viewing-worthy once every three days or so). I reclaim that part of my fetish for familiarity by not shaving and taking afternoon naps on weekends. 

So, everything is new. It's exciting and intimidating, frustrating and educational, all at the same time. 

Getting to meet new people is sometimes challenging. The part that I've found most challenging is the hesitation I feel in striking a random conversation with people, and language is playing a huge role. The fact that I have to translate whatever little German I understand into English or Hindi for my brain to comprehend it means that I have to plan entire conversations in my head prior to having them. Just a few days ago, I walked past a guy on bicycle going the other way and he kept saying "Wie Spät" as he rode past, looking more and more disappointed with each time. It wasn't until he well past me that my brain finally completed the translation process to figure out he was asking for the time. There are also these funny things I've noticed about having a "native" language, and how English (or Hinglish, perhaps) is somewhat "native" to the people around me in India. The French, who are usually notorious for their opposition to English also find themselves in a "non-native" situation like English speakers and there a bond seems to grow out of nowhere. Last week I found an Indian grocery store, which I was pretty pleasantly surprised to find. Named the "Punjabi Store", it is owned and run by a couple from North India. I was most amused by how happy I left that store, just because I was able to have a very Delhi-like conversation with the owners about their time in Bremen without having to first play out the conversation in my own head.  My desk neighbour also happens to be Indian, and conversations steeped in familiarity and nativity have given me great joy over the last week. All this surprises me sometimes because I've never really been the sort of person who congregates only with his kind. However, in the absence of any real communication skills in the local language, I think my "kind" is currently the group of people who speak a language I think in.

Perhaps I need to use that "Mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut aber ich versuche, mehr Deutsch zu lernen" (My German is not so good, but I am trying to learn more German) a little more.  

Here's to more fruitful interactions in the coming weeks...

Monday, June 23, 2014

Trysts with a Real Person: Nature Says Fuck You

It's the end of my first full week in Bremen, and that's definitely the first thing I learned on my job. Nature is complex, and turbulence is nature's way of saying "fuck you" to anyone who ever tried to understand it. Try hard as you might, and have fun while doing it, it's a near-hopeless task. After about 40 hours of reading multiple papers I arrived at this line in one of the very last ones I read (written by a humbled smart man called Stetson) -

"The reality of the current prediction situation is that it is not possible to make a confident prediction..."

That was a fun ride though, and I guess that's the nature of science of the science of nature - you're never quite there but that still doesn't stop you from appreciating it. 

That included, Bremen's been fun so far. I went grocery shopping in foreign language. The case of "which oil to buy" in particular was amusing. I actually had to look and identify the kind of flower printed on the oil bottle to make sure I bought sunflower instead of mustard - that could have ended badly. 

The sky has threatened to pour water all week, to see if I flinch. I flinched every day and then the one day I stuck my chest out and walked to explore the city out without an umbrella, and that was the day the threat was acted upon. Still, rain here never seems to last more than fifteen minutes. After those fifteen minutes were done, the sun managed to come back out and I got a chance to explore the city, which took all of two hours cover completely. I also visited some of the green spaces I spoke about which was nice. It's nice to have these places to relax in a town, where you can be left alone with your thoughts, or a book. The city, like other European cities, has also entertained my love for rivers. There was also that lonely midnight stroll through the city's empty centre one night. Little towns acquire a quiet life of their own after the sun has set (at 11pm) , the hordes of tourists and cameras have left and buildings are now only visible by the twinkling of lights outline them. Very good for the soul. 

The German language has been fun to deal with as well. I know just enough to pretend like I know it, and that has consistently gotten me into trouble. I refuse to give up though. The other day I was in a bar, watching the game by myself and I ordered a beer in German - except after that, my answer to any question was "half litre". Normally, German is also not associated with cute sounds or things. However, the German word for "exactly", as they say it - "Ja, genau" has a very lovely child-like ring to it. 

Here's to understanding people and nature and everything that goes with it a little better in week two.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Trysts with a Real Person: Communication

*What sounded like gibberish with a few familiar words*

*Confused expression* Bitte?

*Apparent gibberish repeated with fewer familiar words*

Bitte? 'tschuldigung, mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut (sentence practiced very often this week)

Mein Englisch ist nicht so gut

*More apparent gibberish*

*Confused expression* Um...key? Aus?

And then we both just grinned for the next minute and said bye :-) 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Trysts with a Real Person: Dispatch 1

It's the end of my third day in Bremen, my first day at the first real job I've ever had, really speaking. At age 27, that's quite a love affair I've had with being in school. My body is still trying to figure out which part of the world it is in, after being taken 13 time zones forward and then 4 back in the space of a week. Coincidentally today is also the day Portugal, to put it mildly, got whipped by Germany. Therefore I have been surrounded by the sound of celebration. 

It's probably the perfect time to be in Europe - in the summer, while the greatest show on earth unfolds many miles away (its sketchy conscience notwithstanding). I've been watching cars driving around, proudly flying flags in support of various countries. I returned from work today and was working on the mountain of paperwork that I need to file to live here in peace for just a few months (they love their rules here), and I could tell each one of the four times Germany scored a goal just from the roar I heard.

Bremen has stood with its arms wide open for the first three days I have known it. The Germans, the (surprisingly large number of) French, the Brit, the Indian have all been nothing but downright lovely and hospitable. In under a day since I got here, I had new friends who I discovered knew my old friends. Throw a bunch of aerospace engineers in a small town and you can definitely call the world a small place. This real-person life feels rather different from the one I've temporarily left behind. I don't think I can complain. The city itself has all the trappings of a European town not the least of which is the signature river running underneath the cobbled bridge with rail tracks.  I've also noticed a lovely smattering of lawns and parks across the city - in plain sight and hidden away in nooks and corners. I hope to visit each one of them over the next couple of months.

Plenty of exploration to be done. Lots of writing to go with it.