As a self-proclaimed ‘veteran’ waitress, I feel I could teach the German restaurant business a few things. Eight years of schlepping everything from scrambled eggs to Shirley Temples have brought me to a pseudo-professional level.
Here are some key elements to achieving success as a server: speed, personality, a good memory and a foundation of experience. After a good 20 minutes of griping about not being able to get the check in a half-empty, clearly not-too-busy German restaurant, I decided that food service style might be yet another thing that varies culturally. It is.
As those in the food business in Germany work for a respectable hourly wage and not only for tips, they are not as obsessively concerned with maintaining a strenuous ‘Welcome to TGI Fridays’ grin for the duration of their shifts so their customers shell out the extra few bucks. I should have been a Berliner. As that option is out of the question, right now I’m doing the next best thing.
I am one of five Temple students currently spending a semester abroad in Germany, four here in Tuebingen and one in Hamburg. Since March 1, I have been a foreigner. It is my second time living abroad. My first was an exchange year to Austria following high school graduation.
Because I was already integrated into the German culture for an extended period of time, I did not have many issues with culture shock. But this time, the challenge was a new monster: university life.
The matriculation process in Germany is a long and strenuous one. It includes everything from attaining a visa and buying a semester bus pass, to registering for classes and getting a student identity card. Explaining ourselves and finding our way to the correct buildings were two prominent difficulties.
The offices for registration are scattered around the city. Had we taken a language program, the bulk of the work would have been done for us. We opted to face it alone, as the starting courses cost around 740 Euros, which translates to more than $1,000. That sum is more than the entire cost of the semester fees.
German tuition is a fraction of the cost of American tuition. Students can expect to pay less than 100 Euros (1 Euro = 1.25 dollars) for general matriculation fees, and then an additional cost depending on courses taken. Courses average at 20 to 25 Euros each. Books and a semester bus pass are also mandatory.
Bicycles and buses are the most frequent methods of transportation to and from school. Tuebingen is a well-networked city in terms of transportation. The crime rate is almost nonexistent, and the 20,000 students account for almost a third of the town’s entire population. The nightlife, while relatively quiet compared to Philadelphia, is geared toward a young crowd. While we have only been here a month, we often recognize familiar faces in area cafes and restaurants, which are as plentiful as the cobblestones that line the streets.
Other students and our roommates, as well as university tutors and staff, are quick to go out of their way to lend a hand, which is as much appreciated as is still a mystery. Foreign exchange is like being the perpetual new kid. I guess familiarity always requires a certain amount of time and patience.
We made friends with a few of the local bartenders, the man at the post office, the woman who organizes the cafeteria line and the bus driver. New exchange groups are arriving weekly, and we are quick to point them to the Ikea for room furnishings and to the least expensive supermarket for groceries.
The assimilation process is gradual, but we’re on the way. Obstacles are as much a part of the adventure as stepping stones. Being welcomed into another culture allows for new points of view and new ways of thinking.
Now, instead of bellyaching about how I’d have had our check here half an hour ago, I realize that the Germans relish the extra few minutes for conversation or relaxation following a good meal. It turns out the German restaurant business taught me a few things. I’ll drink to that, but only if it’s German beer.
Nadia Stadnycki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.