What is it like working and studying in Germany? (Part 2) – How to survive German ‘Pünktlichkeit’
My name is Denise Krämer and I’m working for the Student Services of the University of Brighton for four weeks. As you may read my last post, introducing myself and my studies, I come to the topic I actually wanted to talk about: Working in Germany. And this post seems to get a bit longer than the first one.
I experienced people here work for a living. In Germany it’s the other way round, I think.
Finding a job in Germany is basically all about having a certificate showing that you are educated in some way. If you don’t, you’ll have to search for jobs where you can work without having a certificate in any way. The development in the past few years is that most employers are rather employing a person who has certificates than a person who has not an official reference in that job – no matter how long they have worked for a company before. For people only having their school-leaving-qualification (often centuries old) it is very hard to find a job where they would stay longer than a year. The unemployment rate for those is incredibly high. So people make huge sacrifices to their jobs, studies or apprenticeships. For example: I drive one hour each morning to my office in Koblenz, where the Moselle flows into the Rhine. And of course, back in the evening. So I get up at 5 a.m. and I’m at work at 7. I do carpool with other people, so it’s not that expensive. Working until 4.30 p.m. and then one hour drive back to my flat – at some days it is really hard getting up. But that’s life. That is what many people do.
I really enjoy what I am doing. I work for the National Employment Agency of Germany, helping people to find jobs and advising teenagers on careers that would suit them. There is no closer Agency or company having a related purpose I could work for. I heard that people working in London do that, too. They get up early every morning, drive nearly two hours to their office in the city centre and get back in the evening – housing in London is very expensive, so they have no other possibility than doing that. A flat in Koblenz would be affordable, though. I wouldn’t leave home, that’s why I chose to stay in the middle of nowhere. In addition I do have a chance of having a job in a closer, smaller office of the National Employment Agency in a few years. If the personnel matters there change, I might be working a 15-minute-drive far away from home. For now it sounds like a dream to me.
German punctuality, their stiffness, humourlessness and correctness – I guess everybody outside of Germany once heard of it. There wouldn’t be such prejudices if they had not a slightly bit of true content.
I catch myself often being a bit late and feeling very sorry about it. I know that irritates people and I know that I hate unpunctuality myself. A fact is, that my lateness – to be there only a few minutes too late – is the English ‘punctual’, as I experienced. Friendly advice: If a German tells you to be there at 9, be there at 8.55. Especially if it concerns work that has to be done.
There is a saying in Germany, which everybody laughs about because it is very true: “Fünf Minuten vor der Zeit, ist des Deutschen Pünktlichkeit”. It means, that German punctuality is always 5 minutes before the arranged time.
I had my struggles with this “Be there at 7ish”.
I had to google it and I found it very strange. If we arrange a time – no matter if in work context or in our spare time – we always plan to be there at a certain time. There is not such a thing like “7ish”. If we say we meet at seven, we meet at seven (or 6.55). If we don’t want to meet exactly at seven, because it cannot be planned due to traffic or anything, we usually say “I’ll be there between 6.45 and 7.15”. If the person isn’t there until 7.15, he or she usually gets a call, asking if something happened. So, yes! There is a German punctuality and sooner or later you have to arrange yourself with it.
Working in Germany is not as people expect it to be.
Besides punctuality, people are often fun to work with! No humourlessness at work. At least I didn’t experience it so far. I have worked (and sometimes I do still work) as a waitress in a restaurant in my home village. I have worked ever since in harvest seasons as harvester in a vineyard helping relatives and friends reaping grapes. And now I work in an office one-hour drive away from home. I cannot say that any of those jobs were terrible. Jobs always have their good features and bad times. Even at bad times, most colleagues try to find a way to have fun at work. If there is time pressure and stress, we focus on solving the problem and getting the work done.
Yes, we really like to focus on a task, plus we usually have a closing date / time when it has to be done by. They want to get the work done and do not accept any distractions. I mean usually Germans do focus on a task and want to have it done as quick and as good as possible, but we are definitely able to have a laugh meanwhile with our colleagues.
We have our rules so we know what to do and how it has to be done. And that is a weak point for some of my colleagues. I’m a creative person and I’m good at solving problems. On the one hand some people at work aren’t. If they don’t have an instruction or certain rules they can stick to, they are lost. They ask people how they are supposed to do the work and they get told how to. On the other hand there are people like me. We run around and ask if there are any rules we have to stick to or if we can do it in our more efficient way. I guess that is how most people are.
Especially older colleagues like to do the work as they were told to do ages ago and only as much as they have to; while the younger staff tries to solve every problem or concern a client has. That’s how it is in a German office.
So concerning the stiffness and humourlessness – I don’t think it has much of a true content in it. There are always people who are not really fun to work with – in every country. It appeared to me that British people do have a lot in common with Germans. Maybe in some way the attitudes are slightly different.
I would say Germans aren’t the ‘party-poopers’ they are known as. I find British Humour is even a bit related to the German one. So don’t worry about not having fun in Germany – there is actually a lot of fun and there are a lot of great people to work with.
My next post will deal with the life as a German student.
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