How many countries at my breakfast table?

Take a guess maybe?

Being one half of an Indo-German couple; I often get asked how we handle/manage food?

We don’t.

We celebrate it. And not just Indian and German. Why should we restrict ourselves when the World is our oyster? And our Panini, Baklava, Bacalhau, Nasi goreng, …. I could go on for days…

My spread at breakfast jumped out at me today. I actually put my hunger on hold for a whole five minutes to appreciate how beautifully 7 countries came together before me. (Maybe more, I counted in a hurry.)

Sigh, if only this could be translated to today’s trend of dividing politics and racial clashes!

Not to end on a wishful note, can anyone pick out these countries from the photo above? 2 should be easy enough….

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Indian Hamburg-er turns one

“Life’s too short to learn German.” Dear Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Richard Porson and whoever else thinks so; I disagree.

Today I have been here (Germany) for a year. Incidentally, my inconvenient marriage also just turned one. Feels like yesterday that I threw a fit at the airport in India when I was told my luggage was overweight. The drama queen in me surfaced and I quickly convinced those kind officials to let a girl leaving home for a foreign land, take her few kilos of ‘extra’ along.

Freshly married, handsome husband in tow, I set foot into Hamburg, bleary-eyed and freezing because my world had just gotten about 30 degrees colder. What Hamburg threw in my face as less than welcoming weather, it made up in the Christmas spirit. I felt like I was in a Harry Potter wonder world.

Magical little Christmas markets peeped from every corner, lights twinkled everywhere, tinsel shimmered and street musicians seemed to be caroling permanently. What a delight! The aroma of warm croissants, cinnamon cookies and apple crisps filled the wintry air.

Two days later, my globe-trotting hubby had an overnight business trip. While I have no qualms about living alone, my adventurous spirit was suddenly cowering in the corner when I realized even ordering a coffee was a challenge. Yikes, I had to face the language beast!

Despite a dozen mirror-practices, my coffee ordering watered down to a clumsy show of dumb-charades and mumbled English. Gosh, as a language enthusiast that could survive in six others, was I embarrassed!

I was keenly interested in learning German and armed myself with Duolingo once I bumped into my future Husband on a midnight train. How quickly that changed when the German Government said that in order to get a marriage visa, I HAD to have a basic A1 level in German! The audacity! All because I am a non-EU, Indian Passport holder. Such an inconvenience!

It helped that I was crazily in love. I met my wonderful teachers through a Indo-German Stammtisch/Meeting and managed to pass the daunting A1 exam. Little did I know there was a series of more exams to come. And a looooong series at that.

After my failed attempts at ordering coffee, understanding changes in train schedules (a journey of 2 minutes took 20) and finding my way to and from work (I lost my lingual and thus geographical way every day for 30 days), I was frustrated to say the least.

My dear husband constantly apologized for his difficult mother-tongue and tried his best to keep his feisty wife happy. We agreed an integration course was in order and soon I found myself on a mind-your-language set. With colleagues from Russia, Turkey, Kosovo, Africa, Italy, Spain, America and France, this was my best German learning experience thus far! Our teachers were unbelievably creative and entertaining. We had one class at a Christmas market, over Glühwein (Hot red wine drunk traditionally at Christmas and Winter time). Needless to say, the wine didn’t do much for our grammar but our confidence levels were soaring higher than Santa flying over the town hall. The course was over all too soon and I skipped A2 and received a B1 which I was very proud of.

Just to bring these language levels in perspective, here’s what this mumbo jumbo of alphabets and numbers means:

Basic Speaker: A1 Beginner, A2 Elementary

Independent Speaker: B1 Intermediate, B2 Upper intermediate

Proficient Speaker: C1 Effective Operational Proficiency or advanced, C2 Mastery or proficiency- native speaker level

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I soon realized that while a B1 was enough to apply for a German passport (thanks, but no thanks), it was a far cry from enabling me to work in my profession- namely that of a Homoeopathic Doctor.

So out we set again, looking and finding the right course- scarily termed “Medizinische Fachsprache” or Technical Medical language. Now I no longer had to deal with coffee vendors and local transport, but Government officials. With no more husband’s apron strings to hold on to, I set out, quavering heart and all, to meet the lady in charge of my case. What I was essentially applying for, was a year long course sponsored by the government, to the tune of 7000 Euros. Terrified she’d say no, it took me a minute to realize that in the 60 seconds it took to calm my wildly beating heart, she had just approved my application! Wow! I said a quick “Danke schön” and raced out lest she changed her mind.

Day 1 of the course for me and day 8 for the rest: 8 hours of intensive medical German and I was struggling to keep up with all the new words flying across the room. I understood 2%. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that they let me postpone the B2 exam which was a criteria to take the course. The deal was that I’d take the B2 exam during the medicine language course.

The teacher wanted feedback after a week with the class and to my horror the first thing I heard was, “This course is too easy, we need something more challenging.” I could have thrown my shoe at her. Here I was, falling off and clawing desperately to stay on this speeding language train and she says, “Huh! Not fast enough.” I sobbed that night begging my stars not to have to go back. But I did. And I had nightmares for the whole 3 months.

The grammar cases of Nominative and Accusative did little to ease my dread of Dative and Genitive. Trust me, it is far worse than it sounds. And as if these 4 strange cases were not trouble enough, German has the distinction of having a gender for every noun. English has none of this, but the other languages I speak do- Portuguese, Hindi, Konkani- so I could make my peace with male and female. But surprise surprise, German has a neutral gender too. So while I could get why woman was female (die Frau) and man was male (der Mann), why in the world was girl (das Mädchen) neutral?! Just like my cutlery was also tri-gendered: a female fork, a male spoon and a neutral knife. (die Gabel, der Löffel, das Messer). I quickly learnt to accept things I cannot change. My Husband also learnt, the hard way, that sometimes he just had to hold my hand and tell me things would be okay even if he didn’t know.

My 90 days of hell paid off and I had both B2 and C1 skills (also in medical language) and was gearing to get my hands or should I say mouth dirty, with a 6-month internship. The experience has been nothing short of amazing. Between my administration job with Homoeopaths without Borders and this Praktikum as a Homoeopath, I have had the opportunity to misunderstand and be misunderstood,  work with Refugees, fight in a foreign language, make new friends, communicate with 10 year olds who think the world of my chocolate skin, spend agonizing hours translating and composing emails and most rewarding of all; to have recently been able to translate for a Pakistani patient from Hindi to German. My brain tap danced between the two tongues but I finally felt a deep sense of satisfaction at knowing the language. I could make a difference.

Two hours of dinner and conversation with a colleague and my husband, brought up a very unusual side to language learning that I hadn’t realized existed. My husband and I, for reasons of history, efficiency and comfort; had thus far communicated in English with each other. But come my colleague, I switched to German and thought nothing of it until he left. My husband had the look of someone that just saw a cow jump over the moon. “How do you know so much German honey? I don’t know who you are anymore. I need to get to know you in German!” It’s somehow weird now for me to talk to my colleagues in English although both parties know the language well enough. Once you meet/ get to know someone in one particular language, it’s strange to switch to another. Try it.

My husband and I now easily switch between the two, partly thanks to my family in-love/law that speaks only German and my will to integrate. In fact, we now switch fast and often enough to thoroughly confuse someone listening. I’m sure my family will not be amused when we meet this Christmas.

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Many have questioned my decision to move, knowing fully well that it involved re-ordering, re-arranging and turning everything upside down. Even to the extent of having to re-learn, in German, my almost decade long education in Homoeopathy. For what it’s worth, here is how I see it:

I like challenges. My dream of being a global citizen wouldn’t kick off from the comforts of home. And oh how I miss it sometimes! Someday I will have half German children, or a child (quick edit so the Husband isn’t nervous), and I want to know the culture, language and background they inherit from their father. It is important to me. For those already asking, “What about the Indian half of their heritage?”, the husband has already lived in, sweated for and fallen in love with India. He has promised to work harder on the language side of affairs but it suffices to say, he had, up until a year ago, more experience with my side of the world than vice versa. Well now, it’s game on! I dare say I’m ahead. Yes, yes I know it’s not a competition; but nonetheless, I won! 😉

After exactly 365 days here, riding emotional, lingual and weather rollercoasters, I must say this about Hamburg, Ich bin bis über beide Ohren verliebt! Translated word for word: I’m over both ears in love!

Although I disagree with Twain, Wilde and Porson, I wholeheartedly agree with the genius who said, “Tell someone you love them today. But SHOUT it at them in German, because life is also terrifying and confusing!”

ICH LIEBE DICH!! ❤

 

Bloopers across Cultures

Ah the joys of communicating across languages and cultures!
My laid-back sossegado Goan self, feeling like some gentle action on a lazy Sunday afternoon, wakes up the snoozing German hubby with: “Hey honey what do you think of a walk?”
I didn’t think it necessary to specify the time-distance frame I had in mind, which was approximately 20 minutes, 2 kms.
Hubby: “Oh yes, sounds like a good idea. Let’s walk near the lake. ”
His time-distance frame was also not communicated.
Blissfully unaware of the gigantic rifts in our respective perceptions of a “walk”, we set out. I’m not sure if it’s a German-Indian mismatch or just a Kay-Nicola blooper.
I decided to do it his way (instead of the right way! 😉 ), and we ended up walking 12 kms in 90 minutes.
Indeed, a walk to remember. Ouch!

PS- I would love to hear from you what your idea of a walk is. And also to which country/culture you identify yourself with so that I can sharpen my skills on cultural differences and celebrate them with another blog post featuring your response.

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How to ask her the big “Will You…? “

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That being said, I must begin with a DISCLAIMER: Be warned, this may not work for you!

1. Revisit the place you had your first date/met for the first time.

An overnight Indian train in our case. Impossibly crowded and filled with people who want to fight you for a seat that is rightfully yours. Fight them tooth and nail for it. They and your girlfriend don’t know it yet, but it’s a matter of love or heartbreak.

2. Surprise her with something self made.

Out came a healthy dinner of home made egg and cheese sandwiches with tiny coconut cups filled to the brim with Irish cream from my best friend’s wedding, a week before.

3. Wait for some peace and privacy.

This turned out to be nearly impossible as our over-friendly co-passengers kept stealing glances or just openly staring at the curious mix of skins they saw next to them. It seemed unfathomable to them that one of their own (read: brown young Indian girl) should be hobnobbing with a white man. Scandalous!

4. The moment will never be right. Just do it.

Oh and make sure that girlfriend of yours, now with a happy tummy, doesn’t fall right off to sleep.
It might take a few hesitant coughs and spurts but you will get there, one way or the other. Augen zu und durch!- German for – Shut your eyes and go for it!

5. Set the scene.
My now sweating boyfriend (purely from the heat, mind you) gave me a short and sweet recap of the years we had together. Tip: Proposer, you will be super nervous, but please let your narration sound cheerful or she’ll think you’re breaking up with her.

6. Get down on one knee.

Yes, we love it!! By now, I was the one sweating. Out of my eyes. And right there on that night train, I made one of the biggest decisions of my life. In the affirmative.

7. Make sure she means her “Yes”

Take her Paragliding.
Just to make sure I was sure, my new fiancé had one big trick up his sleeve.
Off the train and into a Paraglider. He had to show me his extreme-sport-craving-side. We trained for three days to be able to fly solo at a beautiful place called Fly Nirvana. And Nirvana it was. Soaring over the heavens, conquering my fear of heights and falling even more in love with this boy of mine.
I accepted and celebrated him for who he is. His kind of crazy definitely resonates with mine.

I highly recommend that you http://www.flynirvana.com

And if you have similar experiences to share, I’m all ears. Err.. eyes. 😉

Let yourself love and let yourself fly, both will give you butterflies.

MY INCONVENIENT MARRIAGE

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Picking up from where I left off last time; I’m curious to know which of the four you picked as my likely bed-mate. Take a guess if you haven’t already….

I come from quite a traditional, loving, Roman-Catholic, Indian background. Despite my conventional upbringing, my close friends always knew that the person I chose to live my life with, would have to be someone mighty unconventional. When exposed to the multi-faceted personality traits I possess; any insane (not a typo) human being is bound to be driven even more insane. I appear smart, elegant, calm and poised. And that I am. But what most people don’t know, is that there’s a raging storm beneath… of ideas, travel plans, art, emotions, imagined emotions, and I’m quite certain, a great deal of crazy.

My freaky wavelengths matched one other that fateful night and that’s how I ended up, deliriously happy, in this very inconvenient marriage. I said yes to the German. PS- that sounded like all four companions asked; but no they didn’t. And the German had the sense to romance me silly, shine a diamond in my face and ask while on another train four years later. I had to say yes.

There I go, off-tracking again. Let me explain inconvenient to you. Don’t get me wrong, there is no sorrow, no tales of woe in this description but one big herculean load of inconvenience. It’s become a running gag between us that the easiest thing in our relationship was falling in love. All the rest…

To begin with, there was two of everything intruding into our budding relationship: countries, culture, language, religion, food tastes, time zones and the biggest demon of all- bureaucracy.

All because two people in love wanted to legally endorse their relationship and live together, ugly paperwork reared its frenzied head. Germany wanted to prove I wasn’t an Indian marrying their son just to have a shot at a better life. (Read: work and stay permission and unrestricted access to Schengen countries). And so in the months that followed, the paper piled high and our pockets sunk lower. There we were awaiting German Government approval to say we could get married and I had no ulterior motives. Imagine that! I didn’t know I was on the edge of the pan, about to be pushed into the fire.

A representative of the German consulate showed up unannounced at my door-step and conducted his own little investigation-involving my parents, neighbours and hand-written letters- to ensure I wasn’t already married. My sleepy neighbours were roused from their sacred afternoon siesta and with IDs in hand, they came to the aid of their unmarried-girl-next-door. As if the indignity of this wasn’t enough, I had to endure embarrassing tales from the neighbours about my childhood; in the presence of Mr-I-Represent-the-German-Consulate-Do-Not-Mess-With-Me.

Several months later, after our documents were tired of playing ping-pong between Hamburg and Delhi; I was called to a final interview in Mumbai. All the lady had to do, was check my papers and either approve or disapprove. But no, she felt obliged to subject me to detailed questions of how, when and where we met; all the while cross-checking travel dates on both our passports. And then I was fingerprinted. The number of times I had to remind myself I wasn’t a criminal: countless.

My linguistic abilities were also put to test as a pre-requisite for my German Marriage Visa (yes, something like that exists!). I needed to pass a German Language A1 exam. Try learning German in Goa which at the time had no formal course, working two jobs and training the fiancée in Indian tradition! I’m kidding about the last part.

I’ve always wanted to be married in Church and my now husband doesn’t have a religion. Do the math. Catholic girl, no religion boy. I’m going to spare you the gory details of the church approval and pre-marriage course. Let’s just leave it at difficult. (I’m saying this through clenched teeth.)

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Over the four years it took us to sort through the sea of differences and celebrate them along the way, I was always struck by how integral technology had become to our relationship. I felt like I had a new body part: a screen, sometimes in plural. We had a go at every obscure App available. After one too many virtual dates, your nerves get frayed and all you long for is to meet each other on a Friday evening, being able to touch, smell the coffee, devour the Bhel Puri or Bratwurst and to do so regularly. Not every couple of months. Finally, we now have that reality and its sheer bliss to have an actual date with no screens presiding.

There’s a lot you miss out when in a long distance relationship but an equal amount you learn about each other: patience levels when your internet connection drops 15 times in one call. How tame or wild your temper is when you’re apart for seven agonizing months. Your ability at understanding the spirit of a message and not only the letter, because when you have a native German speaker communicating in English, there’s a lot that’s lost in translation. We’ve somersaulted down that tricky slope a million times. I’ve only just begun speaking German more fluently and I already told my colleague to have fun at an event he explained and I understood as a choir practice. Turns out he was singing at a funeral.

As a mixed couple, our biggest decision was in which country to begin. My husband is quite the travel enthusiast himself, having a dozen countries he’s visited and two he’d lived in besides Germany: India and Slovakia. He was originally on an internship program to China and a week before he could leave, things fell through and India was his only option. Despite weeping protests from his mother he took it. The rest is history. Her fears of her son falling prey to some exotic force came true: Me!

My parents were suspiciously happy and supportive when I told them I was dating a German. Something had to be amiss, but they didn’t let on. Not until Kay asked them for my hand in marriage and they said yes. Once the ring was on my finger, their questions came out in anxious gasps: WHAT DO YOU MEAN HE HAS NO RELIGION? What will you write on paper? What about the kids? How do you know it will work out? He’s German and not a football fan?

Eventually both sets of parents came around and their acceptance far exceeded our expectations. The first time they met however was close to a mini disaster as there was no common language. Three bottles of wine saved the day as I quietly made sure every glass was brimming. Soon enough there were tears and laughter and photos and presents. My parents were talking German and Kay’s replied in English (or so they all thought). Believe me, it is a blessing they don’t have words to communicate. Just faces, hands and feet.

Our inconvenient marriage was born after we had two surreal weddings in Germany and Goa, complete with a Polterabend (German tradition of smashing porcelain for luck) and a Roce (Indian tradition of bathing the couple in coconut milk). More about this in the future…

Hamburg came out at the top in our country selection and here’s where we are before we jump to another country. It is bursting with history and we live in a multi-cultural district called St Georg. The vibe here is such an erratic and non-judgmental one, it inspires me every day. A Portuguese church, prostitutes, Turkish restaurants, gay bars, Afghani shops, petite coffee shops, druggies, an English theater, a Kinder-garden and gifted street musicians happily co-exist. My favorite is a drummer who regularly whacks the life out his drums at the main train station, producing some intoxicating tunes that the crowds can’t help but dance to.

Being in a mixed relationship is as exciting as it is challenging. Each day holds something new for us to learn as a couple and it is rare if it isn’t inconvenient. I have a German language B1 exam next week and Kay is mastering the German tax system that is much kinder to married couples.

Our tastes in food are such that our breakfast table often has sausages, cheese, coconut milk, chapatti, dhal and baguette all at the same time. People have the most questions about the food we eat. “Is it German or Indian?” Do you eat spicy or bland?” “Do you fight over food?”

We tell them that it’s never one or the other, it’s never yours over mine. It’s a compromise, a meeting half-way between. A blend of two or more tastes.  And that’s how I like to think our relationship works. A coming together of very inconvenient factors, stripped of their inconvenience by the big ‘L’, the four letter force we share.

On that note, Auf Wiedersehen, and May the Force be with you!

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