I bought a new computer recently, which provided me with plenty of challenges!
My new computer is one of those old fashioned ones that comes with separate parts: my old lap-top is not ideal for working full-time at home, so I decided to get the sort of thing I had in the office, in the past.
I could have tried to buy a hard drive in the UK and have it shipped here: the Internet is great at that. But I like a challenge, so I went to a local shop and picked up a perfectly good hard drive with Windows 7 installed already. I thought it’d be just a case of buying a new language pack to convert it from German to English. I mean, why would Microsoft miss the opportunity to sell me something?! But no, it seems that since they’re now pushing Windows 8, I can’t upgrade to the version of Windows 7 that has language packs… hmm. Just as well I took all of those German lessons last year!
Well, it’s not so bad: I mean, I do live in Germany and I really ought to learn the language, so having my operating system in German will just help me to learn! Well, yes but it slows me down: although I understand most of what the computer is saying to me, sometimes I have to get the dictionary out, and even when I already know the words, my brain processes the information more slowly!
I did order a QWERTY keyboard from the UK, and an ergonomic one at that: I do a lot of writing and I touch-type. German keyboards are nearly the same: they are QWERTZ, and it’s really annoying for me, because I don’t notice until I try to type a “y”! Of course, because my OS is in German, I have to keep reminding my computer that my keyboard is English. It automatically tries to switch it to German for me, from time to time. Helpful if you’re truly bi-lingual, no doubt. And I do sometimes try to write stuff in German, which further confuses my computer!
Because a lot of my work involves MS Word and Excel files from clients, I also chose to purchase MS Office. I couldn’t do it on the Internet, because the Microsoft website kept recognising that my OS was in German and no matter what I did, the German language version landed in my basket. Fortunately, the telephone sales people were able to help me out (in English!) and I got the English software: phew. No doubt I should have been braver and tried to speak German, but I find computer things quite stressful already!
Every time I download software now, I have to tell it that I want English language. Which means that I have to navigate through the menus in German to find the hidden depths where they let me select English. I’ve actually left MS Explorer in German, and find it interesting/educational to get news headlines in German on the MSN homepage: it is of course, also news about Germany. You realise how much of a bubble the news media create for each country, once you’ve escaped one of them!
So that is a few computer and language challenges, but there are a few other big differences that I noticed from the beginning:
Look left, then right!
I don’t drive here (public transport is excellent in Berlin), so I don’t have to remember which side of the road to be on: the other day I was a passenger in a car and it felt weird to be on the wrong side (in my eyes). I still take longer to cross roads: I look about 5 times, just to be sure that I’ve looked properly. Actually, I do that when I visit home too now, in case I’ve become accustomed to continental ways and I’ve not noticed!
The currency is different, of course, and it took me ages to get used to the coins, and not fumble for ages to pay the exact right amount at the till. My tactic of just handing over whole euro amounts to cover the cost did not work: people here are always asking for the exact 2 euro 38 cents, or whatever!
I also had to get used to carrying cash all the time: even though I do have a euro bank card (which took me a while), it’s not so common to pay by card here, to the point that you might not be able to pay (i.e. can’t buy what you need) if you don’t have cash.
Drink & Food (priority order!)
Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised that I import Yorkshire tea bags!
I miss brown sauce (though it is available from specialist shops here), bacon (no, black forest ham is not the same!) and I also found that I’m having to adapt all my favourite recipes. For instance I now use honey in place of golden syrup, although there are other syrups I might try out: I love the bio shops here with all their variety of foods, and no doubt I’m becoming healthier, as I adapt.
I love waking up to sunshine almost every morning. I really was taken by surprise at how much sun there is here. I loved the snowy winters: Berliners are great at clearing it out of the way and getting on with life, although by the end of the winter you do get the feeling that we’re all essentially hibernating until the warmer temperatures arrive!
What took adaptation for me, was that the sun actually made my rosacea really bad. It turns out that I have a sensitivity to sun that I never knew about when living in cloudy England! I have taken to wearing a hat all the time, so that the shade protects my nose (how English I look!). And factor 50 sun cream, and anti-biotic gel at night… now my skin looks normal again. Phew!
The one and only time I’ve really felt homesick, was the sight of a hill-farm country scene on my packet of Yorkshire tea. I didn’t even live in Yorkshire, I don’t understand cricket and I lived in a town all my life, but somehow that scene is quintessentially English and it got to me… Awww!
These are just a handful of the things that use up my emotional energy and brain power! Experiencing such challenges does help one to appreciate what many Library users face, such as all those international students and academics from other countries. It makes life richer, but also slower and sometimes a bit daunting or frustrating!