Reading Notices

30/10/2015 - 09:56-1 Comment by | kenya flag

Arriving in Germany was surprising.  Having been to the UK before, I did not expect to see much difference.  However, I assumed wrong. The first morning, with my colleague, on the way to the Goethe Institut for our language course, we almost got run over by two bicycles.  As we tried to evade the bicycle approaching us, we got into the path of the one behind us, making both riders have to swerve suddenly and almost halt. We had not realised that for the tarmacked footpath that we were on, the coloured half was for bicycles, and the black half for pedestrians.  One of the cyclists was kind enough to stop and let us know “rot is fur fahrrader” (red is for bicycles) as we apologised for obstruction.  On closer examination, we saw that indeed, the red section of the tarmac also had bicycle symbols that we had previously ignored.

That was my first lesson in the importance of ‘reading’ my surroundings.  In the two years that I have been in Germany, one thing that has stood out is the fact that pretty much all the information that one needs to survive in public places is written somewhere.  Sometimes in a hard-to-spot noticeboard which one has to actively look for, but nevertheless written and put out there.  There are instructions almost everywhere – on transport ticket vending machines, on coffee machines, on snack vending machines, on library computers (how to use them), on library tables (how NOT to use them), at the university cafeteria (which food is available at which counter), on the bus, in the train, at the doctor’s waiting room, on toilet doors (which way to turn the handle) – almost everywhere you can think of.  This may explain why one hardly finds someone giving instructions or supervising how things run in a public place.  The expectation seems to be ‘there is information provided, and it is each person’s responsibility to look for it and make use of it.’  In a restaurant, for example, the staff will rarely recommend a particular item or offer advice on it unless explicitly asked – since the ingredients of each dish are usually included in the menu. In the library as well, after the general introductory tour there is no one to double check that you are using the computers or other resources properly – it is assumed that you understood the instructions and in case of anything you will ask. This assumed autonomy is also expressed in things as simple as people asking for permission before offering to help someone, even one who seems to be clearly in need of it.  I now remind myself to think not only that “it is kind to help those who look like they need it” but also, “it is disrespectful to help without asking if the person needs it”, therefore I ask first.

One more thing about the written instructions: 90 percent of them are in German. Therefore, learning the language is not a luxury or a ‘nice-to-do’ thing; rather, it is part of the process of settling into the country and figuring out how things run.

Tags: English Blog Post, Society & Culture, Transportation


1 Comment

    Hi Rosie,

    hope you’re settling back well in Germany.
    It was interesting reading how you experience Germany.

    Comment by Denis created 27/01/2016 - 23:39

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