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Telling the bus driver where to go…

Posted by on January 13, 2017



Sometimes we wonder how well we are integrating into German culture. Every once in a while, we get a clue into our progress from an interaction or experience. We realize we’ve learned to react to (and also anticipate) cultural differences much more quickly than we once did.

We got on the bus to make our last leg of the journey from Hamburg to Pinneberg. We had taken this route many times but there has been construction on one section of the route for a few weeks. The bus driver was either new or this was not his usual route. He missed the detour sign at the construction site. The “ENTJ” in me twinged a little but I figured he must know a better way. But then, he missed the only next possible turn to get back on route. Now we were really going the wrong way.

The driver began to look panicked and turned around to ask if anyone knew the way. In Germany, this is VERY unusual. Efficiency and accuracy are central cultural values and people are usually highly skilled at their jobs. Mistakes are rare and are quickly self-corrected.

To my surprise, the people in the front of the bus didn’t know the way. So what did this American who never stepped foot on a bus before moving to Germany do? I said, “Ich kenne den Weg!” (I know the way!) I sat down in the seat next to the driver and proceeded to guide him back to the route. I surprised myself as I heard fairly accurate German conjugations flowing out of my mouth.

To us, this felt like a huge victory on multiple levels! So often as foreigners, we must rely on the wisdom and compassion of locals. But sometimes the tables turn and we are asked for help by natives. We find these brief moments in our life here invigorating. To think that we are learning enough about language and culture to begin to contribute in small ways to society. It gives us great hope for the future.

Every day, we encounter mentors who teach us about culture: our co-workers, a neighbor, someone in need, and even the bus drivers. With every interaction, we exchange the mutual gift of cultural learning and interconnectedness. We are grateful for this experience on the bus and so many others like it. We encourage you, continue to look for ways to help people who are in need; and also be open to receiving help others can give. It is easy to give, but takes true humility to be on the receiving end. Especially when we are well educated and competent.


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