We especially felt the immense cultural difference in the first months of our stay in Berlin. By Nazarius Hedi Suseno.
I am a father currently living with his wife and two children in canninghill piers book appointment, east of Berlin. I’m from Jakarta and my wife is from Depok, West Java. We have lived in Germany since 2014, but Germany is not the first country we live in outside Indonesia.
In early 2006 I went to the Netherlands to study Dutch more deeply and continued my undergraduate education at the Rotterdam College of Economics (Hogeschool Rotterdam). There are many stories that I learned during my stay in the Netherlands, but these are beyond the scope of this free essay. One thing that can later be related to the background information about me who lived almost nine years in the Netherlands, is that I am used to and impressed by the way Dutch people greet in general, which is almost identical to the way Indonesians greet.
A concrete example is when someone runs into a stranger in a place that is not crowded, Dutch people usually say good morning/afternoon/night. This is very similar to the way we say hello or ask for permission in the same situation.
In 2014 the division of the company where I worked moved to Berlin and I had to decide whether to join the company to Berlin or stay in the Netherlands and look for another job. At that time my wife and I were married but had no children. Our soul still wants to be adventurous and wants to see also experience life in other places for real, something that can only be obtained if one actually stays for a long period of time in one place (not as a tourist).
It was agreed by the wife, we decided to stay in Berlin and happily imagined the interesting and exciting situations we would experience. A little unfortunate, the beginning of our lives in Berlin was not what we imagined. We especially felt the immense cultural difference in the first months of our stay in Berlin. I will describe these differences in the form of challenges in the next paragraph of this paper.
Our first challenge was when we had to report in the sub-district (Bezirksamt) where we live (Anmeldung einer Wohnung). Although we speak Dutch at a professional level and German has a lot in common with Dutch because they both come from the same Germanistic language family, we still have difficulty communicating well with the sub-district officials.
Plus they refuse to speak English. Either they are not fluent in English or there is a principle that is held by which newcomers must be able to communicate in German. Basically I have no objection to this view, but for matters of urgency and zero tolerance for error, I think it is better if there is an alternative that can be used when communication is deadlocked.
What disappointed me even more was the way the Kecamatan staff served us: cold and passive. We, accustomed to the warm and assertive service of the Dutch civil service, were shocked and barely knew how to deal with this. In short, there is one German colleague of mine who is willing to help and mediate between me and the sub-district officer. While we were waiting to be called to take care of the data collection, he explained that this way of communicating was a normal thing in Berlin.
On that occasion I told about an incident that happened a few days earlier: I ran into someone in a small alley. I’m used to Dutch culture, trying to make face contact and getting ready to say good afternoon. It’s a shame that my preparations had to be in vain as the person was completely indifferent to my presence. This is something that is difficult for me to digest and where I have lived before, this has rarely happened. My colleague responded that this too is typical of the way Berliners communicate. “People here call it the Berliner schauze”, he explained.
He was sure that after some time living in Berlin, we would get used to this kind of situation. Berliner schauze, which literally means “mouth of Berlin”, is a phrase which more or less means a Berliner’s way of speaking/interacting which is characterized as outspoken, impolite and (not shy) using harsh humor.
Built in 1791, the Brandenburg Gate is Berlin’s most famous monument. This gate marked the border between east and west when the city of Berlin was still divided. Located in the eastern sector, this gate is not accessible to the public from the west. Everything changed when the Berlin wall fell in 1989. Today millions of people come from all over Germany and the world to see this symbolic structure.
The second challenge is the difficulty of finding Indonesian food ingredients in Berlin. Unlike in the Netherlands, where in almost every city there is always at least one shop selling special Indonesian spices, in Berlin there are very few Asian shops selling them. Even if there is, it must be more expensive than the price in the Netherlands. It is a natural thing in my opinion, Germany has no direct historical relationship with Indonesia compared to Indonesia’s historical relationship with the Netherlands. Moreover, the number of Indonesians in Berlin is not as significant as other Asians who dominate the number of Asian immigrants in Berlin, such as Vietnamese.
The third challenge is our struggle to get our children to speak Indonesian as well. We argue that a strong character can be created if a person knows his roots (where the person comes from) well. By introducing Indonesian from the start, we hope we can help create good and strong characters for our children. Our first child is three years old and currently sitting in Kindergarten (PAUD in Indonesian).
In terms of introducing Indonesian, the method we use is the OPOL method: One-Parent-One-Language. This is a method of communication where the child is only allowed to use one language continuously with the same parent. In this case, our children are required to communicate in Indonesian with their mother. To get used to this requires discipline and strong determination, especially if the child always replies to conversations in German.
We often experience fatigue and frustration in getting children to speak Indonesian, but we are aware that this is not easy for the child, especially if there are no models other than us in their daily life that they can see and hear. Children play and communicate with their friends always in German. Even so, until now we are grateful that the development of Indonesian is quite good even though the way of speaking has a slight German accent.
Despite the unpleasant experiences we had in Berlin, I still admired the greatness of the social systems of Western European countries, including Germany. Two of them are policies in terms of funding health insurance and the benefits provided to people with families. In terms of health insurance (public type), until now there is no extra monthly premium to be paid as is the case in the Netherlands (eigen bijdrage). In addition, the wife or husband does not pay separately for family insurance if only one of them earns . The second, most important and most grateful thing in Germany as a family is the opportunity to use parental leave (Elternzeit).
Thanks to this regulation, I as a parent can take six months of leave to take care of our second child without having to worry too much about the financial budget. The German state pays 65% of my gross monthly salary during the leave. This made my relationship with the children closer because I was able to spend a lot of time with them in the first six months of life.