On Being an END-product

Before you judge the book by its cover, this is not about marketing, sales, or production. Read on and have a good laugh along the way…

First we must take a trip down memory lane and jump through the time travel portal back to the Year of Our Lord 1993. The setting: Bonn, Germany. I was newly married, settling down in Germany for the first time and had my first job with a non-government organisation. Looking back, I realise that I was one of the few privileged development workers who began her career in field back in the Philippines, and was then granted the opportunity to see the coin from the other side and work with the donor agencies. This is a career path that not all development workers get to experience, and has given me a broader perspective and understanding of the work and challenges.

The German work culture was completely new to me, and being a newbie in Germany, I had not yet developed my thick layers of skin to insulate me from the brutally frank communication style of the Rhinelander. Friendly, helpful and loaded with a wonderful sense of humour, my Asian sensibilities were not prepared for the assault on my cultural sensibilities. I’m glad I started out in Bonn though, and not in Berlin otherwise I would have crumbled under the Berliner rudeness. The Rhinelander is direct but remains formal and respectful, albeit a heavy dose of sarcasm and cynicism that can be thrown in when trying to pay with coins or attempting to buy a large portion of lamb’s lettuce (Feldsalat). For the former, the vendor asked if I had a good reason for paying in coins or whether it his misfortune that I cracked open my piggybank that day. Here I was under the delusion that I was doing him a favour by paying in coins so he could have change for the customers, and was so taken aback by the remark that I nervously miscounted three times. He lost his patience with me, grabbed the pouch and counted it out himself! For the latter, when I asked the vendor (same market, different days and stalls) for 400gms of lamb’s lettuce he asked how many people were going to eat it and when I told him, he frowned and flat out told me it was way too much. As if that was any of his business!

In the office I was surrounded by a wonderful team who took no nonsense when it came to work ethic, and were not willing to take my Asianess into consideration under any circumstances. I was there to learn and inculturate I was told… There were times and circumstances when I just couldn’t live up to the Germanness of it all, and was teased merciless for it, so I was nicknamed the Third World Asian Mammal or TWAM. I took no offence to the name because it was all good-natured banter and everyone involved had dedicated their lives to poverty alleviation in Asia. The nickname stuck for several years, and eventually I managed to shake it off, but I still grin when I think back to my TWAM days.

Then came the India years and we eventually moved to Berlin in 2001, where I had my first taste of Berliner rudeness. Wow, I was so ready to hightail back to the Rhineland after a few months and constantly wondered what horror film I had landed in. Once my daughter had settled into kindergarten and made friends, I decided to return to work at least part time, and have a go at the corporate world. Job-hunting in Berlin back then was already a tough nut to crack, and the challenge I faced then was to land a job that didn’t favour the single unmarried male professional over the young mother in the prime of her child-bearing years.

Try I did and during one particular application I was pleasantly surprised when I made it to the third round of interviews, only to be told that the main reason for that was that the company had a hiring quota for “exotics” like myself (exotenquota). Diversity and inclusion were still relatively new concepts then, and very few companies adopted this strange quota. In my mind I kept wondering whether it was better to be a TWAM or an exotic in the corporate world. I still have no answer to that.

Now I must drag you back to the present day, February 2021 when I am now dealing with the Federal Employment Agency and joining the hundreds of thousands filing for unemployment benefits. The German labour laws and infrastructure favour the -employee far more than the employer, so when you register in the hallowed halls of bureaucrazy, you have submit an inordinate amount of papers before you can reap the benefits. There are no shortcuts other than the option to file online these days, but otherwise you first have to declare yourself unemployed AND as a jobseeker (you MAY NOT just hang around ildly) before you can claim benefits, one of them being re-training or re-schooling. One is assigned a counsellor / case worker who will ensure the you are sent a list of jobs that you are qualified for. Imagine my surprise when I received an email earlier this week informing me that I was being transferred to another department in a different part of town because I have a college degree. Excuse me?!

German labour laws and work ethic do not believe in placing the job seekers in just any old job, so the bottom line is that a degree holder like myself has no business working at McDonald’s or the supermarket even if I am willing! There is also an additional factor that comes into play with me – I fall under the category of new Germans (Neudeutsche) or immigrants who have acquired German citizenship. I shook my head in wonder, buffudled by all the factors coming into play, and felt catapulted back in the exotic quota. So I had to learn a mouthful of a term – Neudeutsche mit Migrationshintergrund und akademische Abschluss (new German with immigrant background and university degree). In short, Exotic New German, or END (exotischer Neudeutsche) as I refer to it. Ha! I have been promoted from TWAM to END(product) and I still can’t tell you whether this is a good thing or not. Stay tuned!

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