Friday, May 01, 2009

M in Dland: Observations

Things have settled down enough that I won't be posting daily just on my time here. I will continue to offer observations on things I find interesting. You may or may not find them interesting, also.

OBSERVATION THE FIRST. My class was supposed to start at 4 p.m. Lots of people came in at 4:10, and then more at 4:15. I asked if people had other classes or commitments that made it hard for them to get there at 4:00. Two women nodded, one quite vigorously. So I said, "Okay, so let's start at 4:10, and actually start on time then."

And a young man started to protest quite vigorously. He said that the start time, by university rule, was supposed to be 4, not 4:10. I pointed out that he was one of the people who had come in late, at 4:15. And he said (he really said this), "Yes, if the class starts at 4:00, I come at 4:15. If the class starts at 4:10, am I supposed to come at 4:25? Then the class would be too short."

I started to ask the young man if he was related to Herbert Kitschelt (who appears to live by the same rule), but held my tongue. Now, either the kid was yanking my chain, in which case well played by the kid; he was totally deadpan. OR, he was serious. In which case, even MORE well played, because that is just a fantastic question. He totally shut me down.

UPDATE: Interesting. My office mate Helmut points out (and a commenter points out also) the tradition of the "academic quarter." So, in fact, a class that starts at 4:00 is understood to start at 4:15. You can look it up....

UPDATE II: VeniBill writes: Across continental Europe generally, when you schedule a meeting for business- but particularly academics- it is expected that you start 15 minutes after the advertised time. And this isn't just like a [lazy person stereotype], it's actually a long standing tradition that has some elaborate origins. There is a German word that translates to something like "the prerogatives of a free citizen" that is supposedly linked to this custom. The upper/educated classes prided themselves on not being "slaves" to the clock like the working man on a timecard. But whatever the origins it is definitely very official custom.

Take a look at the second paragraph on this site ( under the heading Akademisches Viertel)

This was periodically an issue when I was at [European University], and people would clarify if the meant continental time when the advertised a talk (default was British time).

Also, from the Wikipedia entry on Globalization:
Trends such as outsourcing and offshoring are a direct offshoot of globalization and have created a work environment in which cultural diversity can be problematic. A U.S. company where punctuality is important and meetings always start on time faces adjustments if it opens an office in South America or France, where being 10 to 15 minutes late to a meeting is considered acceptable: being on time is called 'British Time'.

OBSERVATION THE SECOND. My good friend VeniBill also writes: "It just occurs to me - be attentive regarding the fruit purchasing customs. I'm not sure what the local grocery is like there, but they often have a machine near the produce section that weighs your fruit/veggie (after you punch in the corresponding ID number) and then prints out a barcode that you bring with you to the cashier. If you just walk up to the checkout with a bag of fruit like we do in the US they look at you like you are crazy; and cashiers are drawn from a demographic that really doesn't speak much English. And then all the Germans behind you in line get so upset because it takes awhile to resolve and they'll probably miss their train because of it."

Without going into details, let me just say that everything VeniBill says is true, exactly true. Let me also say that this advice would have been A LOT MORE F*****G USEFUL TWO DAYS AGO, before I proved the correctness of every aspect of it. It seemed like everybody in the store was pissed off at me. Any other little tidbits, VeniBill?

OBSERVATION THE THIRD. Today, of course, is May 1. Now more often a "labour holiday," it comes from Walpurgisnacht, itself a celebration that comes from pagan quarter equinox celebrations that are thousands of years older than THAT.

Anyway, one of my Erlangen colleagues came in yesterday and asked me where I was going to travel on the "holiday." I said that I was going to travel to the office, and get some work done.

Colleague was aghast. "But it is a holiday. The offices are closed!" I had a "what would Angus do?" moment; I pulled out my key, and said the office doors were always closed, until they were open. If the doors were always open, no key would be necessary. And if the doors were always closed, they would be called "walls." The advantage of the key is that I could have the door open, or closed, as suited me. (And, yes, you can bet that this is PRECISELY what Angus would have done, in more or less these some words. Trust me.)

Colleague: " I mean the offices THEMSELVES are closed. Not the doors, the offices. It is a holiday."

Now, this fellow is a very nice guy, and really is very helpful in every way. Not as artlessly sincere as Eva, perhaps, because NO ONE is as sincere as Eva, but still a very nice guy.

So, I said, "Oh, now I see. A HOLIDAY. Of course. It was just the language problem. Perhaps I will go to Nurnberg, then. Or ride my bike, if the weather is nice."

This met with MUCH more approval. And, I was in the office by 8:30, safe in the knowledge that my secret would be secure. Since everyone else is off rioting in Berlin*...

*From Wikipedia: In Berlin traditional leftist Mayday riots usually start at Walpurgis Night in the Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg. I'm not sure why, but the idea of a "traditional riot," held at the same time and place every year, fills me with happiness.


Anonymous said...

I don't know if your class is supposed to be s.t. (sine tempore) but it is the usual for German classes at the University to start 15 minutes later then the time they are announced to start. It is called the academic quarter:
they also usually end 15 minutes early, so if your class is from 4-6, in reality it usually goes from 4:15 to 5:45.
BUT, German students like to be late anyways.

Anonymous said...

Talk to my colleague Thomas P. about the origin of the 1989 Mayday riot in Berlin. It's hilarious...involves a small incident that just turned into a reason to riot.

Tommy the Englishman

prison rodeo said...

I have a old high school friend who lives in Berlin, in the neighborhood where the riots happen. They are all very...well...German about it: The police come around on April 30, and remind everyone to move their cars off the street, take bicycles indoors etc. (Under a not-unreasonable reading of American law, that would qualify as "conspiracy to commit public disorder" or some such thing on the part of the police.) Then on May 1 everyone sits in their front windows watching the riot, and perhaps drinking beer.

John Thacker said...

BTW, regarding the fruit:

The apparent German produce method described by VeniBill is exactly what the beloved Wegmans grocery chain does in the US.

Zubon said...

The University of Michigan uses a similar principle: "Michigan time" is 10 minutes after the posted time. No one tells you this in advance there, either.

Dirty Davey said...

The adjustment to the local norms can be confusing. At one of my undergrad institutions, a class that would be listed as "9AM-10AM", would start at about 9:10, and would end at 10 on the dot.

At the other, the same listed class would start at about 9:05 and would end at about 9:55.

In grad school, the class was listed as 9:00-9:50 and would start and end at those precise times.

I guess there is a philosophical question there: does the institution prefer a schedule without "gaps", or does it prefer precise start and end times?