Well, as of just before 9 yesterday morning I have become an official employee of Cologne University, and what’s more, a German Civil Servant, thus adding credence to the notion that once a bureaucrat, always a bureaucrat. Nonetheless, I managed to take the U-bahn and the trams fairly flawlessly to the registry, even if there was a bit of a walk at the end, and signed (in duplicate, with an English translation thoughtfully provided) my contract.
Cutting it fine, maybe? I needed to do it before 9 if I was to do it at all, and had all gone to plan I might have done it the day before. As ever, the plan did not really come together that well. My email to the secretary of the project resulted in a registry phone number, which rang, and rang, and rang. This was not helped by the fact that the ringing tone you hear in Germany sounds exactly the same as the engaged tone in the UK, so I was left in limbo wondering why either (a) nobody was in the office or (b) what on earth was so interesting that my contact at the registry felt the need to be on the phone for an entire day about. I then managed to locate an email address, and sent a request for a time I could come in and sign the contract, all the while plagued by the uneasy feeling that this was just the tip of the German bureaucratic iceberg. The offshoot of all this was that I had to remain in a place where I could receive emails, and roaming charges being the eye-watering wallet-vampire that they are, this meant not leaving my flat.
Not leaving wasn’t all bad though, the person renting me the place left me some food, and I got to play the guitar a bit. Mind you, I found out pretty quickly how thin the ceiling and walls are, thanks to a ring of the doorbell in the middle of a (quite good, I think) rendition of Black Velvet Band. I mean, it was just the neighbour coming round to say hi, and ask where the previous owners of the flat are (in another city for a month), and he didn’t actually mention my playing at all, but the main thing that swung it was that he immediately introduced himself in English. Ah, I thought. Possibly a little loud. Fridge horror at someone having heard me sing far outclassed the fact that if I was that bad he would have asked me to stop. Nonetheless, it was fun, and playing definitely lifted my spirits, caged as I was.
And it was all for nought. I received an email in the evening from my professor, after that entire day, saying that I should just go in sometime before 9 on the 7th.
So anyway, with my self-imposed isolation ended, and after signing my contract I decided I would make a second leap of exploration today and go shopping for the first time in a foreign land. To be honest, apart from me not understanding the tannoy system’s store adverts (unavoidably a bonus), and not understanding what some of the things were (adding some surprise to my eating habits) it was much the same. My colleague, who arrived yesterday, managed to enlighten me to what “Knoblauch” is, as it sounds rude but I was unable to find powdered chilli without it. Turns out it’s garlic. Knoblauch. Right. I also bought a giant salami for almost no money at all, and ludicrous quantities of cheese and Fairtrade coffee (so chuffed they have it here), among other things. All in all, I think a successful first trip. I also received some mystery stickers at the till. I think they might be because I was a giant hippie and used my own bag for stuff, but I don’t know.
Not knowing seems to be, unfortunately, my default state of awareness these days. I know it will improve with time, but I’ve never felt less like an anthropologist. I’m so used to being in my language environment that I can do anthropology almost anywhere simply by eavesdropping. Here it will be a while before I can do anything more than pick out words (I understood all the train announcements! +1 Wisdom on my next roll!), and it will be even more until I can drop eaves without thinking. Nonetheless, this has to be good for me, and I find myself intently observing behaviour in a way I most certainly didn’t do as much before. We shall see.