Computer says no
By the time I returned from a trip to Ireland with Stuart in the Easter Holiday, my life in Germany felt difficult to bear compared to weekends I spent in London with Stuart. Even though people in Germany were gracious enough to speak to me in English when I told them I didn’t understand German, their hardness made me withdraw and feel lonely. I didn’t want to make the cultural differences an excuse for my unhappiness, but I felt battered by daily struggles.
When I asked my colleagues questions or to do something for me, they’d say, “that’s not my job,” and direct me to another colleague, who’d tell me the same thing. When I ask for information or data, they’d say, “that’s not in the system.” When HQ asked to create a new report, they’d say, “there is no system for that.”
Outside work, when I visited the local Citi Bank to ask why my credit card was not working, they told me, “the system was down yesterday.” It turned out I had not activated it because I couldn’t read the sticker on the card. When one of the men from Japan visited the office, and I went to his hotel to pick him up and told the front desk his name, they said, “that name is not in the system.” I panicked that I might have come to the wrong hotel but ensured it was the correct one, I asked a different front desk clerk, who then found my guest’s name in the system.
Their system-dependent rhetoric was so prevalent that it felt like a caricature of German bureaucracy to me, but they were serious about it. But when I moved to England, I came across a sketch comedy show called Little Britain. In the show, David Walliams played a female character named Carol Beer, who worked at a travel agency desk (business changed by episodes). When a couple came to inquire about a trip, she’d loudly type something into the computer in front of her, then turned to the couple and said in a stone-cold expression, “computer says no.” The couple inquired about something else, and Carol typed something longer into the computer and again told the customers, “computer says no,” and finished with a cough at them. My laugh was tinged with bitter memories. I guessed the Carol-like attitude was not uncommon in the UK, either, but Brits were great at brushing off minor ill of the world by having a laugh at it. When you feel a little weary of the world, humor keeps you from falling into the resentment rabbit hole. Unfortunately, however, there was no Little Germany in Germany.