Recently I wrote about Obtaining the Resident’s Permit in Germany because reasons:
- People who are thinking of moving here might find this useful
- I found it to be a time of personal growth and I wanted to share the challenge
- I thought I could make it funny
*As a brief overview: immigration is not easy, there were some trying moments, the language barrier was difficult, but I look for the humor in life to push through these awesome life changing and challenging moments.
And then a few weeks later I had a question for my case officer regarding the electronic EU-ID card which I mentioned in the post linked above:
At some point I read that I was supposed to receive an actual EU ID card, but that hasn’t materialized. When asked, they told me due to all the refugees arriving they didn’t have time to create cards for everyone (this was fall 2015 when I asked) but I’m not sure why I still don’t have one. Perhaps it’s because each time I’ve changed jobs and gone back for the appropriate work authority approval, the contract has been for a year at a time so they think why bother. I couldn’t speculate further than that though.
I emailed my Ausländerbehörde contact asking if it was possible yet to obtain this card. What prompted this email was the trip back to Frankfurt from the USA in June. Our flight landed at 7:30am which is a very popular time for planes to land at FRA (apparently), so the line to get through border control was huge. While waiting, I saw against the wall a few kiosks and though I couldn’t take pictures, they looked like the Automated Passport Control kiosks appearing in some USA airports. The EU uses a similar process but for certain non-EU passport holders (like me!) called Smart Borders which will speed up everyone’s life in the border control lines. When I went to try it out though I was unable to complete registration as I did not have an EU-ID e-card, just the stickers in my passport.
After one or two emails back and forth we set up an appointment for me to come in and get my card. But at the end of the last email was the most amazing and thoughtful response I’ve ever received from someone working in a bureaucratic environment:
While I was having lunch today I took the liberty to read your blog, the link to which you have put in your Email signature. I did not have time to read everything, but what I did read I extremely liked. I had to smile a lot – you have a great sense of humor. I laughed out loud at the piece about you/the Germans butchering the respective languages. I LOVED the cat pictures.
My first reaction was “Awesome! Someone other than my parents is reading this blog!” But then I started to feel a bit anxious, because I knew I had just written about immigration and my experience with this person’s department. When I write I really try very hard to stay away from bad-mouthing or seeming overly negative, even if an experience wasn’t my favorite. I’d rather be neutral on these types of informative posts so readers (all 10 of you!) have a blank slate to start their own opinions from. Plus overly fluffy language could distract from the substance I want to actually write about.
But, the response continues on:
And: I have been thinking hard about your depiction of your personal experiences with obtaining the Resident’s Permit in Germany. I don’t know why, but I feel that I would like to respond to this in some way. First of all, your report has been extremely helpful for me, since I had not even been aware – for example – of the uncomfortable feeling that the closed door is actually causing. I also wasn’t aware of the fact that you really would have liked to get an EU-ID card and that you have been wondering since 2015 if something was still going to happen on that score. I am really sorry about this. Reading your text made me realize that I should be taking more time for the people who come to my office. I should be taking time to explain what I am actually doing.
Wow. Who can read about something that could be potentially negative about themselves on some weirdo’s blog and not be offended? I was blown away. First, my writing helped someone! A true dream-come-true. Second, this English is amazing and third, this person is really taking the time to communicate their side of the story to a report of an event I had written. This is really cool. I’m always looking for opportunities for meaningful engagement and discussion, especially if it comes from a potential culture clash moment. This was one of the best scenarios I could imagine.
The mention of the closed door comes from this excerpt from the original post:
When your number flashes on screen, then go up to the offices upstairs. Here is where I get a little unsure, even though I’ve been a few times now. The doors will be closed, and will not open for your appointment. It is up to you to knock and let yourself in, which to me felt strange and uncomfortable but it’s protocol.
But turns out the door is closed because:
The closed door is actually a relict of the “old times” (pre 2014, haha), when we had not introduced the appointment-system yet but had open hours 3 forenoons and 1 afternoon a week when people would just drop in with their various and unforeseeable requests. The hallways were always crammed, it was loud and the people would actually stand IN the door watching us work. To avoid feeling like an attraction in a zoo, we were keeping the doors closed and most of us still prefer it that way. I wouldn’t say it’s across-the-board protocol and it would certainly be more customer-friendly to keep them open, but it guarantees the privacy and quiet necessary to work effectively, especially in a building that is open for the public to walk in.
I had never considered the door could be closed because the building is open to the public and they would like a little peace and quiet. Here was an example of me making the assumption that this was a trait of a culturally cold society that I would just have to adapt to. Instead of a completely normal reaction to a loud working environment.
I definitely understand busy offices, and Germany has seen an unprecedented number of refugees entering the immigrations system. Sometimes time gets away from us and we forget the “less important” aspects of jobs which are people and client facing. Reminders to prioritize the client or experience can come from all over, and in this case the officer recognized one in my blog post:
I realize I have been much too businesslike/matter-of-factly and also much too gruff and short-spoken, which really frightens me because I had never wanted to turn out that way.
I would never have characterized this person as gruff, because Germany is not as an emotionally open society as the USA so “neutral” is the norm. By now I am used to less personal interactions than I would like or would expect, but also I would not expect a super friendly encounter in any government setting, as I responded:
I’m happy my post did not offend, I tried my best to be neutral while explaining some of the uncertainties and trials I experienced so others might feel OK with the stress they might go through. I absolutely expected the process to be difficult, sometimes scary, and sometimes really frustrating. I also know my own lack of command over the German language was my own fault and I couldn’t expect anyone to cater to me, that I would need to adapt and adjust, especially to bureaucracy. The closed door is a great example, I think, of a cultural difference that I feel I should adapt to, since I’ve seen it in other places here. But I could definitely understand why it wouldn’t even enter your mind that it could be a “problem” since it’s so normal.
I have followed the news and I know you must be under-staffed and over-worked; I don’t think it’s an excuse at all, but more of a wake up call of “am I still doing the best I can even in tough circumstances?” These are good for all of us. I personally do not think you are a rude or gruff person at all, I only expected a brisk business-like manner and I found you to be very professional and politely courteous. Of course, if you would rather be happy and laughing with everyone instead, all the better! Sometimes my American sensitivity gets to me because Germany is not as “emotional” as the USA is so I take things personally. I’m getting better at not doing that.
I wanted to write this blog because I had aspirations of it becoming more than my journal of the years I will spend in Germany (and possible elsewhere). I would love it if I could find others who are living similar lives or have similar interests to mine (cats, Star Trek, sarcasm, favorite food is: food) and we could connect via this platform. I love finding and recognizing passion and optimism in others too, as the officer wrote:
When I started working with the immigration office, I was all idealistic and I still am sometimes. I would like to offer multilingual application forms, and I would love having the time to create them myself. I would like to hand out multilingual lists of the documents we need, or, even better, not to be obliged to require so many documents at all. I also do not see any sense in the instruction to not speak English with our customers and I regret that the fact that you had to speak german was tough for you during the first times you came to the office.
Yeah, the German was tough, but this is Germany! German is spoken here! It’s a new culture to embrace. I absolutely appreciate the sentiment of regret over a tough situation one feels they caused, but on the other hand, I liked the tough experience in the end. Another personal growth and accomplishment moment I will cherish which, again, is something else we have in common as she wrote:
Also, I can totally relate to the idea of the special growth and accomplishment moments – these are the real important ones. Just wish they weren’t so damn uncomfortable 😉
When I received the first email, I forwarded it to my parents because I was so touched someone wrote me. My mom loved it and extended an invitation to visit the USA and stay with them in Washington DC whenever they liked, which prompted a short discussion on the very topic of “cultural awareness” I’ve hinted at above:
Thank you so much for your kind and long Email; vielen lieben Dank for taking the time to respond. I am actually sitting here beaming, especially at the part about forwarding my Email to your Mum and about her wonderful and kind reply and the lovely gesture of offering a place to stay in case of a visit to Washington. Do tell her how much I appreciate that and that it makes me really happy. (frankly, this is nothing a german person would ever do…we ARE a lot less emotional and not as genial/cordial as the Americans).
Our email chain went on for a few more days and I’m happy to report I did indeed schedule an appointment and will receive my new card in a few weeks.
Later, whenever I see this card in my wallet, I’m going to think back to this week when I made such a fascinating and unexpected connection and what wonderful insights I gained. This truly has been a balm on the soul when life feels so unstable right now. This is why I like to leave my comfort zones both physically and mentally: one can truly never know what the other side is thinking or experiencing and by reaching out, even in non-direct blog posts, someone is going to respond and a full picture created.
And finally, here is why this person is awesome and why I hope we continue to foster a good working (and maybe personal) relationship together:
PS Cat pictures ARE the best part of the internet, totally agreed ;DDD