If you are in India, plan with ‘Indian Standard Time’! – 16 Feb 16

We have had people steadily coming and going in the past days and weeks and there have been a lot of talks about India compared to other countries and cultures. Obviously, Ramona is often asked what she likes about India or whether she found anything difficult here. She of course always mentioned one thing: the concept of ‘Indian Standard Time’ which is different to German punctuality! Which of course could throw her off balance at times!

It is really true – even though this happened mostly at the beginning of her time in India. It is quite logical: in Germany, it is normal for people to have quite a clear plan of what they will do in the next days. They even plan in advance for several weeks! It is just usual for a regular person to know where he or she will be next Friday. Or whether they have plans for Saturday the 5th. Or whether they can meet you at 3 pm the next day. If you make an appointment for a meeting, if you fix a time with them for any kind of common activity, they will make a mental note and probably write it down a bit later, too. They will be there at the exact right time. If they cannot, they will call you, write to you or let you know in some way.

In India, it’s different. Here, you cannot plan. No wait, you can – but there is no guarantee that your plans will work out the way they should! As a German – or a person of another nationality that take plans and punctuality more serious – you may take a mental note and you will make your plan. You cannot however rely on the Indian person to do the same!

If you make plans with a person, it may be that the other one was not completely serious about it. So you say ‘we should meet at the weekend’ and you think you actually fixed that plan but then you realize that the other one just said it to be polite or because it sounded nice that moment! He or she never actually thought to meet you!

Or you have called a person for a service, for example an electrician or a bank employee. The appointment is supposed to be at 11 am. You are ready and waiting at 11 am – but nobody arrives! You call and the answer can be ‘I am on the way!’ but you wait another two hours! Finally, it can very well happen that the other one doesn’t appear until the next day! You may get a call to tell you or you may not!

It can also happen that a group of four people was planning something together and you were preparing everything and are ready to go when all of a sudden, everyone gets into a talk and they decide to do something completely different! All of your preparations are for nothing – or at least postponed to another time.

It can drive you crazy – or you can lean back and relax. You can accept the change in speed and the fact that you always need a plan B. That’s how Ramona always tells our guests: when you are in India, relax and go with the flow – she has learned to do exactly that!

Our Fun in Germany continues – 29 Nov 15

Another week has passed in Germany and again we have had so many wonderful experiences that it is hard to mention them all in one blog entry! I will try anyway:

I already told you about the snow storm which we experienced in Hamburg last Sunday. After this beautiful day, we took another trip on Monday, but not to Hamburg, just to downtown Lüneburg, to the thermal bath! While we have been to outdoor pools, it was the first time for Apra as well as me to go to an indoor pool. It was quite an experience! They had many different pools, one with waves, whirlpools, a baby pool and one for children, one with salty thermal water and even an outdoor section! After Apra got a bit comfortable in water that was not only knee-deep, we also got her to slide with us and enjoy the whirlpool and to swim on our backs. We had incredibly much fun!

Apart from this, we filled our time in Lüneburg with heaps of fun! Andrea went to the playground with us, we went shopping, which is always an adventure for Apra and we had several friends visit us! We cooked a delicious meal and had a beautiful evening together!

On Wednesday, our last day in Lüneburg, we had another highlight of the week: we went to the Christmas market in Lüneburg. Something else that Apra saw for the first time of her life – and something which I always find beautiful to see. People are in good mood, there are sweets, children can go on rides and there is nice music. Apra, who had read a book about a masked ball, went with her fairy princess mask on both, the carousel and the train ride, ate a ginger bread heart and drank a hot chocolate with us!

On Thursday we said goodbye to Andrea and Michael and hopped onto a train to Augsburg to Apra’s German grandparents! It was an enjoyable ride and by crossing Germany, Ramona and I celebrated our 5th German wedding anniversary! Five years ago, we all had come together with friends in Wiesbaden to sign a piece of paper – time flies by so fast!

Day before yesterday, we drove to Munich, not only to go to a really nice museum with many exhibits for children but primarily to visit more of Ramona’s family, including her cousin’s son who is going to be three years old soon! Reconnecting for us as well as Apra, who was very excited about exchanging gifts – and a spinner which already Ramona and her cousins had played with.

Back home yesterday, we woke up in a winter wonderland full of snow! It was snowing the whole morning and so we took the chance to do what we had not done in the snow a week before: Ramona, her dad and Apra built a snowman! Complete with carrot nose!

In the afternoon, Apra could try her luck at ice skating! Just in front of their home, there is an artificial ice field where you can borrow skates – and I have to say, if Apra could come to practice every day, she would soon skate like a professional!

Finally, we went to Augsburg’s Christmas market with Apra’s German grandmother, grandfather and aunt. They had put up candles in the whole town, which was beautiful to see. At six o’clock, everyone gathered in front of the town hall to see how children and young adults, dressed as angels came to the windows and onto the balcony with harps, flutes and an organ. They played and sang heavenly – but Apra had only one question: why don't they fly? 🙂

Let’s see what we will do today – tomorrow will be our day to travel back to Wiesbaden, so we will make sure to enjoy our remaining day with family. It's the most beautiful holiday we are having right now, showing our baby girl Germany!

Apra enjoying the first Snow of her Life in Germany – 23 Nov 15

I told you yesterday that we were about to start our day trip to Hamburg – and we had really the most wonderful time! How come? Apra saw and felt snow for the first time of her life!

When we started in Lüneburg, there were some tiny snowflakes falling from the sky, it was not even enough to call it snow and we were quite sure that was all that we would get, as the weather forecast had not predicted any snow. We had planned to go to an area of Hamburg where Michael wanted to show us a beautiful scenery and view at a street called Elbchaussee, at the side of the river Elbe.

Already on the highway however, we knew that it would be slightly difficult to have a good view: the further we came on the highway, the flakes became bigger and closer together and finally we reached Hamburg, seeing mostly white snow everywhere around!

Instead of being disappointed that we didn't have the expected view however, we were delighted, excited and very enthusiastic to get out of the car and into this white winter world outside! For Apra, it was the first time to see snow and while we had told her about it and even showed her videos, real snow was another story! She was very fascinated when looking out of the window and when we got out, it was first of all too cold and wet to really enjoy – but once the snowing stopped a bit, she simply loved it!

We took a break in a Bavarian-style hut where Ramona felt right at home with Bavarian songs, waiters in Lederhosen and south German specialties. 🙂

When we came out, we had a snow ball fight – or tried at least. Apra felt the snow in her hands, with and without gloves and enjoyed the sensation very much but she hesitated throwing, knowing that someone would then throw back at her, too! And finally, we had a beautiful view as well as an even more beautiful scenery, as everything was covered in white snow!

We are thoroughly happy! When booking this journey, we had had the idea that we might get snow and wished for it, too, as we wanted to give Apra this experience as well. When we arrived here, however, it was 10 degrees centigrade and more, making it seem like we would have to go up the Alps in order to find snow! Now we already had snow, Apra has felt it and she can tell everyone at the Ashram about it!

German Adventures with Friends – and of course with Apra! – 22 Nov 15

It is Sunday and with that time to tell you what is going on in my life – and obviously there is a lot to tell! We have continued our journey through Germany together with Apra and we are enjoying our little holiday a lot!

Last week we reached Wiesbaden and after an exciting weekend, the week started with more activities which we had already planned while in India! On Monday, we went to visit Peter and Heike, who had been at the Ashram just a few weeks ago. It was a beautiful visit, a little bit out in the countryside. We cooked and ate together and Apra thoroughly enjoyed playing with their cat – who is not shy at all and thus let her pet her all the time! Only once she ran away, when Apra got so excited that she accidently stumbled and grabbed the chair on which the cat was lying which made the cat jump away!

On Tuesday, we visited a Kindergarten at which Thomas once worked. For us it was interesting to see how they worked while Apra enjoyed jumping, running and playing with the other children.

Finally, we left Wiesbaden on Wednesday and took a train to Erkelenz. Oh, what a joy! We had taken trains in Germany last year as well but now, one year later, it is again like a new experience for Apra. She got a ‘children’s ticket’ from the ticket checker, colour pencils and a little toy train and made sure we took photos and a video of everything so that she could show it to her Ashram brothers.

In Erkelenz, we enjoyed spending time with our longtime friends Sonja and Peter while Apra chased their two shy cats through the house! The time with them was short though, as we started right the next day towards Lüneburg.

Coming to Lüneburg is always wonderful! Being with my oldest German friend Michael and of course his wife Andrea, remembering old days and adventures, planning new ones and catching up on each other’s development. And as we have several friends up here in the North, we were also already busy on Friday and Saturday with the first visitors! An old school friend of Ramona’s as well as friends who have been to the Ashram in March came to meet and spend a meal with us!

Apra already knows Michael and Andrea and got rid of her initial shyness quite quickly! She explores their whole house and has long conversations with them about her various discoveries! There are many new things for her: the dish washer, supermarkets with huge shelves offering an enourmous choice of things to buy, candles on the dinner table and speakers in the whole house to listen to music literally anywhere you like.

We are so happy that we decided to make this trip still in this year and come in spite of the cold that is inevitable in November in Germany! We are having a great time and so is Apra – the main reason why we didn’t just want to skip it!

Now we are about to start our trip to Hamburg, where we want to spend a few hours today. I will keep you updated!

Getting ready to go to Germany – 12 Nov 15

After yesterday’s beautiful Diwali celebration, today is full of another kind of preparations: Ramona, Apra and I will fly to Germany tomorrow! We have to get off early for our flight in midday and that’s how we want to get everything done today!

Well, as much as is possible, anyway. Ramona had a quite ambitious schedule of what she wanted to prepare beforehand but with all the things happening here in the meantime, she has hardly managed to even start. What we have managed however is to prepare our suitcases full with warm clothes for cold German weather!

And of course, Apra has packed her own suitcase as well! She is the one who is most looking forward! For many days she has been starting every morning with the question: ‘When will we go to Germany?’ and throughout the day, she again and again mentions the journey. During lunch, she tells the other Ashram children that we will eat bread in Germany instead of the roti we eat here. She looks through her toys regularly, deciding which ones should be taken along. All new clothes were off-limits for wearing because we bought them for Germany. And of course there are big plans on all the things we are going to experience there!

For the past two days, Apra has been a little bit exhausted, down with a cold and coughing a lot. She had fever yesterday but today, she seems already much better. Ramona and I are very happy about that – we already have made the experience of travelling with a fevering child and it is not on my priority list of things I would like to do again!

As she is better however, we are confident that she will enjoy the flight to its fullest tomorrow and as it is a flight during daytime, she will be able to soak up all the new details in her surrounding!

I leave you with this and you will hear again from me when we have safely reached Germany.

Celebrations – a Mirror of Eastern and Western Culture – 23 Oct 14

On the last day of school before Diwali holidays, the teachers shared some sweets at a small Diwali celebration. At this occasion, Ramona asked them, how Diwali was celebrated in their homes. They, in turn, asked her to tell a bit about the celebrations in her country. Ramona was a bit at a loss.

Of course, she told about Christmas but they wanted to know more. One of them mentioned Good Friday because it is a holiday in India as well. Well, Ramona told them, yes, there were celebrations on the Easter weekend – but already when she said the word ‘celebrations’ she knew that they would imagine it to be more than it really was.

Religious people go to church on religious holidays. A big amount of people only go on Christmas, so what is there to do on other holidays? Easter is great for children who search for chocolate and Easter eggs in house and garden. Apart from that, there is not so much to tell of!

It is true, there are holidays and the whole country has the day off but nobody performs a big ceremony on Good Friday for example! Of course, on carnival, those who are into carnival join a party. The four weeks of advent, before Christmas, are festive because you go for Christmas shopping and everywhere is decoration. For a lot of holidays however, the regular person just enjoys the day off! Religion is not so important to many people and that’s how the religious festivals are not that important either.

Here in India, celebrations are big for each holiday! And there are many more holidays, too! People celebrate all the bigger Gods and Goddesses’ birthdays, the birthdays of various saints, some full moon days and some new moon days. And for nearly every occasion, there is a pooja, a ceremony. Sometimes you light a candle and apply sandalwood-paste to deities, sometimes you offer them food, on some days women walk around a tree and on others you have to feed virgin girls. There are hundreds of different reasons to fast and when Indians remember their dead, there is more to it than just silently lighting a candle.

All in all, it is a mirror of the character of German and Indian people! The colourful, lively and sometimes overly expressive way of Indians shows in the abundant, ritualized celebrations they have on festivals with all the details and stories around it. In the same way, the organized, clean and sometimes a bit too sober way of Germans is expressed in the simple way that they go about their holidays, often creating small family traditions to just make it a nice, private day.

It is difficult to explain the big difference of those two cultures in words – it is something you have to experience. We at the Ashram live with a connection of those two cultures and are additionally not religious at all. That’s how we enjoy celebrations in a beautiful, non-religious way.

Today is the day of Diwali and while we are getting ready now to put up the oil lamps and then fill our belly with delicious sweets, you can mentally join us – and enjoy Diwali with us!

I wish all of you a very happy Diwali!

How Apra amazed us with her German – 9 Jun 14

We have been in Germany for about three weeks now and obviously, we have had a lot of different impressions! I thought you might want to know a bit about what we experienced so far.

First of all, what everyone starts their conversation with: the weather! When we arrived, it was 7 degrees centigrade in Frankfurt. We took our socks and jackets out of the suitcase before going home so that we would not feel cold in the car. Yesterday we drove home from a program with 37 degrees centigrade! In between, we had wonderful sunny days and some days with rain, clouds and very cold wind. It is Germany – crazy weather does not surprise us anymore!

After a few days in Wiesbaden we started towards the South where we had our first program in Diessen at the Ammersee, a beautiful Bavarian lake with a fantastic view towards the Alps. After that we spent some time visiting Ramona’s family in Munich and Augsburg. After some great time with them, we came back to Wiesbaden, only to spend the past weekend 150 kilometers further south-west, for program in the Saarland. So we had a good share of travelling already and tonight we will go further: in the evening, we have our flight to Spain, to Gran Canaria.

On this route, we have already met a whole lot of friends and family members and it is wonderful to connect again with all of them in person instead of just over the internet or phone! We laughed, cooked and enjoyed a lot and of course everyone was eager to see how much Apra had grown and learned since they had seen her last.

The greatest thing is that her German has improved tremendously! Ramona always talks German with her, so we knew that she understands everything, even though she did not often talk in German. She talked a lot during the day but mostly in Hindi. In the first week here however, she did not only meet German friends but also got to play with several German children and suddenly she was chatting with everyone in German!

Apra talks so well that I have already learned a lot of new words from her and frequently have to ask Ramona for the meaning of one word or the other. Even Ramona is often surprised though – ‘Where did she learn this word from?’ is a question that I hear quite often these days!

We believe that the way how Apra is used to live in the Ashram environment gives her an extreme benefit while travelling with us: she is so used to seeing new faces that in any new place, she can adjust quite well to the different people surrounding her. While she is naturally shy in the beginning, it usually only takes one or two hours until she happily joins a friend, an unknown person except for the fact that he or she is ‘a friend of Ma and Pa’, for going to the playground or for shopping. Of course, it helps if that person happens to have a dog close-by!

Let’s see what awaits us when we reach Gran Canaria. Also there, our friend Betty will welcome us and together we will have program for the next three weeks. We are already looking forward – of course to working but also to watching Apra play in the sand and with the waves!

Tomorrow I will tell you about our trip as well as our first impressions!

Why the electoral System of Germany is fairer and more democratic than the Indian – 21 May 14

You probably know already that we recently had elections in India. India is the country with the second biggest population of the world and the biggest democracy on this earth. This is how it took five weeks to complete the voting process throughout the country. I am not going to discuss the results here, as I don’t want to make my blog political in any way. I don’t want to write about the different parties and although I may someday write about decisions of the government, I won’t write further about the result. I would like to write about the system instead!

In India, the party that has received 31% of the votes of the Indian people now rules with a majority of seats in parliament. This means, 69% of people have refused this party. This happens because in India, we vote for the local candidate. Whoever gets the higher number of votes locally goes to parliament – and the remaining votes get lost. He can win by one vote or very high, his party will have another seat in parliament. In this way, 69% of voters don’t want this party to rule but due to our system, this party got a majority which makes it easy for them to rule – it just doesn’t seem like a real democracy.


India’s population

1 270 000 000 (2014)

Total voters


815 000 000(2014)

Party


Votes


Seats

BJP


17,16,57,549


282

Congress


10,69,38,242


44

BSP


2,29,46,182


0

TMC


2,12,59,681


34

SP


1,86,72,916


5

AIADMK


1,81,15,825


37

CPM


1,79,86,773


9

TDP


1,40,94,545


16

AAP


1,13,25,635


4


When I told this to my German friends, they told me that this could never happen in the German election system. I asked how and Iris took the time to explain it to me. She told that it may be complicated but that it is much fairer, actually one of the fairest in the world – and I have to agree!

While we in India only make one cross on our ballot paper, Germans make two. They first can simply vote for one of the many participating parties, choosing one of which they like the basic program. After that, they make another cross for one particular candidate of their area. This candidate will, if he wins, enter parliament. In this way they would choose a person from their area, even if that person is not from the party for which they voted with their first vote.

When the votes are counted, the first vote will tell how many percent of the nearly 600 seats in the German parliament go to which party.

At the same time, every candidate that wins in his area will go to parliament. This is what happens with the second vote.

So if a party got 30% of the votes, they will have 30% of the seats in parliament. These seats will be filled with the candidates that won in their local area. If they have not won in so many local areas, they will fill up the seats with other party members according to a sequence which was announced before and which is calculated in a way that there are a fair number of candidates of each German state in the German parliament.

Now the big question: what happens if a party has more candidates that won locally than they have seats in the parliament according to the first vote of all voters? Then there are the ‘Überhangmandate’, the excess mandates or overhand seats. These candidates will go to parliament but due to them going, the other parties also get extra seats, so that the percentage of the parties is still the same as it was elected. In this way, the parliament can grow – but the percentage will stay the same.

The local winners will all be in the parliament. Every vote is counted and the percentage of seats that each party has in the government is guaranteed nevertheless.

I believe it is fair. I believe it is fairer than the Indian system. More democratic, more what the people really want.

An Example how Intercultural Couples have to meet in the Middle – 16 Oct 13

I yesterday explained that there are cultural differences that don’t allow everybody to change himself in every way – it may just not possible for a person of one culture to do something a person of another culture finds easy. I can tell you from my own experience that the best place to get to know this first-hand is to marry someone from another culture. You will, at some point, find out what you can and what you cannot do and you will also realize that your partner has very different limits. The solution is to meet in the middle!

To give you an example, I would like to talk about the question of planning ahead. In the west it is commonly spread advice that you should ‘go with the flow’ instead of planning too much. In the east, or at least in India, something that people should learn is to plan a bit more. The question is however whether people can really implement this advice?

My wife and I face this question as well. She, a German, is used to plan everything ahead. It is her German upbringing, her culture and her background. I, however, don’t usually plan at all. I live and go along with whatever happens next. I am not talking about big questions like holiday planning now but rather about every day’s life.

Let’s take the question when we should take a shower. My wife wakes up in the morning and would normally make a plan for the day before she even gets one foot out of the bed. It is the German in her that plans a rough outline for the day and makes a more exact schedule for the coming hours. The next half an hour we will spend getting up, from seven to eight I will do yoga, I need half an hour for relaxing and then I take a look at the computer for about half an hour. At nine o’clock we will take a shower, do some more work and have our lunch at eleven o’clock. That’s how she would plan.

I would wake up and not think any further than until the bathroom for that moment. I don’t know how I will feel like in three hours – what work will be there, will I feel like taking a shower at all? Maybe I would rather like to take one in the afternoon…

So you already see, if we both were determined to keep our cultural habits intact, we would never get to shower together and would get into a fight whenever we tried. We thus need to find an agreement: Ramona takes care not to ask me five times when we would take a shower and does not tell me again and again that she is planning to shower at nine o’clock. She tells me about an approximate idea what she would like to do but is ready to adjust her time plan slightly.

I, in turn, tell her clearly if I absolutely don’t want to shower in the morning, so that she can make other plans for the morning and have an idea for the afternoon already. Otherwise I will try to get ready with everything I was doing until around nine o’clock.

We meet in the middle. It would not be possible at all for me to plan the day the way Ramona does. It would create a lot of stress for me, making it impossible to concentrate on anything else than the time. In the same way, she needs this structure in order to do anything. If she didn’t have a plan, at least a rough one, she would go through the day with the feeling that she was actually supposed to do something else and that her time was not used properly.

In a relationship and even in other interactions with people of other countries and cultures, you often have to find a compromise, an acceptable solution for both of you. We have both adopted a little part of the other culture inside ourselves – staying flexible in this way makes many things much easier!

Back to School after 30 Years for learning German – 5 Aug 13

I wanted to tell all of you about a change in my life which will, I believe, have quite a big impact on the long run: I am now actively learning German. Yes, after nearly 30 years, I am now going back to school.

You probably know that I have been living in Germany for a big part of the past thirteen years. Nevertheless, in the course of these many years, I was not able to pick up the language. It was really also never very necessary. Most of the people whom I got in touch with spoke English. I always had a translator with me for my work, should it be necessary, and in private there was also always someone who could help out with a translation from English to German. Since 2007, Ramona has always been by my side and I could rely on her for translating anything that I needed to understand.

My German wife actually tried many times in the past years to get me to learn German properly. She did an effort to teach me – and she is a very good teacher – but there was always so much going on that I thought was more important and so I told her that I was too busy for learning German.

That’s how I have not learned German in the past 13 years while my wife could already communicate in Hindi with my family, in town and with the children after only two years with us. I have a lot of German vocabulary, many single words that make it possible for me to understand some conversations and the general direction of what is being talked about. For speaking myself however, I am missing the grammar! I thought I would learn it with my daughter, that I would learn along when she would learn German – but she learns so quickly that she has surpassed me by far already now!

When we were in Germany this time, we also paid a visit to the Foreign Office to get my residence permission renewed and while we were in that process, I was somehow tricked by the officers into signing that I will take a German course and finally learn the language. In such a situation you can hardly protest – they put the residence permission in front of me without much further questions, as I now have a German wife and daughter, but along with it there was a paper which I should sign: it committed me to doing a German course. Well, I guess their opinion that I should be able to speak German if living with my wife and daughter in Germany, is not fully wrong and so I can forgive them for being a bit tricky. 🙂

They even gave me a discount for doing the course in a German School. Due to our circumstances we chose to come back to India though and on 14th July 2013 I enrolled and started my first German course at the Goethe Institute in Delhi, in the Max Müller Bhawan.

I chose their ‘Blended Learning’ course, which is partly at the institute in Delhi and partly online, so that you can do your work from home. Ramona took up teaching my daily German class and I think I am slowly progressing.

At the institute, we have a nice, small group of eleven people and I tell you, going to school now is very different from going to school as a young boy. I really like our teacher and told at home already why: she does not shout, is not always annoyed and doesn't scream around. She is very patient, talks with respect and manners and never tried to beat any of us up! 😀