My List

My list of things to do in December:
- Apply For German Drivers License
- Excommunicate from the Church
- Convince Herr O. at the Tortureamt* that I speak fluent German
- Determine if 6 months in Switzerland will invalidate my work/residence permit in Germany

When I decided to pull the trigger and transfer to my company's Munich office, it seemed almost an afterthought. I had been here for over a year, things were going well with M. and I knew I wanted to stay at least for a few more years. After being here for nearly two years, I didn't expect any significant changes to my life as a result of the transfer. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Let's start with Mr. Get it Done. That would be my accomplice, my partner, my gadget-loving American consumer in disguise, M. As much as I had made up my mind to make my Munich situation more permanent, I was not ready for the tidal wave like force with which M. would try to get us through all the bureacracy, to-do's and paperwork. I never even saw it coming. Blub. M. took to the battle with an intensity and fervor like I had never seen. Tactics were fine tuned, weapons chosen, training started.

After 3 months, Frankfurt and Munich living and working authorities agreed to let me live and work in Germany for 1 year. One month later, after a botched effort, I reappeared in my company's system with a Munich home base and a salary in Euros! Deutschebank finally declared me a suitable customer and I got my bank account, Amex let me have a credit card and the first paychecks in Euros started to flow in. (Now that's sweet. I agree with Gisele). I met with the traveling health insurance man, where I was declared healthy enough, if a little over the hill, to partake in their expensive insurance plan. But, hey, I have the right to see the chef if I am really ill. Not the man who will prepare a tomato-mozzarella salad for me as I first thought, but the big boss doctor him or herself. I received my mobile in Germany(yes mobile, cell phones are for the Americans; I will not call it a handy, ever). My name cards came and my lohnsteuerkarte and I make my first konto transfer and any number of things to settle into life in Munich. Sounds like I made it, right? Well...

In reality it never settles down. As fast as one fire is out, the next one comes. Which brings me to my drivers license. You are allowed 6 months from the time you register your residence in Germany until you must obtain your German drivers license. (c'mon, read it in your best bossy German accent). Otherwise, no more drivey drive.

We found a fabulous web site that promised to take care of everything for expats - just apply! 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month, show up for a 6.5 hour theoretical driving class, take the test and away you go down the autobahhhhhhnnnn. Whee! With the 6 months time limit rapidly approaching, I headed to class bright and freaking early on Saturday morning, after announcing the chances that I would actually attend class that day were slim to none. You see, I have learned nothing is ever working out on the first try here. Getting anything done in Germany is like playing Monopoly with my sister when we were kids - there were constantly evolving rules depending on her mood and the situation. You could never assume you were getting the full story and had to learn to ask, ask again, cross check and still there were booby traps and pit falls around every corner.

So, I showed up at driving school, which in reality was first aid class with an eye test. Why on earth you need an eye test to participate in first aid class and what that in turn had to do with fahrschule will remain forever a mystery. We left, and Mr Get it Done was all revved up at my disorganization/inability to guess that driving school was actually first aid class, or was it? We left. In a rather misguided effort to get something, anything, done, we went to the eye doctor to have an eye test.

My eyes were analyzed and scanned and then the test began. We could only do it in German, which would have been fine, if I could only figure out how to say, 'the chart looks extremely blurry'. Das ist viele bloory? Who knows, so I settled in for a besser/schlechter game that stretched into eternity. In the end, the best it got was like looking out a rain drenched window, into a dusky, foggy night. Not surprisingly, the doctor declared me legally blind. No certificate for me and a new nickname from M. - my little maulwurf. Look it up. And no laughing.

We got it straightened out in the end but I was so irritated I was arguing with the doctor and thus began my mistrust for the German medical system as well as the beginnings of a stomach and headache. Nevermind that he was the equivalent of a Lenscrafter and of no medical certification whatsoever. Stamped and signed document in hand, we went home, I crawled into bed and wondered, what have I done? What have I done, indeed.

I left for work this morning and my immigration counselor, M., did some more helpful research for me. In the end, for the drivers license, I need to apply to a German driving school. Then I need to file a stack of paperwork at the tortureamt. They determine what are the requirements for me to get the license and tell the school. The school adds on some additional requirements to make its margin. After I complete it all I get to go to the tortureamt and take the driving test. The tortureamt then lets the driving school know if I passed at which point they all agree I can have my license. Just for information, no first aid class or eye test is required. If it sounds like they are all in cahoots, well, they are. There is a German mafia.

M. figured that while I am at the tortureamt I could take care of the additional steps to excommunicate from the church, convince my case worker that I speak German well enough so he waives my requirement for 600 hours of integration course and bring my Auslandeinsatz in to declare that even though I work outside of Germany and will for at least the next 6 months it is not because I don't want my work and residence permit for Germany. Oooooh no. I definitely would much rather stay. I just feel so much at ease here. ;)

Def. Totureamt. aka. Kreisverwaltungsreferat (Kay-Fow-Air)
Multipurpose building where you start at one help desk and get bounced around and around until you ultimately end up back where you started. The strategy round begins where you typically fint out you left an important document at home, uncertified, untranslated, etc. and get sent back to start. The only hope is to wheel in your entire filing cabinet. And you were all wondering what is in those silver, Rimowa, money-laundering looking cases all Germans are carrying around with them.


Rositta said...

I had to laugh all the way through your entry, sorry I thought Germany was perfect, he he.. You should try all that in Greece though, that makes Germany look down right efficient...ciao

J said...

Were you able to get out of the integration course?

As far as I know, a First Aid class is still required for a drivers' license and it's all in German. However, all you have to do is attend and participate. There were some people in the course I attended that didn't speak a word of German and still got the certificate saying they had attended afterwards (there isn't an exam).

Michelle said...

Rositta - I know I know. It is funny. After a few days usually.

J - I still have to try to get out of it. We will do some practice this weekend. Wish I didn't get so nervous when I speak in German!

Amy said...

Hi, I'm G's sister---we met once on the phone when G and C were on the train to Milan, remember? Really enjoy your blog---This entry in particular, reminded me of my italian driving school debaucle---I had to take 6 months of classes (in a classroom, ugh) and then 8 hours of driving lessons (really important especially since I'd only been driving on my own for about 14 years....) then the test, and about 800 euro later, I had my italian driving license!!!!What a trip, sounds like Germany is a bit further ahead than the mediterranean! hoping to meet you in person at xmas....happy december! amy

Michelle said...

Hi Amy, I remember! Hope things are going well in NY - I'll be home at Christmas for a week :)