When I was a student in Germany, either I had always gone for low-qualified part-time jobs, or jobs based at my uni, focusing on teaching and research. When I was in England, I stumbled into admin work and gained some very interesting experiences that way.
After living in England for about two months, my savings from my summer job in Ireland started to run out, and I also found that I had too much time on my hands. Unlike my studies in Germany, my lectures in England took up very little of my time, but that's a topic for another column about my actual studies, which will soon follow. Anyway, one day in December 2006 I found a note on a notice board announcing that a company was looking for part-time staff in a database job. I sent an email to the address given, not really sure what the job was going to be about or if I would even get a reply. As it happened, though, I received a reply the same day and, after sending in my CV, I was invited for an interview.
Now, this was very exciting; this was my first proper job interview in a foreign country. When I got there, I had to do a test at the computer. Afterwards all applicants had to attend an interview for about 15 minutes. There was one woman interviewing me and another girl taking notes. The girl taking notes was actually a student too, and the personnel manager who interviewed me was lovely and even shared my love for Ireland. Thus, the interview was a very pleasant experience and nothing like the scary ordeals that can sometimes happen to you when looking for a job. I had a good feeling when I left. In addition, guess what? I was offered the job about a week later.
This job gave me the chance to dive deeper into English culture than I ever would have through my studies. I discovered striking differences between English and German work culture. Forgive me, fellow Germans, but in most cases, I actually prefer the English way of doing things. I started out doing data entry work, but as time went on and my employers liked my performance, I started to help creating websites. In the process, I learned HTML and other exciting things to do with the internet. I even was allowed to train other people, and I was constantly given praise for my performance. What's more, when I started out with the job, I was given detailed instructions and even a printed version of them. Whenever I had a question, my colleagues were more than willing to stop what they were doing and give me an explanation. Now, compare this to the usual job experience in Germany: here, usually you are given one explanation if one at all, and then left to your own devices. If you still have questions, it can often feel uncomfortable to ask others who are busy seriously going about their work. Also, German jobs are rather inflexible. If you want to do anything at all, you usually need to do an apprenticeship of at least three years, with a practical and a theoretical component taught at a school. Without that apprenticeship, you will only get into the lowest qualified or the most flexible jobs (and there are not many flexible jobs in Germany at all). Hence, in Germany, if you are employed as an administrator, you will do administration work exclusively. The way I was shown different jobs around my office in England would have been quite an impossibility in Germany.
I also liked the very informal atmosphere in the office, and picked up many English slang words there. Some of them aren't suitable to publish here, but I particularly liked the way one colleague used to tell girls that they were beautiful – 'your eyes are like swimming pools'!
Everyone called each other by their first names, and customers usually were addressed the same way. In Germany, this would be unthinkable. Even colleagues among each other sometimes take years until they move from "Herr/Frau X to a first name basis".
What can I say? Germany is my home, and after all said and done, here is probably where my heart is, but I do miss the flexible and informal working conditions I had in England.