Until now, I had not known that several banks and shops down their shutters at lunch time in Germany. So in keeping with this tradition of Mittag Pause, I have taken to wandering down to a nearby cafe for lunch every day. The staff smile politely at my lame attempts at speaking their language and leave it to their Nepalese colleague to take my order, which he does, in Hindi.
The time spent eating alone allows me to reflect on the new environment that I find myself in and the happenings of the morning or the day before. So it was that I was sitting in front of my plate of food this afternoon, that my thoughts turned to last night’s conversation.
After yet another unsatisfactory house viewing, I was making my way back to the hotel in a taxi that I fell into a conversation with the driver. For the first mile or so, I said nothing as I was still wrapped in thoughts about the house when the driver, a young man of about twenty or so asked me the now very familiar, ‘so, where are you from?’. My reply was the even more trite, “India via England”.
My response prompted an extraordinary tirade from him which began with some very strong opinions about the English and their attitudes to his own beliefs as a young Turkish Muslim man raised in Germany, his faith, how it was perceived and ended with who he would marry some day (it was a long journey and he had a lot to say).
Finally, as he was dropping me off, he asked me if he could find work in London. He had heard so much about the city and how wonderful it was there. He had studied Economics and was a German national and wanted to work as a tax assistant. Could he do that?
I encouraged him to try while the UK was still in the EU. And secretly hoped that some of his strong views and ideas would be challenged by living in a different country. As someone who is now embarking on life in a third country, I know how much this moving from one country to the next has made me take stock what I had grown up believing to be right and absolutely wrong. How much it has contributed to my own growing sense of greyness around several issues.
Some months ago, Katherine Viner of The Guardian wrote about algorithms used by Facebook which are designed to give us what we want. How the newsfeed that will appear on our timelines will only reinforce our pre-existing beliefs and not challenge them in any way. Which can be dangerous and can distort how we view the world and its truths.
Living in different countries and being thrown out of your familiar environment can be the very antithesis to this kind of a world where everyone agrees with you. It forces you to see different points of view, interact with people with whom you have little in common, question what you had thought was unquestionable.
My pancake was growing cold, I thought of the young Turk (ha!) and tucked into its cheesy deliciousness. It tasted good.