Tag Archives: money

German Contracts

Here’s a thing.

If you talk to the English-speaking migrant population of Berlin about living in Berlin, they’ll tell you, ‘Oh, of COURSE you can live here without German. It’s NO PROBLEM. Absolutely FINE.’

This is true to a point. You can definitely go into a restaurant in Berlin and order in English. You can buy U-bahn tickets from the little automated machines and you can do it in English. You can use google translate on German web pages and basically get the gist of what’s going on. You can even find work in English, watch English films, buy English books from English bookstores and find English-speaking friends (in fact, it may be impossible to find friends who speak any other language except English).

But, if you want to live there, actually, live there, on your own, without someone in your household who speaks fluent German and is forced to translate all your documents for you (forced because they are married to you, or love you, or just can’t get away), then you are going to find it rough. And you are going to find yourself paying a lot of money to a lot of people for reasons that you cannot fathom and seem completely unfair.

The main reason I’ve gotten into trouble is because of the Germans’ obsession with having everything written down. If you want to end a contract, it must be written down, signed and sent to them, usually, 3 months in advance of when you want to end a contract. Contracts can only ever be cancelled at the end of the month, regardless of when you started your contract.

I first encountered this problem when I tried to end our rental contract. I knew we had to give 3 months notice, so I sent an email to our realtor with, what I thought was, 3 and a half months warning. The realtor emailed me back saying it would have to be in writing. Something about her broken English made me assume that I had to sign a specific form and as she also wanted to come and see the house the next week, I assumed she would bring the form to me and I would sign it then. When she came to visit, she informed me of the cancellation ‘only at the end of the month’ issue. She then pointed out that it was now too late for me to cancel when I wanted to cancel – there was no special form, I just had to write a letter and I would’ve had time if I had sent the letter the day I received her email requesting a written cancellation.

There are many misunderstandings there, not least of all that an email actually IS acceptable – I checked with a German lawyer – but the only way to get the realtor to agree to that would have been to involve the lawyer and we decided we didn’t want the hassle. In the end, an extra month turned out not to be a bad idea – what with all the stress of my visa being rejected, I don’t know if we would have managed to get the place empty and clean in time.

But, in the last week, I’ve just noticed another massive error on my behalf. I checked my bank account to make sure that I had no standing orders left to various vendors in Berlin. That’s when I saw that a yoga studio I had signed up to for a 6 month contract in 2015 was still taking money out of my bank account every month.

Why didn’t I notice it earlier, you might wonder. Well, getting into my German bank account was quite stressful. Part of it was the language and part of it was that I could never remember my password (yes, if I’d signed in more regularly perhaps the language wouldn’t have been stressful and I would have remembered the password better). I had no German credit card, so I didn’t need to organise payments to it, which is one reason I kept a pretty careful eye on my Australian bank account. But, also, the design of the bank website was not very user friendly. When you sign into the account, it tells you the general overall statement. If you want to know about actual transactions, you have to type in the dates of the period you want, instead of just clicking on the account and having all transactions appear. I know that sounds like a pretty poor excuse, but it meant that I would look in a very specific window to find a specific transaction and wouldn’t just scroll through my transactions like I do with my Australian bank account. When I scroll, I often find things that seem suspicious – usually it’s just that I’ve forgotten the transaction or it’s a weird name of something that I did actually buy, but it’s a good habit. The design of my German bank account didn’t encourage that. So, my usual behaviour with the German bank account was, if there’s still money in there, then we’re all good. Not great for picking up yoga memberships you didn’t know you still had.

So, I feel an absolute tool. When I signed up in 2015, the woman could tell that my German was no good, so she offered to do it all in English. I originally requested a 12 month contract, but she said it wasn’t possible (they had 12 month contracts on offer, but weren’t signing people on to them for some reason), so I would have to sign up to a 6 month contract. She took me through the important conditions of the (German) contract in English. At no point did she tell me that it would be automatically renewed after 6 months, unless I cancelled (in writing) – and it seems bizarre in hindsight that she wouldn’t sign me up for a 12 month contract, when the 6 month contract was actually ongoing. Most likely to do with price changes, or the minimum amount of time you had to keep the contract, of course, but still. It was another huge part of my misunderstanding of what kind of contract I was signing up to.

SO, last October, I got very busy applying for universities (I developed a plan. A misguided plan, but I wasn’t accepted into university, so it was all ok). I stopped going to yoga and by the time I had got my applications in, it was 6 months from the start of my yoga contract. Ah well, I thought, I’ll wait until I get back from Australia in January and then go renew my contract. Of course, I never set foot inside that studio again. The yoga studio also didn’t contact me in any way – didn’t send me receipts every month (as my internet provider did), didn’t send me emails thanking me for being a good customer (as my gas & electricity companies did), didn’t send me a letter on the one year anniversary of my signing up to the studio (as… tumblr did). Anything, any kind of contact or marketing that could have alerted me to the fact that I was still, as far as they were concerned, a member of their gym.

I’m pretty disgustingly mad about it all. Especially as I am currently unemployed in the UK and I could really do with the all the excess cash they’ve taken from me. I also don’t sign up for ongoing contracts like this, because I know, I KNOW, that it is how gyms screw you over. I’ve always signed up for fixed-term contracts because, yes, they might be a bit more expensive, but at least you know in advance how long you’ve signed up for and you don’t have to argue with the company about ending the contract.

But, as I said at the start of this post, you might be able to order a coffee in English in Berlin, but trying to do things that are more complex are going to get you into trouble. As all the highly aggressive people on the Toy Town Germany forum would tell me, ‘IT’S GERMANY, OF COURSE EVERYTHING IS IN GERMAN, YOU ABSOLUTE TOSSING SHIT-FOR-BRAINS’ (it’s a really supportive forum of English speakers in Germany, offering sound advice and abuse to people who dare to ask for help).  To which I say, ‘yes. Yes, I agree with you.’ Yes, I don’t think it’s easy just to live in Berlin without German. I don’t think people should just assume they can have everything translated easily into English, on the spot. However, when someone offers, of course your natural instinct is to go, ‘oh! You speak the language of my people? Oh, please, yes, let us speak in that language for I love it so and also don’t understand your language in anyway and it makes me red-faced and sweaty trying to speak it.’ It’s kind of hard to have people act very kindly towards you, assure you that everything’s fine, and of course you can sign this German contract, here, let me explain it to you in English, and then have them to turn out to have screwed you over. Sure, I shouldn’t trust everyone. But, also, why shouldn’t I trust them if they seem like they’re being kind and helpful and reassuring me that I do understand the contract that’s been put in front of me? It would be SO RUDE and inconvenient to tell them otherwise. Besides, how often do I read the T’s and C’s of contracts/companies/internet data-scraping apps even when they’re in English?

angry-man-1

‘HOW DARE YOU ASK FOR HELP ABOUT DOING THINGS IN ENGLISH IN GERMANY ON AN ENGLISH-SPEAKING FORUM DEDICATED TO THAT EXACT PROBLEM. I LEARNT GERMAN FOR 15 YEARS BEFORE ARRIVING HERE AND IT WASN’T TO EXPLAIN THE GERMAN-SPEAKING WORLD TO SCUM LIKE YOU’ every person on the Toy Town Berlin forum. Image found here.

Up until recently, government offices have refused to speak to foreigners in English. It seems harsh until you realise it actual protects the office from accusations that they have mistranslated something (and people have been disadvantaged because of it) and it protects the foreigner from signing something they haven’t properly looked at. Sure, I couldn’t understand a lot of the German forms that were handed to me. Yes, I needed an evening with them, plus some Google translate, plus a German friend to help look them over again. But, that’s a GOOD thing. That meant that I had really looked at the goddamn thing and kind of understood what was going on.

I spent a lot of time in Berlin being highly anxious. Part of that was the circumstances of my job. Part of it was that daily interactions were sweaty, panic-attack inducing mumble fests of wrongly pronounced words and misunderstandings. And part of that was the feeling that I was maybe, probably, absolutely definitely missing *something* that was going to get me into trouble somewhere down the line. And that was because, due to my lack of German, I kept myself distant from so many things that happened in German. Another, less anxious person would have confronted that anxiety head on, tried to be proactive about stuff and refused to sign things unless a German-speaking friend had looked it over for me. But, that would require making requests of people, spending time doing difficult things and possibly telling people, ‘no, wait, I don’t understand.’ All of which are things that I don’t do very easily.

So, yeah. You can live in Berlin with no German. But don’t think it will be easy. And best be prepared with some big ol’ pockets.

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Money Money Money

I have so much work to do. I have an entire play to re-write and learn by July 12th. I am possibly going to Ireland to sing for a night. I have to try and re-write my mammoth (possibly racist) full-length play by the end of August. I also have to, you know, go to that work they actually pay me real money for.

And, yet, here I am, sitting in Starbucks (there was no Caffe Nero around) committing more disjointed thoughts to the blogosphere as if it MATTERED. As if this were somehow IMPORTANT. As if this were in anyway USEFUL.

Ugh. But I can’t help it. Its like a compulsion this blogging thing. Like Facebook. Or cable TV. Or popping pimples. The minute I make some sort of daft resolution like, ‘I’m going to blog about a new thing I do each day!’ I somehow feel compelled to keep to it. If only I had the same dedication to exercise. Or diets. Or… anything else aside from my useless useless blog.

The other problem with this ‘new-thing-a-day’ thing is that whilst it is excellent at inspiring me when I don’t know what else to write about, when I do have plenty of other ideas of things to write about, it just kind of gets in the way. Because one part of my brain is all, ‘But I have to write about the new things!’ And the other side of my brain is, ‘No, we want to write about the serious, thoughtful things that may have been inspired my any number of experiences and cannot be so neatly packaged into new thing = new thought=new blog post.’ And then both sides of the brain argues for a while until I end up in an anxious puddle on the floor having come to no decision about which side of the brain is right and having written NOTHING. On top of this there are some new things which really deserve a whole post all to themselves but if I don’t write the post on the day the new thing happened, then there’s this enormous backlog of things I want to write about and things I need to write about and oh good god kill me now I’m so anxious and there’s not enough hours in the day and I think I will have to stop eating/sleeping/bathing if I have any hope of getting it all done in time.

This post is not about new things. This is another post on my general impressions of Morocco and Marrakech. And I’m going to write it and then I’m going to go to work and I’m not going to worry too much about the enormous workload I have given myself (NOT going to, NOT going to) and the fact that in spite of this workload I seem to not be able to stop coming up with new schemes and plans and ideas to make it even larger.

Marrakech. Well, Marrakech. The theme of Marrakech is money. A hell of a lot of money. You may think this is odd. You may have heard that Morocco is a poor country. You may have heard that it is a cheap country. These may well be true in places that I did not visit. Areas far outside of Marrakech. Perhaps somewhere in the desert it is very cheap. But my main impression of Morocco is that you arrive, they hook you up to some kind of intravenous device and they then proceed to suck out all of your money. I felt like I was haemorrhaging money. Vomiting money. Whatever painful analogy you would like to use.

There were a couple of things that contributed to this impression. Firstly, this is the first holiday I have ever gone on that I didn’t go on with some kind of budget in mind. So, it wasn’t until I watched the money flowing out of my hands like water that I started questioning whether or not I could afford things or genuinely needed them or wanted them. There’s nothing more stressful then getting all your shopping home and then thinking, ‘now, hang on, did I really need $28 worth of dried fruit and almonds? Perhaps I would have preferred to spend some of that money on food from the other food groups.’ Secondly, I did next to no research before arriving in Marrakech so was unaware of how much things *should* cost or how much things might cost if you went certain places, or what what things were worth and what things were necessary and what things were rip-offs and yada yada yada. Thirdly, I’ve been incredibly lucky recently whereby whilst I’ve travelled a lot, I haven’t actually spent as much money as you would think. This is because of a combination of factors – staying with friends and family; having my travel paid for due to a variety reasons; having specific reasons for travel (eg conferences), which take up all my days and don’t leave me wandering, unsupervised, amongst brightly coloured markets and shopping centres. This has given me a warped idea of how much money  someone might spend on holidays and so this past week I’ve been having little heart attacks as everything piles up. And also annoying Liz no end with my endlessly new and inventive justifications for things that I had spent money on (‘If I keep this for 10 years I would have only paid $15 each year for it!’ ‘I once spent a lot of money on a holiday when I was 17 and it hasn’t yet financially crippled me for life.’ ‘These were all things I was planning to buy in the UK at some point – I just hadn’t planned on buying them altogether on the same day.’)

It wasn’t all my fault or just my naivete, however, that lead to the near  immediate vaporisation of my money after it was taken out of the ATM. See, the thing about Marrakech is that the city is very enthusiastic about the idea of you giving it all of your money. ALL OF IT.

I’ve written before about the fact that everyone is trying to catch your eye, everyone is trying to get your attention and get you into their stall. If you do take them up on the offer of coming inside, they will be very friendly, pointing out different things, telling you the good things about their products, bringing you new ones if you don’t like the things you are looking at. However, it all changes once you start to leave the store. They will get very grumpy with you. Or, they will start lowering their prices. They will follow you out. They will demand you give them a price for the things you have been looking at. They will wrap things up you have said you don’t want. They will pull you back inside and show you the things you have refused once again. They can’t quite believe that you would have seen things, liked the look of them, asked about the price, but then decided (probably rationally) that you don’t actually want/need the thing anyway. There is this attitude that, if we liked it, we automatically want to buy it and its just a matter of settling on the correct price. This is an idea that makes me very uncomfortable – the price has always been a big factor in determining whether or not I want something and the fact that ‘it’s a bargain’ may actually sway me towards buying something that I may not have previously. In Marrakech I found the opposite happening. I would give a price that would be refused and I would be encouraged to give another price and another until I found myself shaking hands with someone and agreeing to pay a much larger sum than I would have ever considered paying if I was back home. What I’m trying to say is I’m terribly bad at bargaining and I’m fairly certain it cost me (but I’d rather not think about how much it cost me).

Of course, this a large generalisation and there were some stall-holders around who would still smile at you as you left the store, or once you had explained that what you were looking at was not quite right, they understood and said no problem and let you leave. But, because these experiences were few and far between and because they are only what I would have expected, they don’t stick in my mind as much.

The other thing that seemed to happen quite a bit was the unexpected costs. The sudden add-ons. You would agree to something, some kind of service at a certain price and then things would keep getting added on and on and on and the price would go up and up and up. We only worked out later in the week that the only way to stop this was by backtracking and saying you didn’t want the service anymore, or asking about where exactly all the add-ons where coming from and then, miraculously, we found out that all the extra services weren’t strictly necessary. Or, at least weren’t as expensive as they had first been presented.

Alternatively, you would be given no choice of service. Choices would be made for you. The most expensive and involved service would be chosen for you and a flat rate given and it would only be later on that you would realise that there were many shorter, less involved and cheaper options available that you hadn’t been aware of. Perhaps this, again, is my fault for being naive or not questioning things or not researching enough or not just saying ‘no’ (no was a very difficult word to say over the course of the week and I’m still not entirely certain why it was so difficult. I mean, ‘no’ is usually difficult for me, but not usually this impossible)

What I look like as a tourist. Found at: http://myzerowaste.com/2008/07/zero-waste-and-saving-money/

What I look like as a tourist. Found at: http://myzerowaste.com/2008/07/zero-waste-and-saving-money/

My favourite scenario was the ‘didn’t-even-know-it-was-a-service-service’, which was when someone would assist you in some way and then after the assistance had delivered, a fee would suddenly be demanded. A similar cousin of this is when you refuse a henna tattoo (or similar) and then the person grabs your hand and puts a tattoo on you without your consent and then demands you pay for it (because the tattoo is already there now and you can’t get it off).

Believe me, I do understand why these things happen. And it’s as much the fault of the wealthy tourists who have come before me setting a precedent as it is anything else. I’m also sure it must be a bit ridiculous/irritating to many of these Moroccan stall-holders and tour guides when white, middle-class Europeans dripping in expensive technology and clothing cry poor and say they can’t possibly afford whatever it is that is being offered them. But, there is also a limit. There obviously has to be a limit, because… well, because obviously at some point you do have to have money to live on when you return from your 5 day holiday. And, besides which, lets say I do give away all of my money (ALL OF IT) to various Moroccans for various reasons. It’s not actually all that much money. It wouldn’t actually go that far, when you stop and consider how many people were trying to get at it. And it wouldn’t make any long-lasting different to anyone’s life.

Nevertheless, I spent the week thinking a great deal about money. Feeling anxious about having it, feeling anxious about giving it away; feeling conflicted about why I had it and someone else didn’t; disliking all the different ways people had at getting at it and then disliking myself for disliking those ways and every other possible emotion you could possibly think of – unless of course it was a positive emotion. I didn’t track many of those. But, hey, when do I ever?

Jokes!

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