June 11, 2004

End-of-Week Update

Meet the Mitarbeiter (und Mitarbeiterinnen): Tonight we're having a social event at work -- an employee art show (producing software for use by creative people leads many of us to believe that we too are creative and artistic). Spouses, significant others, and children are invited; we've been promised food, drink, and general merriment.

This will be Shelby's first chance to meet most of these co-workers of mine that she spends every day hearing about. (Except for a small core group of people who've been together since the very beginning, my co-workers aren't much for doing things together outside of work -- and our foreign not-quite-getting-it-ness makes us even less likely candidates to pal around with.) Hopefully we'll all make good impressions on each other.

Death to the Materialistic Great Satan . . . no, wait: I was reading another Hamburg-based blog recently in which the US was being condemned for (among other things) its "materialistic McDonalds culture". Walking around this past week, I've reflected on how nobody living in Hamburg can seriously point a finger at anyone else's society for being materialistic.

Growing up in Orange County, home to South Coast Plaza (the highest-grossing mall per square foot in the United States!) and Fashion Island, and then going on to live in more-money-than-sense Silicon Valley, not all that far away from the Stanford Shopping Center, I feel like I can say I know something about ultra-concentrated displays of hyper-materialism -- and Hamburg has just as many of them, or more, as anywhere in the States.

Walking in the Jungfernsteig -- Hamburg's tony shopping district -- a few months ago, we passed a sandwichboard that a jewelry store had put out on the sidewalk, advising us to COME IN NOW because the something-or-other prestige watch (Rolex? Patek Phillipe? I forget), normally selling for 3500 Euro, was NOW REDUCED to just 2000 Euro! Across the street from my office is Stilwerk, where people with an unlimited amount of money can buy stylish Italian-designed egg cups from Alessi, and then go upstairs and spend 5900 Euro on a set of bookshelves, or 200 Euro on a garden chair. The subway station that I travel through every day has large glass display cases on the main platform, where clothing retailers on the street above showcase 100 Euro blouses and 175 Euro pairs of pants, in hopes that female travellers will be seduced away from their journey.

I know that most people in Hamburg aren't rich and ostentatious -- I'm reminded of that everytime I ride the bus. And I know that living just a short walk away from the Jungfernsteig, we're in the eye of the storm, local-materialism-wise. But still, every day the streets in our neighborhood are filled with Beautiful People carrying big, full shopping bags with elite names printed on the outside ...

As for McDonalds -- well, yeah, that is our fault. But maybe Americans are getting fed up with them too; Super Size Me seems to be the latest underground hit back in the States ...

Staying-in-Germany News: My manager had a talk with our company lawyer yesterday; I don't know exactly what she said, but it must've been a dash of cold water over the "no problem!" promises made by the HR guy. So, before they go ahead and hire the tax consultant, we're going to wait until my manager's manager gets back from vacation (on June 20th); we'll all sit down, figure out how much the company might need to spend to keep me over, how much the company is actually willing to spend, and decide whether or not this is even feasible before we start bringing in outside help.

Posted by Kevin at June 11, 2004 09:01 AM

Hi Kevin!

I've only just discovered your weblog and have started reading it. Very interesting and very nicely done, I must say. I am originally from Hamburg (now in Lübeck), and reading your comments I did have a laugh or two about some stereotypical Hamburg curiosities that seem absolutely normal to some locals, but must of course seem awkward to a new citizen like you. Anyway, I find your views about Hamburg, Germany and the way the Germans portrait the Americans very entertaining and enriching (by the way, I think you know more about Hamburg's history than I do), and I'm very much looking forward to reading your following entries.

Best of luck for your work and your stay in Germany.
Regards, Ken

Posted by: Ken at June 12, 2004 01:45 PM
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