My first cultural shock in Germany
I moved in Germany October 15th 2015. In two weeks I was ready to move in my flat-share and the days following it, I was already planning to go and do the infamous Anmeldung. If you don't know what an Anmeldung is, it boils down to: You register where you are living. Being from Albania I didn't mind waking up early and wait in line. I had done this countless times in Tirana, every single time I needed some sort of document from my local civil office. No panic here.
I was going to take a waiting number for two, a German friend of mine was going to do her Anmeldung also and she offered to help me fill out the form and talk to the official. The office opened at 8:00 am. I arrived round 7:20 and I was already 13th in line. As the time passed I was surprised to see people cut in line. This can't be Germany! I said to myself, but being able to speak 7 words total in German I was powerless to tell them anything, and to be completely honest, the guys who were cutting in line didn't look the kind of people you can really talk to about line etiquette.
Again my very recent Albanian life was still with me and I knew how to take my thoughts elsewhere and let these 5 people have their small victory. At 8:00 o'clock exactly the door opened and everyone flooded in the big waiting hall, lined up again in two lines and started taking their waiting numbers one by one. My turn was 8th I believe.
After what felt an eternity it was my turn to get the ticket. I am greeted with a "Was kann ich für Sie tun?" that thinking back about it sounded like Mandarin to me. I had memorized the key words "Zwei personen, bitte. Anmeldung" I guess she could tell I wasn't German even though I tried my best to pronounce them as good as possible. She didn't say anything more and printed out some piece of paper with a time in it. 11:10 am. I texted my friend and let her know too.
- Stiven, you left your religion out.
- Yes. I don't have a religion.
- Oh, but in that case you have to say that. Otherwise you have to pay taxes.
My brain was very confused in that moment. I learned what was the code for "no religion" and wanted to be done with it so I could have this piece of paper that will grant me access to a bank account and the entire German society. But still ... what did she mean by that? I had to learn more about this and boy did I have a surprise in store for me ...
That day I learned that in Germany taxes are automatically deducted from your salary and sent either to the Roman Catholic or Protestant church. I was appalled. I was reading stories of Muslims who didn't fill their correct data and were paying round 50€ per month to the church automatically and on top of that you had to pay 30€ to stop paying this tax. Atheists, Buddhists, Muslim, Christian; it didn't matter. If you weren't careful you would pay the church. Now, for the first time, being from Albania, gave a different perspective. There are places on earth that pay religious institution via state institutions. Talk about separation of state and church.
I was so shocked I started messaging every one I could and giving them the news. Some didn't believe me, some laughed it off and some just told me to be careful there are many traps like this in Europe. All of the sudden I think the veil of greatness that I had in my head tore and I was feeling the thing that my research before migrating was telling me to be careful: how to deal with cultural shock.
Luckily I survived without any injury and I am able to share my little simple story with you. There is no real point in it, maybe some one will be in my shoes one day. You are not alone buddy, other people share your shock.