From Boston to Berlin: Watching work and workers

The law and mental health conference that has brought me to Berlin starts in earnest on Monday. In the meantime, the trip from Boston to Berlin gave me an opportunity to observe work and workers.

Sharp customer service

Sometimes one business dealing is enough to predict whether a young person will have a successful career.

When I went to my bank to get some Euros for the trip, the customer service representative was totally on top of the transaction. She explained the exchange rate and fees, gave me some helpful travel tips about account security, and pointed out that I can avoid higher ATM fees in Germany by using the bank’s European partner.

As a sidebar, she saw from my account balances that I might qualify for a higher-yield money market account for some of my savings and without being pushy or overbearing, arranged for me to get information about that possibility.

Believe me, I’m not writing to tout Bank of America. But I did notice the kind of emotionally intelligent worker that employers should be tripping over themselves to hire.


Sometimes cultural differences manifest themselves in the most ordinary of ways. The Delta crew on the flight from NYC to Berlin was friendly, courteous, and efficient; it was about as painless a “red eye” flight as one can imagine.

By comparison, however, I couldn’t help thinking back to another work-related trip to Germany last year, when the entire Lufthansa flight crew — cockpit and cabin together — lined up at attention outside the gate before boarding the aircraft as a group. And they, too, provided excellent service.

Language privilege

Once you leave the U.S., you see the degree to which English has become a universal language. Workers in most major cities know enough English to help those who speak only English (i.e., most of us Americans) navigate a menu or complete a purchase. Today in Berlin, that extended all the way to a young woman working behind the counter at a fast-food restaurant.

That’s why I wince when I hear some Americans complaining about services in our country that are offered in languages in addition to English, typically in the way of ATM menus or customer service options over the phone. “This is America. They should speak American  English here!,” they bellow — while hinting that a bunch of foreigners are somehow taking over the country.

I’ve traveled internationally on various occasions since 1981. And I can attest that over the decades, everyday workers in many non-English speaking countries have done a helluva lot more to learn our language than we have of theirs. Those who fear world domination of someone else’s native tongue can rest easy.

Berlin cabbie

A first: A cab driver who asked me to roll up the window because the wind was messing up his well-coiffed hair. I found that very amusing.

Slow for a reason?

Don’t know whether this was due to the time of day, a sign of the economic times, or simply how Berliners spend their Sundays, but here in the heart of city, the restaurants early this evening were not doing landmark business. The modestly-priced Italian restaurant where I enjoyed a plate of spaghetti, located on a quiet square right off a main shopping boulevard, hosted only a handful of diners.

Nevertheless, I was reminded of how pleasant European city life can be, with plenty of establishments offering casual al fresco dining. An extended, hassle-free dinner, featuring people watching and a coffee at the end, is still very possible here on the Continent.

One response

  1. I like the way in which your article transports the reader along the journey with you. Excellent cultural experience.

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