Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Lessons in humilty

Living in Zurich has been a series of lessons in humility. Some of them are general expat-ness, but others seem to be just random. They all seem to revolve around losing a sense of my competency in life. Not being able to read my mail or get telephone numbers from a voicemail. Not knowing how to pay a bill or change a fuse. Not being able to find shoes in a shoestore. Shopping like a bewildered foreigner--hours spent wandering the aisles in frustration, trying to imagine how else item X could possibly be envisaged (and thus which section of the store would have it)--and this not changing at all after 2.5 years--I still shop like I just got off the boat.

I'm feeling it a lot at work, too. In every job I've ever had I've generally played certain roles, such as being the equipment/instrumentation person, or being seen as a resource for using certain pieces of software. Here I don't fill any of my old roles, and it's disorienting and makes me sad. I also experience the silencing effect of being female far more intensely here--that when I speak up in groups people (at best) ignore me or (worse) literally talk over me (seriously they just start talking as though I weren't in the middle of a sentence and still speaking). There have been meetings at work where I just said the same thing 5 times in a row because I was getting no response. This taps into a real problem vein for me--I have a hangup about wanting to be heard, to be understood, and when I'm having a conversation with someone that I can see is going awry, I get really attached to making sure they understand my meaning. This means I wind up repeating myself, ever more forcefully, and it means I wind up in a lot of "arguments" because I can't let go of the idea of making sure they see my point from my perspective.

I had a bad day at work yesterday. At our weekly group meeting someone presented a side project they have been working on for several months. I listened in shock as they described reinventing a wheel I'd already invented at my last job--I have about 2 years experience doing literally exactly what this person in my group is doing. [ETA: And my group knows this--in fact that experience is the primary reason I was offered the position here.] I had no idea, and it really bruised my ego that no one had ever once asked me for advice. This is the heart of my experience here--that I feel as though I have nothing to offer (or at least, that no one recognizes that I have anything to offer). I try not to take it personally--it is their loss, after all, but it does go on day after day and it sort of weighs on me.

I probably needed to have some lessons in humility, though. It's had some good effects. I'm far more detached from things--I'm much more able to see things happening and just let them go on without needing to get involved. Yeah, I've learned to mind my own business. Ha. I've also become way more relaxed about life's administrative duties. I'm one of those people who has never cut class in my life. I've missed class, from being sick or whatever, but I've never just woken up and thought, Nah, I'm not gonna go today. I attend to bills and such obsessively. I'm kind of high strung that way. The most frequent advice I've heard in my life is to "take it easy" and "not take it so personally". Don't you think, if I could, I would?!?! But now, here, I've turned into one of those people who throws away letters from the landlord with barely a glance. My policy is, if it's in German and overly wordy, I toss it. Short German things I'll read, but when I see a dense page full of specialized administrative or technical vocabulary that's not in the dictionary, I just dump it. I've come to believe that if it's important enough, they'll either write or call again, or someone will clue me in (Didn't you get the email about the mandatory meeting that starts in 5 minutes?).

My entire experience here is colored by my lack of ability to speak and understand German. This has turned out to be a pretty traumatic item which I will leave for another post.

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Blogger Chris said...

I can't even imagine... I can relate to getting frustrated about people talking over you. Grrr!

Blogger Midsummer night's knitter said...

oh - sounds hard.We move to Zurich in just over 5 weeks. I won't be working, but I just know that I am going to be spending much of my life just not getting what is going on around me, failing to understand German, never mind the Swiss variety... Amusing/horrifying the locals with my attemps - 'ich heisse Schoggi'... Hope you have a good festive season,


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