Fusing Down Under & Deutschland. Regular guest DUB blogger Georgia Gilson attended the launch of Lifeswap's 10th episode and tells us all about it.
Those living as foreigners in another country know the delights, horrors and oddities that come with being an unwitting ambassador for your own country in a faraway land. Lifeswap is a web series made up of delightful vignettes that explore the oddities and idiosyncrasies of German and Kiwi life. “Group Effort”, the 10th episode of Lifeswap, was launched this month in a public screening at the Hackescher Höfe cinema in Berlin-Mitte, featuring New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and officially opened by NZ’s ‘First Bloke’, Clarke Gayford – but more about that later.
The premise is, a German man living in Wellington, New Zealand, and a Kiwi guy living in Münster, Germany. In the course of their monthly Skype conversations, on which each short episode is based, the pair shine a spotlight on one strange thing. From accent-related faux pas to cultural cringes, there are a myriad of cultural touchpoints relating to both New Zealand and Germany in each one.
One of the earlier episodes of Lifeswap centres around a smelly tea towel in Jörg’s Wellington flatshare and how when he tells the housemate “this tea towel is smelly, please give me a new one!” there is a good reason why it doesn’t go down well. Duncan, ever the sensitive cultural diplomat, says, “We Kiwis have a proud tradition of not talking about our problems. We don’t like to assume we can tell others what to do.”
He tells Jörg, “Hint at the problem, instead of confronting it head-on.” Peppering sentences with words such as ‘possibly’, ‘would you mind’ are instructions to help the German navigate his way around a difficult conversation softly, as well as making your voice go up at the end of the sentence, “reassuring the other person it may be your problem.” The episodes artfully weave such cultural teachings throughout, as well as little German and English lessons, with smatterings of subtitles for those who may not yet be so Deutsch-confident.
Creators Steffen Kreft (from Germany) and William Connor (a Kiwi) know all too well the trials and tricks of surviving life in another culture, on the other side of the world. While the series is to an extent based on encounters they themselves have had, they were quick to remind the audience at the event that they are not the characters, Duncan and Jörg. They did, however, confess they’ve grown so fond of the characters, that it will be hard to give them up – whenever that may be. When asked what for him what has been the most difficult ongoing cultural barrier, as a Kiwi in Berlin, Connor said it’s the customer service and a constant thread of people being in service positions who don’t want to be friendly. While they don’t tackle that theme head-on in Lifeswap, the ‘friendliness’ versus ‘directness’ debate is underlying in many of the episodes.
Backed by the Goethe Institut and New Zealand Education’s Think New campaign, the 10th episode of Lifeswap focused on cultural exchange at university. In preparing to write the episode, Connor and Kreft say they sat down with a group of Germans who had studied in New Zealand, and Kiwi students in Berlin, to hear about authentic cultural barriers that they should explore. Among other things, the episode looked at how Kiwis talk about their own successes – or rather don’t talk about them, in order to have them talked about. It seems complicated, yes, but it is actually very simple: talk it down, or let others do the talking.
Georgia Gilson is an Australian freelance writer and communications consultant living in Berlin. She works predominantly with German start-ups as they launch into English-speaking markets, as well as tweeting and blogging about culture, news and politics.
All images by DUB photographer Rosie Condon