Thursday, November 30, 2006

Leaving Regensburg

I'm leaving Regensburg in a few hours and cannot to wait to get out of here. Never in my life have I been exposed to a culture and a group of people who were so inhospitable and unfriendly.

I came here under an exchange program between Brandeis and Regensburg. Earlier this year, 2 other people from Brandeis came here - an Australian and an American, both white. One of them was a student and put up in a great dorm in the heart of the old town, and the other one was a visiting lecturer (like me) and put up in a very nice flat. They were invited to people's homes in the countryside, taken out by the math dept and generally treated in a warm and friendly manner. They didn't speak German before they came here and language wasn't a barrier.

Before I came, I knew at least 10 people in the University because of the exchange program. They all visited Brandeis for a year each (spread out over the 5 years I was there) and I regularly went out with them, invited them to my house and told them about things to do in Boston. I kept in touch with some of them and generally considered them to be friends.

It's been 2 months since I came here and not once was I invited to somebody's house for a drink, a meal or even a get-together. There were a couple of drinking binges with M and a couple of raucous football matches with D. I was put up in an awful dorm, far from the university and the old town, with no phone and no internet access. There were occasions when I asked some of the people I knew from earlier, about plans for the weekend but got no response. They all go home for the weekend and a couple of times I asked (or hinted) about coming along. Some vague excuses were given - a fragile aunt, a paranoid mother, my parents don't speak English or maybe next week. I thought I knew them well enough to say I had nothing to do, was feeling lonely and bored, but it didn't help.

I tried to fit in out here. I spent a couple of months learning German, got a bike to be able to get around and didn't complain about the food - bread and sausages. I tried to make my lectures accessible to students and faculty and put in a lot of work into each lecture by trying to keep them at the same standard or style as the average lecture in the math dept. Heck, I even attended math seminars in German. I explored the countryside on my bike, went to soccer matches and travelled to places in and around Bavaria. Somehow, it didn't make any difference to how I was treated. The cops assumed I was an illegal alien on a stolen bike, bouncers didn't want to let me in to clubs, the faculty couldn't be bothered to treat me like they treated other visitors and most of the students I knew from earlier acted as if they hardly knew me. Had it not been for M (who's half American) and D (who's East German), my time here would have been even worse.

This wasn't my first time in Europe nor was it the first time I'd spent more than a few days in one place. Vienna was one of the best times I've had (and Germans claim Austria is racist) and in 2 weeks there, I was welcomed by people I had never met earlier. I didn't expect the kind of hospitality I'd get in India or other places in the third world but the unfriendliness was something I wasn't prepared for.

Germans take strong exception to being called racist. It's associated with mass murders and riots. Treating people of different races in an unequal manner probably has some German equivalent. I don't care to know what it is.

Anyway, Paris beckons and I hope never to come back to this part of the world. And this time, I'm disabling comments.