Dr Gagan Syal’s Indian curry with German beer
There is a funny story behind Dr Gagan Syal’s book’s title “Indian Curry with German beer”, but more than that, his book is about real intercultural encounters that Dr Syal experienced in Germany. “All the incidents are illustrated as short stories. Each story is not less than a movie scene with a lot of Indo-German culture shocks,” says Dr Syal.
Born and brought up in the small town of Faridabad in Haryana, India; Dr Syal moved to Germany and made a successful career at Mercedes-Benz. He gives lectures at various universities. His own experience and intercultural mantras helped many foreigners integrate quickly in Germany. Pooja Chaturvedi talked to the author about his book, how the idea came by, his life in India and Germany and about the funny story behind the book’s title.
1. Can you tell us more about the book? How did the idea come by?
This book is an answer to a common question: “How was your experience with Germans”? After staying 10 years in Germany and moving back to India, I hear this question almost every day. It is all about real intercultural incidents. It’s a light read , a friendly and humorous intercultural book.
The idea to write the book came spontaneously and just in time. As people say, sometimes that one sight is enough to be the reason for your biggest achievement. I found mine at the Frankfurt Airport. Late in the afternoon, I was going through a collection of newly launched books at the bookstall. And, a quote caught my attention for a minute. It says “If you don’t find a right book, it’s your duty to write one”. And, this was my light bulb.
My book encloses real intercultural incidents that I faced in Germany. Each story is not less than a movie scene. It contains golden rules and tips for an Indian in Germany as well as for a German in India. My book helps to understand, feel, learn and enjoy the German culture. It is a manual for Indian employees, business partners, students, travelers and visitors in Germany.
2. How did you come with the title of the book?
The book contains humor and a mix of two cultures. Hence, I was looking for a title that justifies these two ingredients. I picked up the best and the most famous things from both the culture. Hence, I came up with the title, ‘Indian Curry with German beer’. Also, my personal fondness for Indian spicy curry and chilled German beer can be the reason too.
Enlarge image Dr Gagan Syal with his wife in Germany (© German Embassy New Delhi) 3. Can you tell us about your life while growing up in India, and the transition, that you have mentioned in your book, when you moved to Germany?
I belong to a very small town of Faridabad in Haryana. Like every other child, I was amazed, head over heels, wooed, etc., and everything else watching Mercedes-Benz. And, how can one not be. How often do you find such cars in a small town? I used to feel lucky when I saw a Mercedes passing by. Nevertheless, my love for Benz grew day after day. My teenage infatuation turned into my goal of working with Mercedes and designing a car of my own. While I was pursing my degree programme, I used to attend weekend German classes, as this was my first step towards Mercedes. As I had planned, I went for higher studies in Germany. Approval from parents was another story, when you have relatives who constantly prefer U.S., Australia and Canada over Germany; God saved me! I continued to my destiny.
4. The book is about real intercultural incidents that you faced in Germany. Can you tell us about the most memorable incidents and challenges that you faced, the shocks you absorbed, and the fun you had?
It’s difficult to choose one among such hilarious events. But, the incident that leaves you with ‘third-degree laughter’ is the third incident called ‘Swimming’. I assure endless fun and laughter.
5. Your book also talks about some golden rules and tips for Indians in Germany as well as for Germans in India. Can you elaborate more on that?
About golden rules, dos and don’ts for Indians in Germany and vice-versa, these rules are like salt in food. If you add an extra pinch or a little less the whole taste of any dish changes. Likewise, these rules are very minute, but at the same time an integral part of whatever ‘German thing’ one does there.
German people are very direct (does not mean they are not friendly) whereas Indians are not direct. Blowing your nose in public is normal in Germany, but in India it’s a no-go, especially while eating. In Germany, sundays are silent days. It is not allowed to do loud work, such as using drill machines. There are 100s of such rules mentioned in this book and some advice to integrate quickly.
6. As a working professional yourself, can you tell us about your personal experience of working in Germany and the tips that you have mentioned in the book.
Germany is one of the best gifts that life gave me. Working in Germany was my dream that I fulfilled. If one wishes to excel in Germany, one needs to be professional, efficient, sincere and passionate towards work. Through this book, I have tried to explain these rules separately as per the reader’s wish. There are rules (quick and easy) for Indian employees about how easyly they can integrate with the working environment in Germany. A complete set of bullet points for a striving Indian student about the German education system - how it works, different types of universities, exams, hostel life, part time jobs, etc. For business travelers, I have summarised tables with rules for short trips, dining rules, gifts, negotiations and German business etiquettes. For personal visitors, the book helps with the visa process, tourist spots, cultural highlights, transportation, and traffic rules.
It happens often that due to lack of knowledge about the native culture, people spoil the relation with the partners, friends or colleagues. In this globalised world, which requires us to be dynamic, it is mandatory to understand the native culture first and then start working. This book focuses on German culture with respect to Indians. Some glimpses of the other side.
7. What are your favorite things about Germany?
I like the Germans’ passion and dedication towards work, no matter the situation. Of course, German beer and bakery stuff is awesome. I cannot get bored of these two in my whole life!
8. Can you tell us about the cultural similarities that you noticed between the two countries?
There are very few similarities. German and Sanskrit language have similar grammar rules, for example numbers like 31 – “Einunddreißig” (German) and “Ektees” (Hindi), where the second digit - number 1 - comes first and then 30, on the other side, you have “Thirtyone” in English. There, it is the opposite.