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Column: Why living in Germany has made me punctual

The trains in Germany don't always run on time, despite the stereotype, writes Syrian columnist Rim Dawa. But living in Germany has turned her into an on-time morning person. All it took was a little respect.

I woke up early that morning in Bonn, Germany - at a time that the elders in my Syrian home town of Salamiyah would have approved of. Since we young people used to stay up all night long, we tended to sleep until the following afternoon - and feel their wrath for doing it. 

I'm not a morning person. The only way I can endure an early wake-up call is with the smell of fresh coffee and the songs of my favorite singer, Fairouz. Both bring back the sweetest memories from home - and wipe the sleep from my eyes.

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother's face, trying to wake me up to go to school, while Fairouz's lilting voice was wafting from the radio, the oil stove was keeping our house warm, and tea was brewing in the kitchen.

Since I was chronically running late, I usually had to race to school, my legs burning and the melodies of the charming Lebanese-born singer still ringing in my ear.

The Syrian director who kicked the wall

That morning in Bonn, I was also on my way to school, but this time to the local University of Applied Sciences. I had an appointment with a woman from the international admissions office. She had always been very helpful and friendly about answering all my questions.

This time, the process of university enrollment was not a nerve-wracking, enthusiasm-squelching experience, as it had been in Syria.

Watch: What do Germans miss when they're abroad?

I still vividly remember how, in 2006, the head of the student affairs department at my university in Homs kicked the wall several times because he didn't have the answer when I asked about my exam results. 

Since he was in a position of power, clearly backed by the authorities in the country, he apparently felt entitled to demonstrate his clout with a small show of aggression. As much as I wanted to, I couldn't just yell, "Shut up!" at him. That probably would have hurt my chances of admission.

Is German punctuality a myth?

That cold, gray morning in Bonn was like a blurry, dull Impressionist painting. My train to the university was supposed to come in 10 minutes. But after five minutes of waiting, a delay of another 15 minutes was announced.

Rim Dawa (Privat)

Rim Dawa came to Germany from Syria in 2012

I thought everything was supposed to be so punctual in Germany! I had to chuckle quietly when a German child nearby complained to his mother, "German trains are so unreliable!" So I wasn't the only one whose expectations hadn't been met.

I wracked my brain to think of an institution in Syria, small or big, that could be considered reliable. None came to mind.

Was my memory failing me? After all, I'd left Syria back in 2012. Or was reliability just not Syria's strength?

Punctuality can be earned with respect

Although the train arrived late, I was not late to my appointment, since I had left earlier than necessary, just in case a delay or other emergency came up. I had come a long way since my school days, I thought. My mother (and the village elders) would have been proud.

Read more: 10 very German passions

Even if German trains don't always live up to their punctual reputation, perhaps the German stereotype was already starting to rub off on me. On the other hand, I was also motivated to get to the university on time, since the international admissions officer had been so kind to me.

After our meeting, I realized that early morning appointments in Germany were not as annoying as they had been in Syria. Maybe all we need to wake up early is a bit of respect.

Rim Dawa was born and grew up in Salamiyah, Syria, and came to Germany in 2012 to complete her Master's degree in international media studies. She is currently a journalist with DW's Arabic department.

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