Local advice or Internet? Often, when we have problems in life, we look for solutions on the internet. We find a huge list of solutions on such search engines, and then customize the searched solution to fit our case. How do we do that? We usually rely on our mental capacity and past experiences, make wide assumptions to match the intended outcome, and then in the end, we hope that it works out somehow to fix our problem. Have a headache for a continued period? Look it up on the internet. Confused about relationship? Look it up on the internet. Need a new plumbing fix? Look it up on the internet. But we often forget to weigh the risks of depending on such internet advices. An experience in my life helped me understand this better.
I come from India, and used to live with another student from Italy. We are two international students of the M.A. PPE program at University Witten/Herdecke. As international students, we often find it difficult to navigate through German systems and bureaucracy, and try to find the easiest ways to do so (not necessarily, the smartest). In this process, we often forget that it is simpler to ask a German about our problems related to Germany. This particular experience taught us how to not assume things about how things work in Germany, and simply ask a German.
On some gloomy day during the German winter of 2020, my flatmate and I found ourselves in middle of a plumbing problem—basically, our sinks in the kitchen and bathroom (both interconnected) were clogged. This problem was a first time for both of us. With very little help from our third flatmate, we decided to take the matter into our hands. First, we tried to clear the drain with hot water. Well, it did not work. Then, the clogging was getting worse, and we had absolutely no idea about how to fix this on our own. But did we ask anyone yet? No. Our solution to this problem—look for plumbers on the internet. And we chose the first one we found. It seemed like a legit website, with real services. My flatmate, with the better-spoken German, called the plumbing services, and they agreed to help us out in couple of hours. We were temporarily relieved, and waited for the plumber to arrive.
After waiting for four hours, we decided to call them again. It was about 7.00 p.m. by now. They told us that he is on his way, and then the “plumber” finally arrived at 10.00 p.m. It almost felt as if it were for some shady business—who really works that late at night? This was red flag #1. But well, we had him over anyway to check our clogged sinks. He had no equipment with him to check anything. After one glance, he advised us to call for a “plumbing van”, and that he could do that for us with an advance payment of 500 Euros. This was red flag #2. Who really asks for an advance payment without providing any service? However, we, in a situation of panic and with hopes of fixing the problem, paid an advance of about 400 Euros. The next red flag was when he provided us with no receipt, and on asking him it was a random piece of paper. He rushed out very quickly and left in his car.
Then, around 11 p.m. we were waiting for the “plumbing van” to arrive. By now, with three red flags, it started to dawn upon us that we may have been scammed, and the plumber was fake. On calling the helpline, we received no response. We even called the “plumber” who had come to our place. His phone was switched off. By now, it was confirmed that we were scammed, and there was no plumbing service in the first place anyway. The next day we took help of our University’s student network, and got to know that we were supposed to inform the Shalaka Kaprekar | MA PPE | 1900005 landlord, who would have helped us then. Additionally, we got a suggestion to try out a drain clearing solution called ‘Drano’. We immediately went to the supermarket and got a couple of those. After using it, our drain was almost cleared up by the next day. It was that simple. We were quite hurt by our stupidity and mistake, and reported this incident to our landlord and the local police, so that someone else may not have to experience such a scam.
Sometimes, as international students in Germany, we may get lost in the entirety of a completely different system of things. But in the end, we must always remember help is available to those who seek for it. In our case, all we had to do is ask someone about what to do with clogged drains. It would have saved us the hundreds of Euros that we spent. But well, it was a lesson learned.
By Shalaka Kaprekar