Here’s a funny anecdote from 2009 that I think bears reposting.
Last year I went to Hamburg for Summer School and had a lot of fun, losing my passport, attending lots of lectures, meeting wee Italian ladies…and all the rest of it. To get there I flew out from Birmingham, accompanied by my two Vietnamese colleagues Nga and Trang. Trang was Nga’s fiancée back then and hadn’t officially started her PhD yet (they’re now married and she’s about a year into her doctorate) but she got to come along anyway for this our second summer school excursion.
It was good value for money for the department since Trang was sharing Nga’s room at our accommodation, and because she hadn’t officially booked a place at the summer school, which charges quite a hefty enrollment fee – she’d just be tagging along with Nga at all the lectures since we were pretty sure no one would say anything. So that Trang would be there absorbing all that knowledge, which would be much to the benefit of our wee research group, and all that the department had paid for really was the return flights out to Hamburg.
Anyways that’s all just a bit of background to a funny anecdote I want to relate. The incident took place while we were sitting at the airport lounge in Birmingham waiting for our gate to be called. We’d just changed some of our pounds into euros at the airport currency exchange and I started making idle conversation with Nga while Trang went off to look around the duty free shops.
Nga’s a genius when it comes to anything technical or mathematical. And his English is really quite good given he’s only learned the language comparatively recently — it was just one more thing that came easily to a bright guy like Nga. But there were still some deficiencies, more in his pronunciation than with his grammar or his syntax.
We nattered on about his undergraduate years in Vietnam and the two years he spent in Germany doing his Masters degree. Naturally we discussed the relative merits of studying in Germany and studying over here in the UK — and one of the main issues that came up was about health care provision for foreign students.
What Nga then said really, really puzzled me.
He told me the only way to get health care coverage in Germany, the only way to get to see the doctor, was if you bought insulin. Somewhat surprised at this, I asked whether he was diabetic, and where this didn’t just apply to diabetics. No, he replied, he didn’t have diabetes. That was just the system in Germany, if you wanted to see the doctor you had to buy insulin.
I was really confused now. What was this? Was it some kind of conspiracy by pharmaceutical corporations to subsidise insulin production or were there health benefits to insulin that I hadn’t heard about before: perhaps insulin in small doses is good for everyone? Shit, maybe I should be taking it. Maybe it was some kind of public health drive: they don’t mind the nanny state so much over there in Germany.
I repeated my questions to Nga in disbelief, phrasing them slightly differently just to make sure we were reading from the same page here. So even if you didn’t need insulin the state made you buy up a whole supply of it? I asked. In hindsight Nga did seem a bit perplexed at my persistent questioning on this line …
Trang came back and I asked her about it – she’d just recently finished a Masters degree in Germany herself so maybe she’d had to buy a few boxes of Insulin as well. Trang discussed it with Nga in Vietnamese, they had a giggle together, and she came back with the explanation that Nga had been referring to, heavily mispronouncing, the word “insurance” the whole time.
How we laughed.