My Heil Hitler Moment

My Heil Hitler Moment

Back in my internship days at EPFL in Switzerland, I worked in the Departmental Electronics Laboratory. I had a German colleague by the name of Alex. He was extremely intelligent, but short on social skills. Think of Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory. He was afflicted with two national predilections. Being German, he was very precise and efficient. Living in Switzerland, he was driven by punctuality and deadlines. In retrospection, he definitely suffered from OCD and our laboratory was a perfect venue for him.

Alex was quite unusual.  He had a timetable for everything. He would track the sharpness of his pencils so he knew when to sharpen them.  He developed sunlight tables that would give him optimal times for sitting outside to absorb Vitamin D. Rehydration tables he made would tell him when to drink water. The truly creepy calculations he made where the formulae he figured that would tell him when to use the restroom. I don’t know if he had a girlfriend, but if he did, I shudder to think what types of schedules he made for her.  “OK, Mein Liebchen, we have exactly 120 seconds of kissing time available for us this evening. Drei, Zwei, Eins! Begin the kissing!”

Alex’s obsession with time made the lunch hour living hell. We would always go out for lunch as a group.  The regular time was for us to leave for lunch at 12:45 SHARP. If we all weren’t all on our way out the door at that time, Alex would frantically pace around the room yelling, “Let’s go.  Let’s go.”  He would give us a first warning at 12:40 PM when he would announce, “It’s lunchtime!” For the next 5 minutes Alex would visit your desk at least 10 times saying, “Let’s go!”  I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one in the office who found this insufferable.

Unfortunately, I was the only one who acted on it. One day I was behind on my work and trying to finish it before lunch. It was 12:45PM and Alex was now yelling into my ear, “Let’s go” every 15 seconds. I snapped. Alex’s pestering annoyed me a bit too much that day and I just couldn’t take it anymore. Everything went black, then red.  Finally, I stood up, clicking my heels together. I shouted, “Jawohl, Mein Hauptman!  Heil Hitler!”  I stood in front of Alex giving him the Nazi salute. I thought it was appropriate considering that Alex was acting like Hitler.

The horrified look on Alex’s face immediately let me know that I had committed a tremendous faux pas. I had also sucked the air out of the room with my statement. My non-German friends were looking at me with their jaws dropping to the floor. It was then that I wished I could do something that I had only been able to do in dreams as a child.  When I said something, the words were encapsulated in a bubble and floated toward the person who was supposed to hear them.  If I wanted to recant, I simply grabbed the bubble and took the words back before they caused any harm. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a dream, and the words had landed.

The look on my colleagues’ faces let me know that I had “crossed a line.” I had made a terrible mistake.  Being an Indian, I wasn’t tuned into the vestiges of World War II in Europe. Germans weren’t proud of what had happened during the World War and definitely not proud of Hitler.  The Nazis and their atrocities against mankind are something the German people are trying to remove from their collective memories and move on from. They weren’t too happy to be reminded about it.

Once I realized what I had done, I apologized to Alex. He accepted my apology.  But he remained weird.

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Aniket Singh

Aniket Singh works for Apple Inc. in California. He comes armed with a treasure trove of experience and knowledge gained through his internships abroad. Singh loves to talk to students during their formative years so that they can avoid anything that is not helpful to long-term growth. Singh holds a BTech degree in Electrical Engineering from the IIT, Madras, Chennai, and a Master’s degree in Wireless Systems from Politecnico Di Torino in Torino, Italy. He has interned at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom and Ecole Polytechnic Federale de Lausanne in Lausanne, Switzerland during this studies. For a rewarding internship and career, take the first step. Visit him at Check out his book at Intern Abroad This Summer