On my first trip to Sweden, I was introduced to several German BFS (the Bundesanstalt für Flugsicherung; literally the "Federal Institute for Flight Safety") people with whom I would be working for the next couple of months. I’m not very good at remembering names, even when I can understand the pronunciation. By concentrating, I got a pretty good idea of which last name went with which face, but I had difficulty associating the first names. They did ask me for two letters to identify myself on the test record, so I thought I would be able to piece together the first names by looking at the initials. When I did, they didn’t make any sense at all—I couldn’t even find the initials of the last names that I knew! Finally I asked Bernd Kustusch (and by the way, Bernd is his entire first name, not as I first thought, an abbreviation for Bernard) where his initials were. He pointed to KU! Dieter Bender was BE, Helmut Behlert was BH—everybody (but me) was using 2 letters from their last name as identifiers!
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised—they don’t address each other by first name; it’s Herr or Mister so-and-so, and they answer the phone with their last name. Mr. Marischen, whose project I work on, calls me "Sir." I still have to resist the urge to look around to see who he’s talking to. Not only does the BFS phone book not give first names, they don’t even give initials (except for duplicate last names). After I moved into my latest (fourth, and I hope, last, at least for a while) office, for several days I told callers Herr Rudolf’s new phone number before I found out the previous occupant was Frau Rudolf! (Which was unusual in itself; the Germans are pretty male chauvinistic.)