A common theme I have heard for years is “everyone speaks English in Germany”. I always quietly pondered that statement when it was said to me. My husband’s family speaks very little English. When I am in his hometown in Germany, I rarely have anyone speak English to me. I have come to a conclusion since living here. When you are American and you fly into Munich, yes, everyone speaks English. When you go to a major train station, yes, they speak English. However, when you are in the trenches and living outside of the city then you may not find that “everyone speaks English”.
Let’s take grocery shopping in Germany as an example. The cashier yells at me in German when she wants me to pack my bags faster. And then there was the time my son left his scooter in the bakery line and someone tripped over it. An old lady behind us took it upon herself to lecture me about my kid and his scooter. She lectured me all in German, not one word of English. Lucky for me I didn’t understand over half of her lecture. I did give her the stink eye though.
I even went to the immigration office for my visa and the caseworker for foreigners that I was assigned did not speak English! That’s fine, I get it, I am in Germany and I have to pull up my big girl panties and get fluent quick. But please don’t tell me everyone speaks English. I’m in the trenches people!
The following week, I had to go down to register as a new immigrant with the city hall, I had my big girl panties on and I was full of confidence. I had to wait in a long line to get a number, then wait in a waiting room for my number to be called. I was freaking out trying to read the signs in German and understand what process was. The sign said to go to room 215 when your number is called. Ok, easy peasy as my son would say. My number was called and I headed to room 215. Oh my god, where is room 215? I went up the elevator, drat it all, I forgot I was in Europe. The floor numbers are different here. I drag my son and his scooter back downstairs. I finally walk into room 215 and find my assigned number, desk 6. I say to the women behind desk 6 with quivering confidence “Anmeldung, Bitte”. And she says in English “Are you American?” Why yes I am! Her English is flawless. Turns out she lived in Virginia for awhile! I almost dropped my head on her desk in appreciation of her flawless English. She and I then chit-chat! I hadn’t chit chatted in three weeks and it felt good. And it turns out her first boyfriend was from New York! I daydreamed about asking her to be my new best friend.She told me I had to come back in a couple of weeks with my son’s passport. She added to come back when they are not busy. I thought perhaps this was code for “come back when I have plenty of time to chit-chat with you” . I was thinking to myself, I might show up next week with some donuts and coffee and wait for desk 6 to be open. Or is that too much? She says on my way out “Good luck and welcome to Germany, I am sure you will manage. Most people speak English after all”. Ughh, no donuts for you desk 6!