Have it Your Way

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Photo by Pexels.com

I have lived in Germany for over a year now and every day I find it easier to adapt to the culture. However, many times when I am in a retail store or restaurant I hear myself saying “ Something is off with the customer experience here”. I think perhaps the customer service in Germany is based on a simple plan; If you like our product or service then buy it and if not, then well, there’s the door.

I recently went to a day spa with my husband. I came out of a hot oil bath treatment and I was incredibly hungry and thirsty. I actually felt a little weebly wobbly. We walked into the spa cafe and I asked for water at the bar. That will be five Euros, she said. Ummm I just had a service at your spa, can I have water? Your package did not include free water, Frau Hentschel. I roll my eyes and remind myself that I am in Europe where water is not free. I said fine, I will pay for the water and sit and have lunch. Oh but it’s 11:39 now and lunch is not served till 12:00, you have to order off the breakfast menu. Now I was hangry, hungry-angry, and I wanted their carpaccio salad, not breakfast. I asked imploringly “ please can you please let me order off the lunch menu?” No, she replied, those are the rules, no explanation was provided. My husband looked on in pure terror, knowing that you cannot mess with a hungry Frau Hentschel. He quickly interceded and bought a giant bottle of water and escorted me away from the cafe, promising me he would get me fed within the hour.

Now, to put it bluntly, that shit would not happen in America. I would get my free water and the waitress would have asked the cook to bend the rules and make my lunch 15 minutes early. Or even maybe if she couldn’t she would suggest an appetizer while I wait, with my free water. We would all smile fake smiles but I would be hydrated and happy. I miss free stuff and bending of the rules.

Then I was thinking about American customer service. Do I really miss all that comes with American service? The first month or so that I moved to a small Texas suburb I was driven half-mad by the constant “Hellos” in the local grocery store. You’re thinking that sounds nice, but every single employee would stop and greet me. Sometimes, they would forget and greet me twice. One day a young teenage employee popped up from behind a fruit display and startled me half to death with a “Hello, how are you today”. He ruined my daydream.  I turned to him with a bit of a snarky tone and asked, “ I am just curious, do you all have to greet every single person.”

“Yes, Mam, they make us.”

Ok then you are forgiven, my young friend.  I felt guilty and gave him an apologetic smile.

“Yes mam, have a blessed day”, he replied. That was a lot more interaction then I wanted in the produce aisle that day.

And what about aggressive salespeople in the USA? In Germany, I am sometimes hard-pressed to find someone to help me in stores. In Texas, my husband and I went to this particular furniture store and always had a plan to avoid the salespeople. Here was our plan; Run in the door and split up fast so the salesman would get a little confused and hopefully dizzy and not bother us. Those poor bastards would chase us down nevertheless. A polite “just looking” would not deter them, you would practically become friends with the furniture salesperson by the end of your visit. Don’t even get me started on the shopping mall kiosks. I would race past them with my head down muttering” for the love of god I have a phone already, please let me go”.

I don’t want to shock my American friends but I read that German salespeople try to give you your space. They don’t want to be considered overbearing or rude. Now that’s a concept. Maybe we could combine the German concept of, give the people some space,  with a bit of the American let’s please our customers. Maybe then we’d have the ultimate customer service experience?

Weird Stuff Americans Do

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My German American Grandfather and Irish American Grandmother

I have spent a lot of time on my blog poking fun at generalizations about Germans. I think I may devote a couple of blogs now to weird things Americans do.The material on this one is endless from the European standpoint: ice cubes, big cars, and theatrical politics. There is one item however that I would like to explain, poke fun at and ask my readers to listen for a minute. Today I am going to explain the American phenomena of placing high importance in our ancestry. If you are a European you have undoubtedly heard an American greet you with  “Oh I am Irish as well, my great, great, great grandmother immigrated to America during the potato famine.” I know you don’t have to be shy, you rolled your eyes and thought ” your about as Irish as a shamrock shake at McDonald’s.” If you’re American you might be hearing for the first time that Europeans are not so interested in your very distant ancestry. Sit down and breathe, everything will be ok, but not everyone cares about your 1/58th link to a Norwegian princess. Remember, I said breathe, I am going to try to work this out for us all.

The American POV

I am certified American so I will try to represent the entire country here for a minute (that was sarcasm). I grew up in New York. When I was growing I was keenly aware of the differences in ethnic backgrounds of my fellow Americans. In my little town, you were Polish or not Polish. Polish meant of Polish descent probably from your grandparents or great-grandparents who immigrated to America. But no one cared if your Polish ancestors came to America 100 years ago, you were by Riverhead, New York standards, Polish.

I did not have the Polish DNA but was completely enthralled with stories of my Irish and German ancestry.  My grandmother told me many stories about New York City when she was growing up. We heard stories about German town, Chinatown and the best Italian restaurants. She even had a great story about how she was denied a job once because she was Irish American. She was born in America to two parents also born in America but deemed Irish American and denied a job for being Irish. My Grandfather had relatives who apparently arrived on the Mayflower.  But his dad, my great grandfather was born in Germany. And I personally loved the sense of pride he had when he, who had never set foot in Germany, spoke about being German.

Do you see where I am going with this? Americans grow up taking pride in our backgrounds. I heard the stories and took interest in the fact that my beloved grandparents were of German American and Irish American descent. We often grow up dividing ourselves up not as Americans but into subdivisions of American’s. American is still relatively a new country made up of children of immigrants, who were taught about their heritage.

So why then does it drive Europeans crazy when they hear, “ I am one 58th German.” For them, we are American, they don’t know the folklore that has been passed down to us for ages. They look at you when you are saying that and think “ your about as German as the BMW that was built in Alabama.” I get it I really do, why be proud of your 14% Welsh background and you’ve have never been to Wales, must seem crazy to a Welsh person.

There is a small town in Texas known for its Czechoslovakian heritage. They throw a Czech fest every year and have bakeries with bastardized European versions of baked goods. However, try to tell one of them they are not Czech and you better be prepared to duck and cover. If you think about it for a moment, isn’t it wonderful that after 200 years of settling that area, the ancestors of the original Czech immigrants still hold their lineage dear? They still pass on traditions to their children. Can we really cast a stone at people holding on tight to a cultural identity passed down from their grandparents?

I often wonder for my children if they will have this sense of ancestry? After all they have now been in the American DNA melting pot for quite a long time. My daughter who has porcelain skin and blonde hair was reminded endlessly by her paternal grandmother that she had American Indian ancestry. Her grandmother even encouraged her to apply for school grants based on that. Thankfully, she never considered this or any hopes of a future political career would be in jeopardy. I do hope for both of them that they listened to the stories of immigration passed down from their grandparents; the good, bad and the ugly.

Recently I was on a trip to Gran Canaria and met an elderly Irish gentleman. Before I could stop myself I blurted out “ My grandmother was a Martin”. My inner voice told me “abort, abort, where are you going with this.” But my foolish mouth continued. I started muttering about my red hair and freckles and just dug myself deeper into the quagmire of my distant Irish ancestry. I just could not help myself. So I ask my European friends, to be patient when you hear American’s praise their 1/58th European background. American friends, take it easy! Not everyone wants to hear about your Great Great Aunt from Germany.

 

Becoming Frau Hentschel

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Frau Hentschel being pensive; Lipperland, Germany

I was recently listening to an interview with Michelle Obama about her new book, Becoming Michelle Obama. I was thinking, damn, that must be nice to be at a point in your life when you can write a whole book on how you got to be, fabulous you! Then my thoughts got to swirling and I felt a blog coming on. Becoming Frau Hentschel, an end of year wrap up to my new life as a Hausfrau. Sorry Michelle, if I am stealing your thunder.

Recently, I was doing a little research for a new project and discovered a study that actually took place in Houston, Texas. The study suggests that living abroad enhances the self-concept of clarity. If I can paraphrase, I believe they mean that once you get away from your cultural influences you can find the real you. Maybe the real you is similar to the culture you were born in and perhaps it’s not. For me, it’s been a wonderful time to explore that concept.

I have a strong aversion to conflict. Your thinking, well who likes conflict? No, I avoid it at all costs and usually to a detriment to myself. Now I find myself living in a culture where honesty and bluntness rule. In my son’s kindergarten, it seems I must give a greeting every single morning to every person and it drives me bonkers. American’s are known to be friendly so I find this odd that it drives me crazy but I think in America perhaps it’s less formal? You don’t have to give a greeting to each and every person especially if you don’t know them. (Please correct me if I’m wrong here.) So one day I just smiled at another mom and didn’t give a full greeting. She texted me and asked if I was angry with her. I was first startled that she just put that out there. I think I would have just wondered who pissed in her Cheerios and not given it a second thought. Then I was able to answer her and rectify the situation. I explained that I am often off in Neverland in my head and don’t notice things. Then I had an epiphany, wow that was great that she just put it out there and we resolved a potential misunderstanding. Boom! Frau Hentschel was having some clarity. A couple of weeks later, my son was mean to another child and I marched him over their house to apologize. Marie would have not done this but Frau Hentschel decided to embrace the German way and face it head-on.

Another thing that I have written about before is my feeling constrained in Germany with the rules, complaining and briskness of peoples demeanor. I’m hardly even noticing it now and think I perhaps overreacted at times, just because of the cliche “culture shock”. I was at a school meeting by myself and had to manage the whole meeting in German. The teacher asked me if I had any complaints about communication in the school. Why, yes, as a matter of fact, I wrote a blog about communication in this country being shoddy. I proceeded to tell her in German how I felt the school’s communication could be enhanced through the use of a modern concept called the email system. I had a moment where I thought, look at you Frau Hentschel, complaining in German. The teacher proceeded to tell me because of German data privacy laws (Datenschutz) this was probably not gonna happen. But nonetheless, I had a moment where I felt I had arrived. I even complained at a bakery that their system for lining up was ridiculous, the man behind the counter turned red and said that’s the way it is. I chuckled to myself and thought oh well at least I have found my voice in Germany.

Rules, I find as an American I like to bend the rules and Germany quite frankly startled me with the stringency of rules when I moved here. I am getting more and more used to them and even participating. I was in the grocery store with my husband and he was not following the rules. I snapped at him. “Markus lay the wine bottles down on the conveyor belt or else they might wiggle”. The bottles can’t wiggle! Markus don’t just stand there start self-packing your stuff like a maniac, others are waiting. No time for chit-chat in the German grocery store line, move it buster. When I go home to the United States it is going to freak me out when they want to chat with me and bag my groceries for me, I might just have a panic attack.

So time will still tell on what I discover about myself while here and what aspects of the culture I take home with me. At the moment I am enjoying becoming Frau Hentschel.

Klugscheissen

This blog is going to be a little less about Germany and more about my weaknesses as a human being. Also, I am going to drop the F-Bomb a lot, so if you’re from Texas and think” Well Bless my heart she said FUCK”, then perhaps you should skip this blog.

At a job many moons ago, I had a charismatic boss. One day I corrected him on something and he said: “ Marie I have a story for you”. He proceeded to tell me how he was in a meeting with his boss when he was young and he corrected his boss. His boss said, “ Boy if you know what the Fuck I’m talking about and I know what the Fuck I am talking about, then shut the Fuck up.” Believe it or not, I loved my boss, he had great stories. So that was our motto around the office and for some inane reason I took it on as my personal motto. I even told the story to my daughter Madeline, because I hated being corrected. I think she hated my motto. She would say but” MOM I don’t know what the fuck you are talking about and I think neither do you so we have to clarify”. No, no, no that is not how my motto works. So she suffered through it.

So last week a dear friend sent me the manual “ How to be a German by Adam Fletcher” in response to my last blog. Yes, there is a manual! And this one I am going to read, I promise you this! I have not even read it yet but found a section called Klugscheissen. This literally translates to smart shitting. Another bad word, sorry! I hope I can get the translation right but it has to do with correcting someone no matter how small the inaccuracy is and dumping your facts on them. It was really a light shining down on me moment. It explained my marriage to my German husband and my frustration with living in German; my god that shown light on the last 10 years of my life. Here I am, a person who doesn’t like to be corrected, just wants everyone to deduce what I am talking about, living in Germany. Germany, a country that has derived their own word to describe correcting people, because it is done so frequently that they need a word for it.

You have no idea the countless times I told my husband, you know what I mean please don’t ask for clarification or correct me. The poor thing stares at me blankly and says but Marie you were wrong, the Cowboys play at 6:45 pm not 7pm. You said 7pm , the games always distinctly start at 6:45pm. It has gotten so I won’t give him details unless I am 100% sure of the accuracy. There is no saying it was around $100 dollars in our house. It was $99.59 or $100.00, which one is it Marie? Uggh the details, leave me alone.

So here I am in a world of Klugscheissen and really what should I do? It’s all clear now including my sister in laws endless correcting me. I love my sister in laws, really! They are so good to us and have saved my life here. But sometimes they hand me some Klugscheissen and make my head spin. “Marie, oh my god you went thru the red light. We don’t do that in Germany. What are you thinking, that is strictly forbidden here.” Yes I know, it’s forbidden in every country in the world, I was rushing and misjudged the yellow light. I made a mistake! But I got a fifteen-minute lecture nonetheless. I’m being mansplained by the whole entire country. Even a little kid once told me I needed to lock my bike up. That little shit was right but still!

So I have consulted a team of German experts and asked “Do you mind when you get some Klugscheissen handed to you? Does it offend you? How can I deal?” Here are some answers.

“ Marie I think you really took the word out of context. I mean it’s very complicated to translate, let me try…”

“Why would that offend anyone.”

“ Marie I think your just going to have to accept it.”

And my husbands answer.

“What, you learned that word today.” insert smirk here. “Yeah its fine.” – subject changed quickly.

Case closed I have to put on my big girl panties, speak accurately and if corrected, Shut the Fuck up!

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Koenigsalle, Dusseldorf. Photo creds to me!

Resistance is Futile

I keep complaining that there is no manual for Germany. Or really for any country for that matter. If you are an expat you have to go in and figure out the rules, trial by fire. As a small caveat, I will say Germany does give a mandatory German Integration course. I was kinda avoiding taking it because I mean really I feel like I have been integrating for 10 years now: German husband, German kindergarten in the US, German friends and most importantly, my German sister in laws. And the title German Integration scares me. I mean what will happen in that class? Will I start to smoke and complain about Merkel once I’ve been integrated? Oh boy, no way. So I have somehow flown under the radar and not been forced to take it. (when I eventually get caught, that will be another blog) My reason for mentioning this is perhaps they did pass out a manual and I missed it. So if anyone out there has such a manual, please I will pay you for it.

My daughter, Madeline just finished up school in London and I called her the other day and had this conversation with her as she, also an expat, can relate. I was specifically complaining about Max’s first day at Kindergarten. They didn’t send me an email beforehand welcoming me and explaining everything. I was so nervous about going to school the first day, I felt unprepared without my introductory email. I even mentioned to the teacher, I need a list of your holidays please so I can plan. “Oh, you should be getting your welcome information in the mail soon.” What in the mail? A country that makes me sort my garbage into five recycling bins is going to print out paper and mail me something? Breathe Marie breathe, just put your little event planner self in check and be patient.

Then I went further to complain about an emergency exit I went through accidentally and set off the alarm. Oh man, did I get yelled at for that one. But people, there was no sign! I saw there was no sign restricting me from exiting so I went. Simple.

Then Madeline startled me with an interesting comment. She works in a place in London with a lot of American customers. She remarked that was funny because they have a door at her job in London that is locked to access but every American that comes in thinks its the dressing room and they try to go in. It’s only the American’s that do it, they stand there rattling the locked door. And then they say “well where is the sign?” I was really startled by that. Could social norms dictate my actions so much that I walk thru the wrong doors!( And Madeline you really should put a clear sign on that door at your job, assist the poor people for god’s sake!)

She further added that every American customer wants information. They want to know what is in the product, where it was made. One American complained that they did not have a sign up stating which credit cards were accepted. Yes! These are exactly my complaints here I told her, no information. Could I be an information junky? Am I unable to go about daily life without an instructional email or app for that?

It’s the little things that get you when your an expat! You don’t even know what your social norms are versus theirs until it slaps you in the face. So I don’t think there can be a manual. Maybe I can learn to relax my need for information a little and perhaps I can make a suggestion of a little email action now and again at Max’s kindergarten? Wish me luck with my assimilation, I mean integration.

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photo courtesy of pexels.com

 

 

Frau Hentschel if you’re nasty

I learned something about myself recently at the doctor’s office. Then I started thinking, you know you’ve discovered a lot about yourself since moving overseas. Leaving one’s bubble can open your eyes to many things. So for this blog, I have compiled a list of what I have learned about myself since moving to Germany.

I discovered that I am ridiculously modest. I was at the doctor a couple of weeks ago and he told me to take my shirt off. Now when a United States doctor needs to see you without clothes they hand you a paper robe and ask you to undress while they politely step out of the room. So when the doctor asked me to take my shirt off and just stand there I was confused. I had this momentary panic that I didn’t understand his German correctly and I would be standing there naked for no reason. So I replied, “Really you want my shirt off”. Yes, he answered, shirt off. Right now here in this room? Yes again. I did a quick survey of the room for the lovely little paper robes found in American doctors offices and nothing. I was really startled that it bothered me. I took off my shirt and totally acted like a cool German frau. But I quietly wished I wore a cuter bra.

It seems that I love having a title. In the U.S.A I was rarely called Mrs. Hentschel and if I had been I probably would have scoffed at it and told them to call me Marie.  At the recent doctor visit, I had to deal with the dreaded German office assistant. Sometimes I find the medical assistants more difficult than the dreaded “German cashier”; I was prepared for bitchiness. So I walked in without a smile and said: “Frau Hentschel here”. That was it, no chit-chat nothing. That was hard for me. They treated me perfectly fine and everything was Frau Hentschel this, Frau Hentschel that. But it felt good, I had the power. I sauntered into my waiting room with my noisy kid in tow and my 10 dollar backpack like I owned the place. Oh yes, I could get used to being Frau Hentschel.

I had been spoiled in the U.S and really had no idea. Spoiled right down to my carrots. I used to buy those baby carrots that were pre-peeled and just throw them in a soup or stew. I don’t think they exist in Germany. People peel their own carrots here, can you believe that?  I know my foodie friends are saying hey those baby carrots taste bad but hey I was working full time and had a kid in my late forties, I didn’t have time to peel! The carrots are only the tip of the iceberg on how convenient and spoiled things are in the U.S is but maybe that is another blog.

I hate to admit it but I am loud at times and do love chit-chat. My oldest daughter went to school in London and often said mom people keep complaining that I am loud, am I? I was really puzzled by that and told her of course not, don’t be silly. I am here to say with certain scientific data that Americans are in fact loud. My whole family was here for vacation and we were a traveling rock concert. But you know what, the waitress in the hotel said we were a super joyful family. So I will go with joyful instead of loud.

I realized that I love my country. It’s like the USA is part of me that I can’t ever imagine going away. Every morning I wake up and check the news.  I ache for the cultural and political divide that my country is experiencing. I understand now why immigrants want to keep some of their cultural identity intact. It’s part of my identity and no matter how much fun it is being Frau Hentschel I always will be chatty, joyful Marie from the USA.

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Frau Reyer (aka mom) and Frau Hentschel being loud at a German hotel

 

 

 

German Death Stare

This particular blog has been a struggle for me. It has to do with my struggle with the cultural differences here. I struggle with this post because I want to be fair and not generalize. In Texas, I had many friends from other countries. I often heard generalizations about Americans. For example, I heard that American’s won’t go out with their kids to the playground when it’s a bit cold outside. I would often tell people, no that’s just Texas, you should visit Brooklyn. Or the generalization that Americans waste energy, ok that one is probably spot on, nevermind. So here we go with my generalization, Germans stare and not only do they stare at you they can sometimes give you “ the German death stare”.

When I was growing up I was told don’t stare, it’s impolite. The minute your parents caught you staring you got a sharp reminder threw bared teeth “don’t stare”. I didn’t even realize how ingrained in me that is until I moved here and started reacting to the endless stares. Max and I walked into a restroom together last week and a whole family was in there. When we walked in they all stopped suddenly and just stared at us mouths gaping. Max asked me why they were staring. I told him it was probably because they heard us speaking English. He thought for a moment and said: “well I speak German so they should only stare at you.” Well, I speak German also, I rebutted. “Yeah , but not good” he replied. Why do kids never have your back?

At my son’s Judo, one of the mom’s was staring at me so hard and just wouldn’t stop. I immediately felt 14 years old and wanted to yell at her “ Bitch what are you staring at”. Then I remembered, staring is totally acceptable here. She was probably daydreaming about what to make for dinner and just staring at me in the process. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt anyway.

The “German death stare” however is slightly different than the ordinary German stare. It is frequently given by an older German lady who is mad that you broke a rule or a cashier. This stare will bring the strongest person to their knees.

The grocery store has been a scene of countless stares and stress for me: so much to understand, so many rules and so many older German women. The grocery stores in Texas are so easy, they greet you with a fake smile and make chit-chat while the groceries are being entered into the system. Then a teenager dutiful bags your groceries for you. All the while you chit-chat about the weather or the latest High School dance. Here in Germany, you have to get your groceries on the conveyor belt and Schnell! Last week my son was distracting me about the candies for sale, I did not get all of my groceries on the conveyor belt in a timely manner. The cashier stopped what she was doing and waited with arms crossed for me to finish getting my groceries up on the belt. I looked up in fear and caught “the German death stare”. I am fairly sure she called me a bad word in German in her head. You think I’m being sensitive? You were not there to witness the glare. I was sweating and yelling at my son through gritted teeth “ let me concentrate, dammit”. I finally got all my items up and she proceeded with checking me out. I was not done yet, I needed to bag my own groceries. I turned around and there was a line behind me of German stares and I imagined that they are all cursing me for being so slow. I bagged like a maniac throwing eggs on top of bread and drag my energetic, whiny son out of the store.

So I started practicing the stare. I mean a really good one. I caught a women staring at me from the bus stop. I stared back so hard and shot imaginary superhero type rays from my eyes saying” piss off”. She looked away quickly. Victory was mine, I thought I might be getting the hang of this place. I took it a step further when a woman yelled at me about being out of the bike lane I yelled back in German “ I know, I know, leave me alone.” I was starting to feel empowered and was imagining ways to tell people off.

Then I was feeling a tad introspective.  Why was I angry and reacting to cultural differences? Is there a way to incorporate a little of who you are into a new culture? Could I kill the cashiers with kindness? Could I stare back with a lovely smile? Wouldn’t it be fun to have some freedom and just freely stare at people and imagine stories about them? I’ll give it a go and see how I can incorporate both the cultures.  I will say, however, that cashier is going down.

Max showing off
I like to think that our family keeps things on the down low and just fits in.

 

 

 

Will run for Broetchen

Recently I have been a bit cynical about my move to Germany. It’s been a bit of a beast after all. Our container left our home on Feburary 19th and has still not arrived. Living out of a suitcase for 10 weeks gets old. And I have had to argue with people in a foreign language about my vagina. Need I say more?

So I thought I would list some things I love about Germany so far!

Bread. When I was a kid my grandparents would send my teenage aunts out for bagels and hard rolls on Sunday mornings. Those NY hard rolls were actually introduced by German/Austrian immigrants and were the American version of broetchen. Sadly in New York, I think you are hard-pressed to find a good hard roll anymore. (NY peeps please feel free to comment on exact locations of a good crunchy NY hard roll) But Germany has amazing hard rolls! They also have entire shops full of fresh, healthy, reasonably priced bread. I actually have increased my running just so I can eat my fair share of bread guilt free. I even jogged to the bakery last Sunday morning. I must have looked hilarious running home with my hot broetchen tucked safely under my arm.

Niceties. I don’t know if that is a word but things are nice here. I took my son to an Easter event at a local place run mainly by volunteers. They had hot coffee in real mugs out for the parents and homemade Easter bunny yeast buns for the kids. The bunnies even had toasted almond eyes. It was just nice. I am fairly sure if I had been running that event in America I would have bought a carton of Starbucks coffee to go and a Costco coffee cake.

Green stuff. I live in Neuss, a suburb of Dusseldorf. It’s an odd suburban mix where I live: apartment buildings, old houses, schools, and shops. But yesterday we were driving down the street and suddenly we passed a really beautiful pasture with sheep. I also live less than a mile from Schloss Reuschenberg and the KinderBauern Hof. You can see the castle there, a kids farm and endless trails. On one of our walks my son, Max and I discovered a tombstone from 1814 and a waterfall. Sorry to my Texas friends, but I was never in awe of Texas suburban beauty. (All of Austin excluded from this statement).

Adult Beverages. Germany has no shortage of kid’s activities and they seem to also appreciate that adults have needs. At one of the play places I take my son, I can buy a really nice latte or even a great beer. Praise the lord. If I have to sit at a bounce house place for 4 hours then either a stimulant or depressant is required! Thank you, Germany for just being adult about this and letting me have a beer in front of my kid.

I feel better now, that’s a pretty good list of positive things. Next blog I might have to rant. Maybe a long list of complaints to let off some steam? First complaint, European toilet bowls, can we please just put more water in them?

 

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Playground with adult beverages, notice the serenity on my face…

 

 

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Beautiful park near us along the Erft River.

 

 

 

Tower of Babel

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!

Fun with German Insurance

My husband, who is a native German, has been having trouble getting us on the state run health insurance (Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung). Because of a loophole we will need to go private, and the private insurance wants each of us to have a basic health form filled out by a doctor.

So I marched down to the doctor’s office my first full day in Germany with my five year old on his scooter. I practiced words like versicherrung (insurance) on the way. If you say it fifteen times it just rolls off your tongue. I was nervous to try my german out but also channeling some of that foolish cockiness of my youth!

I made it through the receptionist ok and the nurse helped me out with a bit of english. She even measured me when I didn’t know how many centimeters I was. Why does the US still go by feet and inches? Even the Brits adopted metrics! I was feeling all brave and fluent as they lead me into the doctor’s office. He was sitting at a desk very business like. Ok, that’s different for me right there. It was so formal. I explained that my German was a little rusty and he didn’t crack a smile. Hmm, this was strange for me, people usually warm up to me.

So he begins to ask me the first question from the form. I hear the first question as if I have never spoken German before. My mouth is hanging open and I am stunned. I squeak out a little, “What? Could you repeat that?” (in German) He rolls his eyes and throws the papers up in exasperation. Well, I thought; this is off to a good start. He tries again to move down the list on the form. We are kinda moving along well I think, I try to crack a little joke, nothing, nada, not even a hint of a smile from him. My charms on him are dead. We struggle with my German and his impatience. He examined my eyes, ears, and throat. I felt horribly uncomfortable. I was just glad to get my form and go.

And I leave there wondering if that was a cultural misunderstanding or was he an insensitive jerk. I think a little of both. I mean I’m not in Texas anymore right, people aren’t going to be sugary sweet. But no matter the culture, I think someone in the healing profession should try and make his patients comfortable.
I’m thinking it’s all behind me and next time I will just go to another doctor. Then Markus comes home and tells me the paperwork is not correct and I must go back. Whaaa! No way, no how, I’m not going back to Dr. Smiley. What’s wrong, I ask. “Marie, he was supposed to do a gynaeklogie exam.” I’m staring at Markus dumbfounded and its slowly, dawning on me. Let me get this straight Markus, “In order to have insurance in Germany I need to show my vagina?” Markus looked a bit nervous but got brave and answered, “It looks like it Marie.” I went off on a tirade and was ready to pack my bags and go back to the states. Poor Markus. It wasn’t even his fault but he stepped in it. Then Markus looks defensive and tired and says well I had to pull down my pants too! And Max did as well. Ok so let me get this even straighter, “I have to take one for the team?”
I realized I was getting all Francis Macdormand on my husband and tried to chill out before I stormed the insurance office and burned it down.
Then the best part came, my husband decided to take me down to the Dr’s. office himself and try and straighten this out. I felt kinda proud “Okay, yeah, Dr. Smiley, I have a native speaker with me now!” And if you know my husband, well then watch out! If we were a cartoon I would have been depicted with fist bumps behind Markus shouting “Go Get EM!” Markus argued back and forth as the office staff were trying to send me to a gynecologist, just to check off the form to confirm that I have a vagina. Seriously! So we finally get in to see Dr. Smiley and it turns out he is kinda on our side and doesn’t really want to look at my vagina anyway! But nonetheless, he won’t check off the box that says “genitale” because that is not his specialty.
It remains to be seen still if I will have to have a gynecological exam just to be insured in Germany. Poor Markus is trying to figure that out. As it turns out I will need to show proof of insurance to get my Visa. So all feminism aside , I might be pulling my pants down faster than you can say Krankenversicherung.