We try. We try so hard. Every day we learn a little more German. Every day we get a new glimpse of German culture. And some days we even allow ourselves to imagine that we are becoming functional members of German society. We work, pay taxes, sort our trash, educate our children, feed ourselves and even make the effort to share our German knowledge with other newcomers and curious onlookers! But, every once in a while we just get little reminders of how far we have yet to go.
Errand Day. Ugh, the dreaded Saturday. In the US everyone LIVES for Saturday, right? Get off work, party or relax Friday evening, rest and recover Saturday, maybe do a few chores, but- Hey, no biggie, you have Sunday, too! But, here, Sunday is actually designated as a day of REST. It is a “quiet” day, which means your neighbors will actually complain if you run your vacuum cleaner on Sunday. This is socially enforced resting. All the stores are closed. So, no shopping. In fact, really the only things open on Sunday are museums and movie theaters. Well, ok Turkish Döner Kebab Pizza places are open. But, yeah. NOT a day for *doing* things. Which means, if you are a working person, Saturday is THE ONLY day you can get your errands done.
Thus, yesterday we decided to run a few errands. First we went to the Hardware store to get some anti-mildew cleaning fluid and a roll of electrical tape. That took 20 minutes. Try reading Mildew Removal labels in a foreign language. (Incidentally, German friends, How the heck do you beat back Mildew without using chlorine bleach? I like green and all. But, none of these eco-friendly products actually seem to work! I have 5 dehumidifiers set up around the house, but we still seem to live in a giant mildew soaked sponge) In any case, we were chugging along, so next we stopped by the Pet store. These are some of our favorite stores because they are two of the only places in towns with their own, free, dedicated parking lots! Woot! Even the facade of convenience lures us in like moths to a blowtorch. Besides, the pet store has cute little furry things to look at. Always a positive in my book!
Two down, so far so good. Next up we decided to wash the car. German cars are pretty clean as a general rule, and with all the snow and mud lately, we looked like we had been in a road rally. Not wanting to further the stereotype of the ‘unclean foreigners’, we decided we would try out the snazzy new carwash they just put in behind the Pet Store. We usually use the scuzzy one behind the Turkish Pizza place, but it is sort of tucked away and doesn’t always seem to give the full amount of time for your coins. So, why not try the new joint? At first I thought maybe we could use the little drive-in full service wash hut they had. But, the place was overrun. We were obviously not the only ones keen on getting the salt and mud off our VW’s. Instead, we opted to wait in line for one of the Do It Yourself hose-wash stations. We have used these successfully in the past. There is one behind our local pizza place and they are just like the ones in the States- coin-op. You put in your money, turn the dial to the setting you want (rinse, foam, wash, polish, etc) and then feed in more cash when the timer runs out. We waited patiently as the man in front of us finished his session and the line behind us began to grow.
Eventually it was our turn to hop up and spray off the car. Since I rather like the process, I offered to take the lead and stepped over confidently to the machine. I put in my coin and…. the machine spit it out. I tried again. Nope. Um, David, is there something on these signs that I am missing? No, no no. It must just still have time on it from the last guy! Oh. Ok.
So, I try again. I squeeze the trigger on the hose. A little dribble comes out. I can see the next man in line trying not to stare at me. I try to put the coin in. Again, it spits it out. Um, David? I think maybe it needs tokens? No no! At this point David stepped querulously from his seat. “Fine, you go sit down. I will do it!”
30 seconds later a fuming husband stalked back to the car. “It needs effing tokens!” We beat a hasty retreat, tails tucked firmly between our legs, faces covered in egg, German-failing minds in embarrassed confusion. Car washing will have to wait.
As we were leaving we saw a little sign pointing to the hut we had rejected as too crowded early on. “Wasche Wertmarke –> ”
We looked it up. Sure enough. “Wash Tokens”. DOH!
Later that day we washed our car at the place behind the Turkish pizza joint. No line. No one watching us. And, they are kind enough to ausslanders to take normal old German coins.
Next Up it was Food Shopping time. Most of the shopping is pretty routine these days. We have learned to navigate the coin-operated shopping carts. We know how to load our food back into the cart as it is being rung up so as not to stop the flow of traffic. We know to hand our credit card to the attendant instead of putting it into the machine ourselves. We know to keep a large assortment of bags in the car to load our groceries into as we go home.
But, the one place we still sometimes get stuck is the Fruits and Vegetable aisle. In Germany every item in the produce section might be sold one of two ways. Per Stück, which means per piece. Or by weight. When it is sold by weight, you as the customer must weigh it. You take it to the scale provided and either type in the code located near the display where the fruit or vegetable is found. OR, you find the picture that matches the item you are holding and press that on the scale. Either way, the scale weighs the item and then spits out a little sticker that says how much you need to pay. You put this either right on the item, or on the bag you have the item in. And the cashier scans it in at the check out stand.
Kaufland, where we shopped yesterday, uses the picture system. Only, what do you do when you aren’t sure what the heck you are buying?
For instance, yesterday we bought this:
We would call it a White Asian Pear. So, when looking at the picture guide, we picked the photo of a pear, birnen. WRONG. That dear friends is a Nachtbirne! A Night Pear! And, apparently it had its own photo somewhere on the list. We don’t know where. The poor cashiers had quite a little conference over our faux pas. Eventually, they decided that since pears and night pears cost the same, we were in the clear. But, there was a stressful moment in there when the Orderliness expected of a German check out line was definitely in danger!
As we were leaving we made up a little rhyme about our run in with the Pear Police:
Were you aware that is not a pear?
I was not aware, but I don’t really care!
Every once in a while our bad attitudes sneak in… just a little.