Germany’s good, bad and ugly

They say you never stop learning when you learn a language. Mostly, one assumes that means with the language and that’s certainly true (mostly because it’s almost impossible to keep up to speed with any language and its developments, especially if it’s not your first language), but the cultural qualities of the natives of the language you’re learning are also up for grabs.

I’m not new to this language and yet I’m still surprised by people here a lot.

Today has been a wonderful, wonderful day and also a very, very irritating day; people have shown great kindness and great misunderstanding, great patience and great hugs.

I’ll go chronologically.

Today was the day I travelled to Cologne to meet Polly, who’s doing an internship in Brussels, so we met in the middle(-ish). Germany has a great institution called “Mitfahrgelegenheit,” which is a website where people post times and dates of their cross-country car trips, in the hope that other people going in that direction will jump aboard and help pay for petrol costs. It’s bloody brilliant if you ask me and very well loved among most of the people I know here – almost everyone’s done a “Mitfahr.”

I managed, however, to wake up to calls of my Mitfahrgelegenheit (MFG) driver telling me that she was there waiting for me. I wasn’t ready. She (yes, a female one! Unusual) told me she still had to pick up two others at the main train station and that she’d come back to town to collect me.

I dashed out of the house, unshowered and un-face-washed (for the second time this week) and jumped on Doris’ old bike, which I’m loaning from her at the minute, and darted down the deserted Hauptstrasse in the rain. I locked the bike up and made it just in time to meet them there, whereupon I apologise profusely, then spent the rest of the journey wondering whether I could start a sister company of MFG in England and whether it’d be successful /slash/ sleeping.

I arrived later in Köln and met with Polly. We caught up and did some of the boring shops, stopping to buy a wild peach – they look like they’ve been squashed and are wonderful juicy. We then threw the stones of these into the river and bought ourselves 3 hours of bike hire from a jolly chap behind us. He drew us up a route on map and we proceeded to take it. On this bike ride, we also encountered bloody loads of goths. All I can hope for is that there was a convention of some kind in Cologne that day – otherwise it just makes Germany seem even more weird.

Biking with gears is a whole new territory, but let me tell you, ladies and gents, I am a convert.

We went for lunch in a restaurant just over the bridge where all the padlocks are locked onto. Here, my first head-on collision with customer service came to blows and I had to complain in German. I didn’t realise that I hadn’t complained anywhere in German until this happened. I don’t really want to go into massive details because it’s almost irrelevant, but the point is that one of the waitress, who, to be fair, wasn’t our waitress, was not willing to accept a question I was to ask, before I’d even got around to asking it. She then decided that we’d had a ‘misunderstanding’ (I got pretty angry with her and may have even shouted at her, I forget). Polly and I decided that we weren’t being spoken to like this (considering the other waitress had been pretty rude and cold with us previously) and went to leave. On our way out, we saw our waitress and I told her we were leaving and that we wanted to pay for the drinks we’d already had.

Things got put down and managers fetched. My knees were shaking and my German surprisingly good considering the fact that a) I’m not used to using the polite form of “you” almost every and b) I was having to hold my ground in a language that wasn’t my own and translate all the gossipy bits to Pol (mainly to ask for advice of how to react).

The food arrived and we ate it.

Mine had prawns in it, even though I was fairly sure I’d asked the original waitress (so, ours, not the one who was later rude to me) whether it was vegetarian, but I didn’t want to get into anymore of that.

Polly and I, suffering from a ruined conversational flow by this, left the restaurant, tipping as minimally as we could and being sent off by the original, this time very polite waitress who had changed her tune (and, according to the manager, had been crying – I mean… come on). We decided a big hug and a high-five was in order and that we weren’t going to let it ruin our day.

Hopped on the bikes and rode into the masses of people around the cathedral. Some beautiful side-wards images of Polly in my mind’s eye from that moment – she looked really lovely and it was great fun to do something like that with her (even if crossing the bridge together on the bikes was as scary as all hell).

Once we’d arrived back at the bike-man’s hut, with 40 minutes to go, he told us to go north and look at the new harbour, so Pol and I cycled along the side of the Rhein, me feeling very much like this was some epitomic moment for a German student, not sure how Polly was viewing it.

During this event, Sophia called me on my German mobile and told me that she’d just spoken to a woman who had my house keys and my phone (and my jacket). Turns out, the thing had dropped off the back of my bike and this woman had called the last person I’d called from my mobile. Much complicateds, but we ended up racing back to Cologne’s chocolate museum (which we didn’t go into!?) and picking it up. I thanked her profusely too and was reminded of this morning, when I dicked over my MFG driver (in-joke with self lol).

Pol and I were pretty tired from the 3-hour biking event by this point so we walked back into town and had some cake. I was jealous of Polly’s walnut and caramel cake – so much so, that the fact I was eating a germanified version of a Vienetta made no recompense.

We then struggled with all sorts of train administration bodies and their bureaucratic opening and closing times and went home.

On arriving home, I realised how well I was doing to still have the energy to do anything of use, considering I’d slept for so few hours, been out to the pub to play “Who am I?” (I was the Demon Headmaster; the day before I was the “Queen of England town”) with team ERASMUS and Maz’s visiting friend Suz, AND biked around Cologne for 3 hours…

I still managed to drag myself to awful, awful Penny for the standard Saturday-night emergency buy event (I cannot WAIT for shops to have some – just SOME – opening hours on Sundays when I get back). This scene is where the last event for the day comes into play: I dropped some money at the check-out and the guy behind me turned to me and told me that I was losing my money. I bent down, picked it up and looked him in the face to thank him. He obviously didn’t think it was a big deal and made no eye contact. Aaah, Germans.

So all in all, boys and girls, you should feel proud in the fact that I haven’t stopped learning. In the language and around the language and how it all adds up.

Today’s been one of those times where I’ve really missed some things about England and I did find myself thinking that I can’t wait to be away from this whole German mentality in the general public.

Other things that have happened recently: saw the most amazing thunderstorm I’ve ever seen in my entire life and had a very strong religious experience as a result, been surprised at who I am and that I’m in this body and stuff (hard to explain, but I sort of feel like I’ve dropped into this body somehow and all these faculties and stories are just there – it’s like I was carrying about 8 ropes and had dropped them and come back in, picked them all up and carried on knotting them), massively, massively neglected my blog – I still need to write about the fact that I’ve learnt to ride a bike in Germany. Finished orchestra (again). Started an administratively hellish search for someone to take over my room next week. Booked a language course and the associated travel and accommodation in Kraków, Poland (next adventure!).  Massively started looking forward to three things coming up in my future: 1) Poland, 2) September, being home, seeing boyfriend, seeing family and finally sleeping properly and 3) Durham. Moved into the last week of my internship, only 2 days to go now.

Too much for me to remember now and this entry has to be posted today otherwise it loses all meaning.

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