Friday, January 20, 2006

Among the grim ...

January 20, 2006

Yesterday I had my first official nasty run-in with a German. At about 9:00AM His Holiness and I set out on what has become our daily routine - a morning walk and some shopping, followed by a bagel at our new favorite place. After closing the courtyard gate, HH settles in at the controls of his stroller and sets off at half speed down the sidewalk. He has become fairly adept at handling his vehicle but he isn’t quite tall enough to see over the top of the stroller so he stops now and then to peek out from the side to see what the traffic ahead is like, then he bounds forward another few feet before slowing again to reassess the situation. I’ve had more than a few people stop and stare as the apparently self-powered and empty stroller moves down the sidewalk.

One of our regular daily encounters is with the “post lady”, the German Postal service worker who delivers our mail. We look out for her each morning and when HH spots the distinctive yellow cart sitting in the middle of the sidewalk he begins announcing “post lady, post lady” as we approach. He then stops for a moment, they exchange pleasantries and then both of them push their respective carriages away in opposite directions. It’s a simple but gratifying encounter.

Yesterday he spotted the unattended yellow buggy, nosed his stroller up to it and waited. Then I spotted her coming out of the building next door, not our normal post lady but another woman in yellow and blue wearing a cruel frown. She stepped up to her cart and barked at me in rapid German, which I didn’t understand at all. I asked her, in my admittedly lousy German, to repeat what she had just said and she did, in English, something to the effect of “Can you get that out of my way?” Then she waved her hands with that “swat a fly” gesture in HH’s direction and when I wasn’t quite quick enough getting his stroller moving, she backed up her cart and scooted around us. I mumbled something very nasty in English just under my breath and slowly started HH down the sidewalk.

Now I suppose to be fair to the “post lady” she might have mistaken us for Postal thieves attempting a mid morning hack of her bag, or she might have thought we had no intention of moving the stroller out of her path, although she might have guessed when she approached us, me smiling and HH looking up at her hollering “post lady, post lady” that we had nothing more burdensome in mind than a brief sidewalk encounter. I don’t know, but it put me in a sour mood for at least – five minutes.

Now I’ve had folks in the grocery line look at HH and me with daggers in their eyes as we slowly unloaded things from his mini-shopping cart onto the check out belt, and more than once I’ve been nudged out of sorts by an over-eager Deutscher who couldn’t wait one more second to get through a door or out of an elevator, but the encounter with the “post lady” was just plain grumpy. I know we all think our children are the cutest, most adorable little things that ever saw the light of day and the fact is that other people see them as simply annoying little people, slow and often malodorous. That said, you have to be a pretty sour son of a gun not to at least say hello to a little bugger like HH when you encounter him looking up at you from the sidewalk, mumbling in your direction, all full of excitement and expectation.

Such is life among the grim.


Blogger Lisa said...

Nah, that's about par. Welcome to my world. I hate to sit on the side of the grim but it's true. Most people here seem more interested in and sympathetic to the welfare of animals than that of children. I don't understand that attitude, and truthfully I hope I never do. It boggles.

Another sad fact is although I resisted bravely for years I've learned lately the only effective response is to growl right back or be branded for a weak, easy target and thus have to suffer more of the same.

There is a man in my neighborhood who has been glaring at me and making nasty faces (and no, that isn't exaggeration for effect, he will cross the street to do it) for going on six years (six YEARS!) because my 8 week-old puppy didn't make it to the grass and had an accident on the sidewalk - once. One time.

This all reminds me of the biggest thing I miss about the U.S. It may be said of us that we're "superficially friendly" to strangers, but at least we make an attempt. Interacting with an American is a dang lot more pleasant.

6:29 PM  
Blogger Berlinbound said...

Lisa ... Thank you for your contribution ... and advice.

7:33 AM  
Blogger Expat Traveler said...

Ah don't worry about the sour lady as she will go along life as a sad sorry a## forever. I'm sure she'll have that same face on her death bed too!

While I was living in Switzerland, I found it was very rude not to say hello, so I did it with everyone with a cheery face. A smile can always brighten your day. But don't let the few idots who are out there to destroy everyone else's day bother you. Just go with the flow and be happy.

And when you need some sprucing up, just go take a look at my smiling face. It's on me just like that about 98% of my life.

Maybe it's the glum weather that makes em grumpy..

Oh well.. Just smile and go on with your darling HH... :)

5:33 PM  
Blogger Signora B. said...

What a Darling Boy you have.
And its amazing that things havent changed much over there.They know how to be grim,I know .I grew up over there.So happy to be in the USA.and my beautiful Montana,where people wave at one another.
Keep smilimg ,it will drive the "grim"crazy.

6:01 AM  
Blogger christina said...

Forgot to comment on this, but now I will. *sigh* Yes, this is what Germany is like sometimes. There really are people who have such grim lives that they feel the need to gripe at a tiny little stroller-pusing boy and his dad just out for a morning walk. I was reading a few recent news articles about the declining population in Germany and how people are just not having children anymore, for many different reasons, one of them being the "frosty" attitude of many people toward the young ones. One sentence got me: "It's not that the Germans don't like children, it's just that they've forgotten what children are like."

One thing that has always bugged me is the unpredictablity of who is going to lash out at you and when. It's not just the grumpy old men or the lady in the butcher shop or the rude sales clerk at the department store - it can be anyone, any time, any place, usually when you least expect it.

Kill them all with kindness is my attitude. :-)

11:15 AM  
Blogger Berlinbound said...

C, SB and Expat ... Thank you, for listening and understanding and lending perspective.

2:54 PM  
Anonymous megan said...

An all too common experience in Germany, although they seem ever-so slighty less grouchy here in the south. And people wonder why Germans have such an unfriendly reputation and Germany such a low birth rate...

I think they all get so used to being left alone and occupying their little personal bubble that a friendly approach like your little guy's just blows their circuits.

Hope it didn't get him (or you) too down for too long.

4:17 PM  
Anonymous desyl said...

Yes, welcome to Germany. I try not to say Germans are rude, it's just a matter of kultur, but I do miss the basic consideration one gets in the States. Things Germans love to do: bump into you and glare at you for taking up that space they feel is rightly theirs, criticize how you are raising your children while randomly passing you in the middle of the street (you are not bundling them up enough, its too early to give them chocolate, etc.), love their dogs/bikes/drink delivery guy more than their own kids.

No matter how much you smile you will never change this fundamental aspect of the German character. They will just think you are the lobotimized fascist of an American they knew you to be in the first place, and no matter how long you live here, your child will still be teased as a "foreigner" at school.

I'm sorry. I do really like living here. The brez'n are delicious. Wurst like no other. We are close to Poland. The behavior is more pronounced in the north (Berlin in the winter is land of people who wish they were Italian), and people are often friendly here (in Muenchen), so moving from there has been a breath of fresh Alpine air.

Good luck! Don't let it get you down. Don't let them be mean to your baby.

12:38 AM  
Blogger Berlinbound said...

M and D ... I won't let any of this get me down - I don't have time for it for one and I am an eternal optimist!

Peace ...

8:15 PM  
Anonymous Ivan said...

And here I was thinking that strolling along with HH would be irresistible to ladies in Cologne...
To be honest I was surprised you had not had any of those grumpy germans yet. I dont really believe in sterotypes but ...
By the way.. not sure but I have the suspicion I am the first ever guy to leave a message in this blog.. which confirms my suspition: HH is indeed a babe magnet!

11:16 AM  

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