Tuesday, January 03, 2006


January 3, 2006

Yesterday I had another unhappy encounter with the butcher at the Biomarkt. She isn’t my usual butcher but mine was closed and I needed something so had no choice. She’s an imposing figure, huge, with a bright red face, gruff and stiff, not at all the touchy-feely “Bio” type, but then she’s the meat lady and the odd person out at the Bio anyway. Using my best intro-level German, I asked for rindfleisch. Now all you real German speakers out there don’t jump all over my spelling – you know what I mean and so would Brunhilde the Butcher if she had just listened to me instead of panicking at the sound of my very non-German German and in a full, loud voice hollering “ENGLISH!” and then turn away from me until the language reinforcements arrived. When gentle Ursula came running over and asked me how she could be of service I repeated my request. Ursula looked up at the Beefy Broad in white and then at me, I was asked how much, I answered 500 Gram and that was that. My food was wrapped and handed to me over the counter.

I am not the sort of person who on first meeting generally instills either fear or loathing, but this isn’t the first, second or third time the word “ENGLISH!” has been broadcast across the room shortly after I uttered a fractured phrase. In time I will learn this language but I don’t think I will ever blend in. There will always be a telling trace of an accent in my speech that will mark me as an Ausslander, an outsider, and that’s ok, I’ll learn to deal with it. But I have created a new column in my ex-pat diary under the heading “ENGLISH” where I will collect my experiences living in the margin. I’ve never lived in the margin before and it’s too early to draw any conclusions, but not to early to know that being recognized as foreign, and therefore somehow odd, isn’t pleasant.


Blogger A. said...

Hi! Clichés become clichés for a reason ... :)and the cliché about german people is that they can be quite RUDE sometimes. Don't let these little things make you feel unconfortable, but DON'T GET USED TO IT - I mean , try not to loose the ability to distinguish between rudeness and politeness ehehehehe
P.S. - thanks for "stunning" :)

1:12 PM  
Blogger Berlinbound said...

Anna ... you are right of course and that is good advice ... thank you.

2:39 PM  
Blogger Tania said...

My best friend's father once, after an extended vacation in Europe, summed up the entire German people with one word: "Surly."


Reminds me of David Sedaris's writing about living in Paris as an utter non-Francophile and non-Francophone. Especially when he recalls pointing at some calves' brains at the butcher shop and asking, "Is them the thoughts of cows?" You cannot possibly be doing as badly as that. :)

Being a stranger in a strange land is never easy. I always admire the recent transplants here in New York who march bravely into delis and somehow march out with what they want. In fact, I admire the guys at the deli. There's one guy at the bodega around the corner from us in Brooklyn who speaks Arabic, Polish, Spanish and English. He could work for the UN, but he's slicing my salami.

Of course, in two months HH will probably be prattling along in perfect German, and you can have *him* talk to the butcher. :)

10:48 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Poor red-faced Dear, maybe she'd had an incredibly bad day (more likely she's been this way since birth, though). I find the best way to deal with such people is to be incredibly obnoxiously polite and sweetsie with them. Somehow I think they find this more disturbing than being rude back. I love to smile and wave a friendly wave at someone who blares their car horn and gives me the finger. So much satisfaction in that.

2:37 AM  
Blogger Berlinbound said...

"Is them the thoughts of cows?" ...

Tania that is a hoot - I can't stop laughing.

Cathy ... I ran into her again yesterday - she avoided my smiling face ... such is life.

6:39 AM  
Blogger Cathy said...

Perhaps next time you could bend down and look up into her face and grin. I am getting far too much fun with this tought as I sit here smiling to myself as I type this. I think I need to get out.

4:03 PM  
Blogger christina said...

Oh, Richard, I really feel for you! I can see many more of these incidents in your future and all I can advise you to do is try not to take them personally. That said, NOT everyone is like that and hopefully the postive, helpful episodes will make up for the rest.

I've noticed that what gets called rudeness here is often just plain ignorance or fear. That woman is afraid of you. You can do things she can't - you've picked up and moved to a different country, you can (almost) speak two languages. That is all foreign to her and she feels the need to push it aside and let someone else take care of it instead of thinking to herself "Hmm, lets see, this is the meat department so he'll most likely be wanting some meat, probably beef, pork or chicken. Let's see if we can figure it out together." It's just too much for her tiny frame of reference. The life of a "Fleischereifachverkäuferin" is all she knows.

Germans are quite good at singling people out as being different. They don't always mean it in a mean way, but they do it and it can be disconcerting.

11:49 PM  
Blogger Expat Traveler said...

Richard - don't feel alone. I had one very unwelcoming experience in Geneva after I was living in Switzerland for about 8 or so months.

I was out at a restaurant for lunch. I'm semi fluent in French so I can understand a conversation pretty easily and especially I can read the menu and order, but I've got an accent from California maybe? Really you can't pin it. Anyhow...

The waiter ask if we'd like something to drink. I order l'eau avec gaz - the general term to use if you'd like fizzy water. It's not like it's a hard thing to say and the damn waiter turned and looked to my lunch companion and asked him what I had just said. I said what I wanted 3 times and he never got it! I was reduced to feeling like I should just say it in English if the damn waiter couldn't figure that one out. It's not like I can't say the words correctly...

So yes I felt extremely taken back by the rudeness. Know you're definitely not alone!

11:31 PM  

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