Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Honeymoon is over ...

In exactly two weeks I’ll be back in New York for an extended stay. I can’t deny that this thought has been with me nearly all the time I’ve been here in Germany, in the back of my mind when I am doing just about anything. It’s like a psychic escape valve of sorts. No matter how difficult or frustrating or odd things get for me, I have always been able to stop and say to myself, “Look, soon enough you will be back in the states for a nice long visit, you can buy all the things you can’t find here in Germany, you can have long esoteric conversations in your native language and you can go just about anywhere you want and never, for even a moment, feel out of place.” I have to tell you this knowledge has made the difference between despair and simple frustration more times than I care to mention. Like this week when I sensed for the first time that the honeymoon period with my local merchants was beginning to end. The first indication that things were not completely copasetic, was when I entered my local Post Office and asked for a form to transfer funds from my account to the kindergarten His Holiness has just entered. The postmistress told the man who ended up interpreting, to inform me that my German just wasn’t good enough, that my one crash course wasn’t sufficient and that I needed to learn the language. I was crushed, floored really. Here I was feeling all integrated and slam!

To compound this insult to my already bruised sense of expatriate self, I also sensed a distinct difference in the service I was receiving at my neighborhood butcher. For the last few weeks I have been coming in during the middle of the week, when things are slow, and tasting from the truly amazing variety of items offered for sale. For those of you who have never visited a good German Metzgerei let me tell you, the assortment of foodstuffs derived from the pig is beyond the imagination of the average American pork enthusiast. I can’t for the life of me figure out which label in the meat counter refers to which pork product so when things are relatively quiet in the shop, I have been tasting and I had no idea I might have been considered something of a pest. Well, this week when I stood before the counter three of the four butchers on duty said hello then retired into the back before the owner finally came out, grim faced with cleaver in hand and grunted, “bitte”, the bare minimum required in polite German grocery shopping culture. Oh, and I was the only person in the store!

So the honeymoon is over, and my one crash-course German language class has finally worn thin at my regular haunts. I guess first–person-present-tense isn’t the “one size fits all” that I hoped it might be. I have every intention of taking more courses it’s just that I’ve been with HH full time since the New Year and I’ll be in New York until the late summer, so it just wasn’t feasible to begin a new course. In September I am going to dive right back into it and by Christmas Eve 2006 I pledge to deliver my Holiday greetings in the correct tense and person to all people young and old, formal and familiar.