Terror on the Streets

We have collected my new set of wheels and my manual (stick shift) lessons with Gary have begun in earnest.  Since he travels all the time, we have to do lessons in increments–I’ve had 2 so far.  They’ve gone pretty well and I’ve even learned to get out of first gear on an incline.  This is important because the area we live in has hills all over the place.

So, during lesson number one, on a quiet Sunday–Germans take Sunday very seriously, few businesses open and you’re not even allowed to mow the lawn…really—we practice the trek to Nora’s school.  All is going well and I’m just starting to get that lighthearted feeling of confidence.  Then we decide to drive up a hill and into the parking lot of a cemetery. For reasons I can’t remember, I stall the car right at the entrance, which is on an incline. The cemetery is not a busy place and there are no moving vehicles in sight.  I feel like I have a moment to figure things out when suddenly I see, in the rearview mirror, a car zoom up behind us.  Now they are flashing their lights.  Now they are waving their arms and yelling.  It doesn’t matter that this car has 20 feet to drive around us. This driver is determined to move forward and mad as hell I’m in the way.  I completely panic and can’t get the car out of first. I wave an arm with the international symbol of  “I’m screwed here, just pull around,” but I see the driver shake her head.  I give up trying to get out of first and just sit there while Nora in the backseat pleads “Mommy just try again.”

Finally, the other driver decides to pull around but she’s not done with me.  She stops alongside and starts screaming in German.  She won’t go away.  I’m so frustrated I yell back that I’m trying to learn manual and would she please leave us alone.  She then starts screaming in English that I should have put a sign on my car that I’m a student driver.  And, she continues her rant and finally pulls away. While she’s yelling I realize  I’ll never forget her face.  I also notice her meek husband in the front passenger seat and and elderly couple in the back.  I can’t believe that someone going to a cemetery on a Sunday morning would act this way.  I’d understand more tension if it was Monday morning and she was trying to get to work but this…was a freak show.  I truly believe I could have told her “My car is broken down,” or “I’m having a baby,” and she still wouldn’t have swayed.  I had broken the order of things (“Ordnung”) and had to pay for my crime. See http://books.google.com/books?id=ry8v9IwFgMgC&pg=PA36&lpg=PA36&dq=ordnung+importance+germany&source=bl&ots=MewdBc9tu-&sig=6GaEC8Xd0GCgG7iFv0FnJydGkOk&hl=en&ei=XMVTSrSREJPGnAP39ZgF&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1

As she and her passengers unload from their car on the opposite end of the lot, we sit there and watch their animated conversation about my shortcomings as a driver. I give them a jaunty, exaggerated wave, hoping to fuel the flames.  “Don’t do it–you could go to jail for that,” Gary suddenly says. “What are you talking about?” I scowl.  “I met an English guy who has a friend that gave another driver the finger and the Germans threw him into jail for a night,” he informs me.  Well, I didn’t do the finger but now I’m worried about going to jail for being sarcastic. This driving lesson suddenly has gone very wrong and I just want to go home.  Then we see our friend exit the lot but, this time without the elderly couple.  I’m pretty sure she buried them alive.

Gary talks me back into the saddle and we start off again.  We go on the circuit we were doing before and when he suggests I head back to the cemetery lot, I balk.  “What if we see Frau Godzilla again?” I bleat.  He laughs but tells me not to worry about her.  Instead, we compromise and practice on an incline elsewhere.  Then Gary suggested we shorten her name to Frau Zilla.  So, she is now known in our house that way and will never be forgotten.

Now, I must say that while German drivers are aggressive, I have also noticed that Germans without the four wheels can be very nice.  In fact, many love to be helpful when they see someone in a predicament, which seems to happen to us daily at this point. They also go delirious when they are treated graciously. In fact, we have already been invited–via letter!– to a German neighbor’s house for drinks which is almost unheard of.  They are having a tree cut down and the easiest way to remove it is through our back yard.  They can hardly believe we’ve agreed to it and that we are not bothered by it.  I don’t care about a couple days of a whining chainsaw and tree guys in our yard.  They were the same guys who painted our house so it almost feels like family.

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5 responses to “Terror on the Streets

  1. Kate Voelker

    Ellen,
    This is a great addition to the Stranger in a Strange land series. I remember nearly taking out a gass pump with Dad learning to drive a stick shift. Good luck. I am looking forward to the day when you meet Frau Zilla in the grocery store, doctor’s office or at your neighbor’s home—wonder if she’ll remember you? Do they bury the elderly alive in Germany? Finally—I would fail with Ordnung as I am cutting it close at all times and often arriving out of breath! Love to you all~

  2. So now I understand where my insane desire for order comes from . . . my genes. I can’t wait to tell my therapist. Sorry you were berated by one of my people :), but great job on learning to drive a stick. It is not an easy task. May you never lay eyes on Frau Zilla again!

  3. Hilarious. I’m sorry to say it probably won’t be the last time they go ape-shit over your driving. Pretty soon you’ll get used to it and ignore them, which is what we all did. They make good stories though!!! One thing that would endear you to Germans is a dog. They’ll think you’re a good person because you own a dog! ha ha

    We had the same experience with our German neighbors. They were wonderful people, very helpful.

    I think it’s great that you’re documenting all these experiences. You’ll laugh at them one day!

  4. Ellen,
    It is so fun to hear your voice in your writing!
    Keep it up!

  5. Susan Davis

    I loved your style of writing-so entertaining. I’m Victoria’s Mum in S. Ireland and the different attitudes to driving are extreme. We just have Cow road blocks or traffic jams!! Take care. Susan X

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