I have a regular routine now with our branch manager of our bank. I go in and fill out forms to A) do a wire transfer B) get an ATM card C) get a credit card D) allow automatic debit from our account. He carefully helps me with the forms so that I don’t miss anything. Then days pass and A) the wire transfer hasn’t happened B) the ATM card never arrives C) ditto the credit card D) automatic debit happens but I get a letter, written in German naturally, saying what looks like “We barely got this done for you and it may not happen again.” So, I take every document I think I’ll need and head down to the branch to seek an explanation. These encounters are very pleasant and they always end with A) we couldn’t read the bank clerk’s handwriting so we didn’t do the wire transfer B) We don’t know what happened to your ATM card C) Oh, we switched Mastercard carriers so you’re paperwork was probably thrown out D) Yes, we have your paperwork for the automatic debit but what about those 4 other sheets you must fill out? And, so it goes. We never received these 4 sheets, by the way. And, why does one automatic debit require practically a tribunal? Lastly, I’ve filled out the paperwork twice now for the credit card and it still hasn’t arrived.
But this is nothing compared to the 20 sweaty minutes I spent in the company of our local DMV official. I had to get the car title transferred to my name and was accompanied by a relocation agent. She had sent me several nervous emails prior to this, making sure I had a certain white card from our insurance agent. We are using an American insurer and she was skeptical the DMV would go for it. I assured her all was set and she drove us to Bad Homburg for our appointment. I was surprised that when we got there the waiting room was completely empty. We sat down and waited for my name to be called.
Then, in what sounded like someone clearing his throat, our time had come. As I turned the corner, the first thing I noticed was the intense body odor, then I saw our helper face -to-face. He was about 22 years old, tall, lean, angry, covered in snake tattoos, and drunk with his authority. I handed over my paperwork with confidence and he emitted “nein, nein.” The relocation agent then looked at that rotten white card and showed me the problem. It had Gary’s name on it and not mine. Then our helper told us to get out and try to get another appointment for next week. I sent a pleading look over to the relocation agent and she shakily asked him if we could call the insurance company. They argued this for several minutes and I watched it like it was a courtroom drama. They were the opposing lawyers and I was the defendant. I decided to have a look on my face that was somewhere between understanding my sin but pitiful all the same. At last, arguments exhausted, he thought for a moment and nodded his head.
The customer service rep from the insurer told us he’d have it all fixed in a jiffy. Instead, he had us on hold for 15 minutes, coming on once in a while with cheery assurances it was almost ready. In the meantime, the DMV guy would growl warnings to us that our time was up. The waiting room was still empty but that seemed to be beside the point. Finally, He Who Must Be Placated looked at his computer screen and grunted in approval. Our insurer had finally sent the goods. We exited quickly before he could change his mind.
So with these experiences and many others in mind, I wasn’t looking forward to getting a prescription filled at the Apoteke (pharmacy.) I had a written prescription from one of our doctors in Raleigh and approached the pharmacy with a mixture of dread and resignation. After all, even at an American pharmacy, they won’t accept prescriptions from out-of-state doctors. And, if you need Sudafed for your sinus infection, you are assumed to be a meth addict and must sign a log before you can get it.
Anyway, I hand over the prescription to the pharmacist, she barely glances at it, and heads to the back room. Moments later she comes back with the medicine and tells me it will be 39 euros. What? No argument? I don’t have to fill out 30 more forms for this? No clicking on a computer, verifying anything? Then I remember Gary telling me he was able to get antibiotics here last winter for a sinus infection and he didn’t need a prescription. I realize I could come in with some scrawl on a post-it note, signed by Mickey Mouse and it wouldn’t matter here. Thus, the enigma that is Germany.