Two Germanys

Now that I’ve been here 4 months, I realize I generalize too much when I refer to “The Germans…”  But I feel comfortable generalizing on this one thing: “The Germans” just don’t understand customer service.  Sure, they can set up shops and sell goods, they are the number one exporter in the world, but if any sort of curveball is thrown at them, they don’t know what to do. Last week, Gary and I attended a “Stammtisch” which literally means a table reserved for regulars.  It’s an occasion where the same group of people meet, on a regular basis, at the same place, for dinner, drinks, and conversation.  The stammtisch that we attended is a different twist on that theme. It’s hosted monthly by Cheryl, our relocation agent and she invites all of her clients who come from all parts of the world to a different venue each time. It’s basically a cocktail party at pretty clubs in Frankfurt. So, the party was in full swing by the time we got there and Gary and I each ordered a glass of wine and started chatting with now familiar faces.  We were having a great conversation about Budapest with another couple when suddenly I saw out of the corner of my eye a waiter about to dump an entire tray of full glasses and bottles on me.  It was too late to do anything except try to turn my back to it and then a shower of booze and glass came down.  It was a real head-turning crash, worthy of a movie scene.  My entire left side, from my head down to the inside of my shoe was drenched.  Somehow I was still holding the stem of my wine glass in my left hand and the rest of the wineglass was a jagged mess.  I think I was in shock because all I managed to say was “Wow, I can’t believe that happened.”  

Then a team of staff members came out to sweep and mop up the debris and one of them tossed me a napkin.  Figuring this was going to be the start of some assistance, Gary (whose suit got a good splattering) and I waited for them to finish.  They hustled away and then…..nothing.  “Hey, you’re bleeding,” a guy informed me. I looked down to see a gash in my left hand. Realizing that I was in Germany and help was not on the way, I retreated to the ladies room and mopped myself off. The gash wasn’t that big but it was a bleeder and wouldn’t stop.  So I got really mad and marched over to the bar.  Three staff members were standing idle and I launched into them.  “Does anybody here care that because of one of your waiters I am soaking wet and bleeding?”  I waved my bloody hand in their faces thinking this would surely jar them into action.  Nope.  Their faces were blank, not hostile, but with only the slightest hint of curiosity. “What would you like us to do for you?” one of them finally asked.  “Well, you can start by getting me a band-aid,” I offered. It was like trying to get compassion from a doorknob. One of them hustled away and then returned with a band-aid.  “What else can we do for you?” he asked with a bit more curiosity.  A hundred things they could do for me swirled through my head but I didn’t want to spend the rest of my evening training this sorry team on customer service.  “Just get me another glass of Shiraz,” I said and went back into the party.  

As I stood again with Gary, trying to converse with people, I felt hot tears pool in my eyes.  Oh no, I don’t want this evening to include crying, it’s been bad enough already. At that point, I realized what bothered me so much about the incident.  Not that the waiter had an accident but the fact that no one responsible said “I’m sorry” or even cared about what happened. I smelled like a distillery and my clothes on my left side stuck to me.  Fortunately, my clothing was dark so it wasn’t that noticeable but I was pretty sure I wanted to go home.  Then Cheryl came over and asked if I was ready to meet a new expat from England (via Budapest) that she thought I’d really like.  “Not yet,” I said biting my lip.  So we talked over the incident and she showed me her splatter stains on her back. Pretty soon the tears were gone and I went over to meet Allison. I’m glad I stuck it out.  Allison was great fun to talk to and we have a lot in common.  She also lives in our village and has children at Nora’s school. So, surprisingly, it turned into a really nice evening again.

On our way out, Gary was still bothered by the incident and approached the manager who was hidden on the other side of the bar area.  Gary began his sentence with “Meine Frau (yes, married women here are called “frau”-it’s hideous) and he explained the situation to the man who had the same impassive look as the others.  “Here’s my card and you can send me the bill for the dry cleaning,” the manager responded.  Still, not one apology. So, if you ever decide to go to this place, you have been warned. And if they, say, set your hair on fire instead of your creme brulee, you are on your own.  I won’t mention the name of this place (unless you ask) but it rhymes with “Tumors.”

That was the one side of Germany–the chilly, harsh side.  And, the next night, we experienced the other.   Gary and I don’t often have 2 nights out in a row but, the following evening we were back in Frankfurt for another engagement.  This time with our friends Victoria (English) and her husband Andreas (German).  You may remember Victoria who rescued me in the early days here with provisions while we waited for our late shipment to come.  They lived in America for 6 years and grew fond of American-style steak houses like Morton’s, etc.  and they wanted to show us a favorite steakhouse here in Frankfurt called “M.” The evening started all civilized with a first rate meal and then it suddenly morphed into tequila shots back in Königstein at a Mexican bar run by a Greek guy; Then it lurched into a midnight raid of Andreas’ wine cellar;  then we realized it was 3 a.m. and the evening ended with profuse apologies to our babysitter, whose mother has since showed us profound mercy, thank you. While that was not a typical night out for us, the point of this story is, this place can be a lot of fun if you can get over “the other side.”


4 responses to “Two Germanys

  1. Michelle Terrell

    Wow! What a story! I would have had tears in my eyes too! Thinking of you!

  2. Ellen, I am so sorry about your experience. It’s so strange to me that they don’t show more empathy, but then the Germans are not realy known for being warm and fuzzy. I’m so glad you got to make up for it the next night. Hang in there! Hugs, Michele

  3. Tina Darrah

    Ellen, what an experience. I was flabbergasted to read of your treatment at this establishment, despite your delightful (sorry, it really was!) re-telling of the tale. It must have been very frustrating for you and I think you handled it well. It makes you want to shake people and say “What is wrong with you?”

    At least your children are learning how NOT to behave in such situations, as I’m sure your lessons on politeness, appropriateness and empathy have stepped up a notch. Hang in there, you are doing a good thing by writing of your foibles! (and I am enjoying reading them)

    Keep living and keep writing! Tina

  4. Kate Voelker

    Hi Ellen,
    I probably would not go back to “Tumors” either. Glad to hear you are managing though. Give eveyone a kiss for me.

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