Category Archives: November 2009

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.”

Life in a Small World

Yesterday, we had the pleasure of participating in our first Martinstag or Saint Martin’s Day.  It’s a very popular and traditional celebration here of a Roman soldier who ripped his cloak in half for a beggar who was freezing on the side of the road. All the villages and towns seem to have their own celebration of the sainted man. It was a wet and cold night but I bundled up Nora and Jack (Gary was traveling) and we headed into the Aldstadt of our village for a party at Jack’s pre-school (Spielgruppen).  Pretty soon we heard drums beating and it was time to join the parade.  There were hundreds of people, holding lanterns, streaming through the streets lined with half-timbered houses.  The very young, like Nora and Jack, have lanterns with battery-operated lights surrounded by beautiful paper designs.  Older children get the privilege of carrying actual torches.    

Our parade was led by a man on horseback, dressed like St. Martin as a Roman soldier, and he guided us up toward the castle. Once we reached the castle, there was a giant bonfire and remarks from the Burgermeister and the reigning castle “queen” Verena, another friend from our early days here.  After warming by the fire, we exited the castle grounds and every child was given a Wechmann, a sweet bread in the shape of a ginger bread man.

It was a beautiful night but what made it even more special was running into my new friend Natalie on our way up to the castle.  Natalie is from South Africa and we have played tennis a few times.  I told her that I had made another South African friend named Lauren and I thought they should meet.  When I described Lauren a little further, Natalie cocked her head and smiled “I think I know her. She was my playmate until we were 4 years old.”  I followed up with Lauren the next day and, yes, she’s the one.  Reunion on the way.

Hair We Go Again

Since yesterday, I have been drenched in self-pity over a botched hair cut.  Well, technically, it’s a well-done cut.  But, it’s not the one I wanted. A few months ago, I decided to grow my hair longer and was now just getting to the length I wanted.  However, I needed to get things shaped up so I went back to a hairdresser who had given me a successful haircut earlier.  Her English is good (important since my German is bad) and she’s also skilled and friendly.  When I re-explained my goals, she seemed to remember and understand completely what I was saying.  However, by the time I left the salon–chop, chop– I was back where I started 3 months ago. Something was completely lost in translation!  

I decided today I had 3 options:

1. Sob into my pillow every night

2. Go back to the salon on a homicidal rampage

3. Google “quick hair growth”

After much deliberation, I went for the third option.  Up popped various theories on Vitamin E, B-Complex, et al.  But, the most interesting one to me was a tincture of Stinging Nettles. I became convinced this was my silver bullet and visited a health foods store in search of the cure.  Well, I found it.  It only came in a pack of 3 bottles and this stuff tastes like….hmmmm….if your dog wore underwear and you put it in a blender and added some water, there you go.