Monday, January 26, 2009

How NOT to make your German neighbor your friend

We have some lovely neighbors next door. We seem to have some things in common. They have a young child, we have a young child. One of them worked in the US for over a year, we are from the US. We both just moved to Berlin recently. The list can go on...

And they are German. We have friends from all around the world now but even though I am living in Germany, we don't really have any good German friends. (I am not counting the scientist's work colleagues yet).

Enter the Misunderstandings.

Misunderstanding 1: We only go out of town when they are home and vice versa.

We spent months when we first met trying to find a day to get together. We literally had conversations like this:

Nice Neighbor: What about getting together this weekend?
Me: sorry, going out of town
NN: what about next weekend? Oh wait that won't work for us
Me: What about the end of this month?
NN: we have family visiting.
Me: we have visitors also right after your visitors leave.
NN: Then we are going out of town!
Me: What about April of 2030?
NN: we might actually be free that day!

You get the picture. For awhile, it was just frustrating that we couldn't find time. So we both gave up.

Misunderstanding # 2 - The Mail Key

We hadn't seen our lovely neighbors for over a month December and I figured they were traveling again. Fast forward to January 2009. A few days after the new Year, we get a knock on the door. Our neighbors and their child are standing there with some gifts. Crap! I thought! I should have bought them Xmas presents!!!

He starts talking to me in German. I catch something about a mail key and thank you.

A side note: Those of you who are learning a 2nd or 3rd language know that a lot of how you understand the language is context. I don't understand every word people are saying to me but I usually understand the meaning of what they are trying to say. I think this is why talking in person is easier than talking on the phone. Because my neighbor was talking about something that I didn't expect, I didn't really trust that I know what he was saying. You can try this in English. Think about how many times you know what you expect to hear back from the person talking to you.

So back to my neighbor: I am really confused at this point so he switches into English. Eventually, I figure out that they put a mail key in our mailbox to grab their mail while they were gone. This is great except that I don't remember getting any mail keys from them in our mail!

I feel really bad but I don't think it made it into my box. They still gave us these 2 cute presents as a thank you! (We think she may have accidentally put it into a box of someone who has a similar last name to ours but who never seem to check their mail)

Misunderstanding #3 - my birthday party

I had been meaning to invite them to my birthday party all week but I was sick and so I didn't ask them. When I finally felt better, I actually ran into her in the hall. I told her it was my birthday Monday and we were having some friends over on Sunday. I asked them to come. She insisted on bringing a cake.

They didn't make it so I thought maybe that their child was sick. People with children have more complications and so I wasn't concerned about it.

Fast forward to this morning: the doorbell rings and they are standing there with a cake and a small present!

We talk (only in English this time) and they got the dates mixed up. Or I did. Who knows at this point? Also, Germans don't usually celebrate their birthday before their actual birthday. It is supposedly bad luck. I didn't know this (until yesterday). I can see why they thought it was strange that I would have my birthday on Sunday.

I swear folks, this is too strange to make this stuff up! However, I hope we can get over these things because they seem like really lovely people! And they are right next door!


Diane Mandy said...

I'm sure your open and friendly demeanor is making up for many of these misunderstandings!

kwallocha said...

I can relate to the birthday misunderstanding. I am a German living in the USA and when I told my mum that we will be celebrating my son's birthday a couple of days before his actual birthday, she almost freaked out over the phone. Saying it would be bad luck. I guess I am already too long in the USA because I didn't really care. It was more important to me to have a great birthday party for him on the weekend.

arturgreensward said...

I'm not sure that "Misunderstanding #1" is technically a misunderstanding. :)