For the most part I forget that I’m actually in a foreign speaking country. I forget the language wall that is up around me on the trains, in shops and even in my yoga class.
When I came back from an outing today the front door to my building wouldn’t open. I jiggled my key in the lock for a while but still to no avail. As if by some miracle two people turned up at the door right behind me that live in the ‘haus’. Goodie, I thought, my rescuers. The gentleman tried his key and muttered something about ‘kaput’, rang someone in the building, they spoke on the intercom and then the listener opened the door for us. Mmmnn, I thought, later on I’m going out and will be back at some wee hour of the morning. I do hope that by then the jammed lock will be fixed. When I went out later, this sign had been attached to the door. OK, complete mystery….will take a photo and ask someone while I’m out what it means. Meanwhile I had planned an alternative route into the building involving jumping the fence and coming in the back, should the need arise.
I was heading somewhere by train and while waiting on the platform a woman was there muttering something about Potsdamer Platz. Then she approached me and asked in German if she was on the right train to get there. I could hear UBahn and Potsdamer Platz in her question, enough for me to know what she needed. No, you need to change at Alex then pick up the U2, I said, switching us over to English. She smiled and in perfect English replied thank you so much. She wandered off down the platform and I suddenly remembered my picture from the front door of my building. A bit of give and take here, I thought. I showed it to her and asked her to translate. She said, it says the lock is broken, so please don’t close this door. That was enough information to relieve my anxiety that I would be able to get back into the building later on.
Germany is amazing like this, particularly here in Berlin. There is English everywhere. You can press a button on the train ticket machines to English, the ATMs give you the language options, websites often can be converted to English version, and the rest you do actually pick up as you go along. Besides all that, there is always the back up that my German friends will switch to English in a heartbeat. No hesitation, no irritation, no ego, just a willingess to communicate. Perhaps we put that down to the culture of German efficiency, perhaps it’s a willingness on their part to use their English or perhaps it’s a kindness to a fellow human in need. I will surely never know why, but I just love that about Germans. This post is to give my gratitude to probably what is a very small thing in their mind, but a very big thing in my experience of being here.