Friday, January 22, 2010

Never mind the Ps and Qs

Did you notice how in my last post I didn't apologise for the lack of recent posting. That was because one of my New Year's Resolutions is to cut down on apologising and saying thankyou.

I have always been a big over-thanker and in Germany I've been told that it's frowned upon as being insincere and something that English people do. God forbid. I think it's something Australians do too, although I suspect my over-thanking is excessive. This would be a typical exchange for me if, for instance, I'd gone into a shop to buy a house brick.

Me: (handing over house brick) Thanks! (presumably meaning - "thanks for allowing me to buy this house brick").
Shop assistant: Would you like that wrapped?
Me: Thanks!
Shop assistant: that will be ten dollars.
Me: (handing over the money) Thanks! (presumably meaning - "thanks for accepting my money for the purchase of this house brick").
Shop assistant: Would you like a bag?
Me: No thanks!
Shap assistant: Goodbye.
Me: (leaving shop exhausted) Thanks. Thanks a lot.

I'd continued this bad habit here in Germany until Matty pointed out, when he visited us in October, that when you hand over money in Germany and say 'danke' it basically means 'you've done such a great job that I want you to keep the change. No really, keep it.' This was quite a revelation and explained the confused looks I'd been getting at the supermarket checkout and train station. Clearly it was a habit I had to break and I'm trying, although it's a struggle.

The other thing - the apologising - isn't too bad, although I do slip up occasionally. The thing that helps me there is that the word for excuse me - Entschuldigung - is such an awkward word to get out. Once I've managed to form it in my brain, the recipient of my apology is often long gone.

Over here it's considered ridiculous to apologise for things that didn't happen. If you don't actually crash into someone, but narrowly miss instead, why apologise for it? If you do, the other person will look at you in confusion and say 'but nothing happened,' then walk away muttering 'weirdo.' As for that bizarre English habit of apologising when someone crashes into you ('Oh my Lord I'm so sorry for being in your way just when you weren't looking where you were going!') that's just not done either.

Yesterday a woman stopped me on the street and started asking for directions. Maybe I could've worked it out, but I snapped into auto pilot.
'Sorry,' I said (in German) 'I don't speak German.' She turned way angrily, saying what I think basically translated as
'Yeah, that'd be right. Weirdo.'

So on the whole, I'm very much into my not-apologising resolution. I think it'll help me blend in.

Here are some other resolutions I'd make if there were any chance of them being achieveable:

- grow more bottom eyelashes (just to be clear - that's eyelashes on my bottom eyelids, not eyelashes on my bottom). I swear I used to have them. Now they're mostly gone. Oh how I wish everytime I'd brushed an eyelash off my cheek in irritation I'd stored it in some dainty little eyelash box so it could be transplanted now that I need replacements.

-learn to speak German. This just aint happening. Mads officially understands way more than me. And she loves to correct my pronunciation. Show-off kid.

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