To this day I cannot for the life of me remember what I deemed so death-like urgent that necessitated a mailing to New York City just three days before Xmas. Every 7-10 years I fancy myself a mailer of Christmas cards and perhaps my being freshly arrived in Germany by just six weeks compelled me to send off a Christmas card or two. Homesickness, I came to learn, can affect one in many different ways. Apparently the wave I was experiencing had adversely affected my sound and rational decision-making skills.
Let's back it up a moment...
For those newbies to Harlem Hausfrau, I live in Köln (or Cologne as we spell it in the States.) With a definite international flair attached to it, Köln comes with the ability for foreigners to easily navigate through the city center with a minimal and/or non-existent knowledge of the local language. I however live just outside the city where speaking German most definitely does not fall within the ‘nice to have” category. Be rest assured that if one is in need of assistance in finding the toilet paper aisle within the local drugstore, best to learn what those words look like in the local language.
In our town, we are fortunate enough to have easy access to all the shops that one would need in order to successfully navigate through day-to-day life. In the past, trips to pick up the essentials were typically done by V and I as a team, with me being anxious to pick up some key German words/phrases for when the time came for me to go it alone. In the roll up to Christmas 2010, we found ourselves with a laundry list of errands to manage. As we drove into town and exited the car, understanding that the post office would be our first stop, V eyeballed the long line wrapped around the building and suddenly made the decision to split up so that we might effectively divide and conquer. Remembering that previous post office encounters had involved V engaged in long and drawn out conversations with the various postal workers left me filled me with a bit of apprehension that I would be unable to execute this task effectively without him. “You will never get through that line before I get back" he said. "I'll be quick about!" And off he went.
Now in the States, a line like that which stood before me would have required a fresh issue of People magazine in hand, as I would have been up for a good 30 minute wait time. German efficiency however was working most assuredly against me that day as before I knew it I was next in line. Peering over my shoulder with V nowhere in sight, I reminded myself that all was in order with my mailing and that I would soon be on my way. As I saddled up to the counter, I smiled brightly despite the clear ‘It’s Christmas-time and this sucks” look stenciled across the face of my neighborhood postal worker. As I patiently waited for her to relay the cost of my mailing, she looked down, cocked her head to the side and suddenly began sharing a paragraphs-worth of German with me. While by this time I knew that Germans have a profound love of really looooooooong words, I felt certain that it did not take this much dialogue to tell me the cost of mailing my card to the States. I slowly turned my head towards the door silently hoping that V would suddenly materialize to facilitate translation. Instead I found a post office swarming with people loaded down with Christmas packages, who were all staring at the singular element that was turning their wait time into a longer one. Me.
“Ich spreche kein Deutsch,” I said. (I don’t speak German)
“Ich spreche kein Englisch,” she said.
We exchanged this titillating dialogue back and forth in no less than 5 or 6 times as if one of us would finally break and suddenly bend to the others will by speaking fluently in their mother tongue.
I was clearly on the struggle bus here and it did not look like I was getting off anytime soon.
So... what I did gleam from this exchange between us was that she appeared confused over the words "New York City" as she pointed repeatedly to this area of my mailing. Perhaps my handwriting was difficult to read I surmised and thus understood I needed to employ a new strategy. Being a big believer in the international language of mime, I went so far as to stand stock still with an imaginary torch high above my head with the hopes she would ultimately see the striking similarities between me and the Statue of Liberty. Sweating my way through a wildly under-appreciated mime routine while slowly pronouncing every syllable of the words "New York City," I was made suddenly aware of a tiny voice behind me. While I felt certain the voice was speaking directly to me, I feared turning around, convinced my fellow post office patrons had abandoned their Christmas gifts for pitchforks and torches in an attempt to physically remove me from my place at the counter. As I turned, I heard the voice again, unsure who was attached to it until I looked down. Standing before me was a boy of about ten who was holding fast to the hand of his father.
“Excuse me?“ I said.
“Country,” he said. “She needs to know what country you are sending your package,” said this “little gift” in the most gorgeous English I had ever heard in my life.
"Seriously?! No! Really? Oh thank you!” I said, as the boy bashfully smiled, while his father looked down on him with pride.
Scribbling the words USA boldly across my package (really (?) I thought... it's not like I was shipping this to Wichita, Kansas), I quickly paid, avoided all eye contact with everyone except for the little boy who I again thanked and slinked my way out of the building. Two steps out the door I ran head first into V, he being clearly thrilled to have avoided spending the last 30 minutes of his life with me. Before I could say a word…
“Oh good you are done!” he said excitedly. “See what did I tell you, no big deal right?!”
Dear Harlem Hausfrau Readers,
Thank you all so much for continuing to follow along with me here at Harlem Hausfrau. I have so enjoyed sharing these experiences with you and hope to continue to do so as we head into the new year.
While many of us are fortunate enough to have a warm and safe holiday in the works surrounded by the people we love, life has been far too cruel to so many across the globe that I can only wish for a kinder, gentler version of itself planned for their future. My thoughts are with them and of course with you for a wonderful and magical holiday filled with happiness, joy and much laughter.
Be safe and here’s to a smashing 2017!
P.S. To the little boy of this story who I feel confident is growing up into an impressive young man, if you ever find your way one day to this blog, I want you to know your act of kindness will be forever remembered.