If it's true that every country has a personality just as every person does, then I'd label Germany quarrelsome. Or maybe the country just took an instant dislike to me. We certainly are not getting along. But I swear it's not my fault. You be the judge.
It started when David and I were in Freiburg's international train station before picking up our rental car last Friday. I forgot to brush up on German niceties before we left our French flat, but at least my junior high German kicked in enough for me to politely ask the guy behind the lunch counter, “Sprechen sie Anglais?” He said, “Nein, sprechen sie deutsch?”
I'm not sure what “ausfahrt” means but it's on signs everywhere. And here in the Black Forest where the cuckoo clock was invented, signs for “uhren” abound. I know English is derived from Anglo-Saxon roots, just as German is, but where is the lyricism, the poetry, you hear when you walk the streets in France? This language grates on the ears and sounds slightly dirty even if it's not.
Our hostess here at the guesthouse recommended the Pfaff Hotel for lunch-- charming place with yellow umbrellas overlooking Germany's highest waterfall. But the waitress frowned when I said I'd like some leitingswasser or tap water.
But here, in Triberg, Germany, you'd have thought I'd asked for the waitress to bring me a dipper of toilet water. She said, and she did speak perfect English, “Oh, you want still water (as opposed to water with 'gas'),” which cost almost €4.
“No, I want tap water. Just a glass please.”
In a moment of total honesty she said, “We'd rather sell you something.” Then she turned on her heel and David and I feared she'd never return. In a way I wish she hadn't. When it was time for an entree decision (we'd gotten help from a friendly Norwegian sitting at a nearby table), we decided to try Weinerschnitzel.
We hesitated to commit to two huge lunches at €11 each, though, that we may or may not like, so we ordered just one, explaining to the waitress that we planned to share it. At this she positively sneered. I could almost hear her wishing all Americans would go home. This time she really didn't come back.
Another waiter brought us one set of cutlery and our single plate of food (no extra plates here).
Because we'd had the audacity to substitute vegetables for french fries, we had forfeited the salad that was supposed to come with the meal. That's what the waiter said when he brought the check. “You got vegetables, not french fries. Then no salad.” And no reduction in price either. This was one time I was particularly happy to comply with the “no tip” rule.
The same thing happened in another restaurant today when we sat down to lunch. The waitress and I batted around tap water/still water until I finally told her not to bring me anything as I'd drink from the water bottle in my purse. Sometimes it's easier to give in than argue but it leaves a bitter taste.
It was touring day for us with trips to the clock—uhren—museum in Furtwangen and the Schwarzwald Museum in Triberg; both enlightening and interesting. But in the bathroom—a room with four stalls, each with a locking door—one was marked, in English, “Personal.” It could only be opened with a key. When I questioned the man at the desk, he said that toilet was only for the staff who worked at the museum. What, they couldn't whiz in the same toilet as the rest of us? Why? Why was the sign only in English when other signs were in German, French and English?
Really, I don't get it. I'd heard Germany was a friendly, let's drink and be merry kind of place, but so far I feel as though it's given me the cold shoulder. What do you think?