Yesterday was a really stressful day for my husband and me, and I’m afraid it’s all my fault. I allowed myself to be so stressed out that I think it rubbed off on him and it made for an awful day.
And I’m not writing about this to complain or have you take my side. There are no sides to be taken, but if there were, my husband deserves the support – not me, because I’m truthfully ashamed of my behavior. Actually, I’m writing to simply to share some of the frustrating things about Germany. Maybe Germans will read it and understand an American’s point-of-view, and maybe some Americans will read it and know what to expect when traveling here. And before I begin, let me just say that enjoying Germany as a tourist is absolutely fabulous. If you want to shop or sightsee, you won’t be disappointed. But if you need to conduct business here, it can be a real nightmare, and thankfully, these days are almost over for us.
My husband has a weird work schedule. Sometimes he works 4 days and is off 1 and sometimes it’s 5 on and 2 off, but he’s rarely off on weekends which, for now, is a really good thing. My living here has unfortunately added some stress to his life because his days off are often filled with running from one government office to another in order to finalize my residency here rather than doing the things he needs to be doing for himself. He has basically put his own needs on hold to take care of me, but he does it with such grace. Every time I thank him for spending yet another day running me from one office to the next, he just shrugs his shoulders and says, “You need me. Of course I do this for you.”
Yesterday wasn’t so graceful, though, because I was a big turd. No matter how nice he is, these “business” days always set me on edge. I tend to feel a little lost. I don’t know my way around, I don’t speak the language, and I often don’t understand the culture here.
The day started with us going to the bank to open an account for me. I’ve had my car for 2 1/2 weeks but it has been parked outside illegally without tags for all the world to see (or the 100 people in our village). However, in order to get a car tagged, you have to register it, and in order to register it, you have to have a bank account, and in order to have a bank account, you have to have a passport. There’s the rub. Since I got married in the States on May 24th and moved to Germany June 2nd, the only thing I had time to do before leaving was head to the Social Security Office to change my name. When my new card came in, I was long gone and my mom had to mail it to me. But we quickly found out that nobody in Germany gives a rat’s patooty about SS cards. They needed my new married name on my passport. Plain and simple. I couldn’t wait to get it done. So I mailed it off to Munich to change my name. They told me it would take two weeks. It took three.
And it came just in time, too, because on Monday while heading out for a walk, I found two German Polizei (policemen) standing at my car and writing up a warning for it being tagless. In my charming American accent that makes Germans practically giddy with joy, I sweet-talked them into not giving me the warning and assured them that “it’ll be taken care of tomorrow. My passport came in on Saturday and my husband is off tomorrow so we’re taking the day to open a bank account for me and get the car registered and tagged. I’m so so so sorry.” Thank God most Germans understand and speak at least a little bit of English.
But I’m on a rabbit trail here, so I’ll get back to my point… the frustrating things about Germany…
It was raining yesterday morning when we headed out to the bank around 10:00. We parallel parked half a block away from the bank because 90% of businesses around here don’t have parking lots. (Frustration #1). So we walked in the rain to the bank, entered, and were struck by severe humidity due to the lack of air conditioners in this country. (Frustration #2). I stood there, sweating bullets, and watching my husband and the lady at the counter have a conversation while I desperately tried to read their body language and grab onto the few German words I know so I could understand. According to her body language and use of the word “morgen”, I gathered that we couldn’t open an account at that bank until tomorrow morning, but I didn’t know why. Finally my husband explained to me that the bank only has 3 employees, 1 of which always has to be at the front desk so you must have an appointment to open a bank account and they’re all booked up until tomorrow. I also understood that we needed to call the bank in Nürnberg to see if they had an opening.
Who ever heard of needing an appointment to open a bank account OR a bank only having 3 employees? (Frustration #3 and #4).
As we left the bank, I breathed in the fresh, humid air, and maybe my sweat would’ve dried had it not still been raining. We sat in the car with the engine off because Germans are very concerned for the environment and if you’re not moving, you shouldn’t be polluting the air. More sweating for me, thanks. (Frustration #5). My husband attempted about 7 times to get through to Nurnberg because due to Germany practically living in the Stone Age, cell phone reception is often hit-or-miss. (Frustration #6).
He finally kept the connection long enough to schedule an appointment for noon. Nürnberg is normally a 30 minute drive, but the bank was in a car free zone so we were going to have to park outside the zone and haul butt to the bank. A CAR FREE ZONE?! Are you KIDDING ME?! I’m from Northwest Arkansas, but I’ve seen quite a bit of the U.S. and I’ve never heard of a friggin’ car-free zone. (Frustration #7). It was about 10:45 at this point so we needed to hurry. We got to Nürnberg, found a parking garage, narrowly squeezed our car into the too-tiny-even-for-small-German-cars parking space, and exited the garage on foot. When we got to the heart of downtown Nürnberg, I thought I was European/American heaven. I saw cobblestone streets with outdoor cafes and Pizza Hut, Foot Locker, Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, and other American stores that feel so familiar to me. I think that was when I smiled for the first time all day.
But we didn’t have time to enjoy it. We had business to tend to. We walked into the bank around 2 minutes to 12:00 after walking close to a mile to get there. It wasn’t raining anymore but it was like a sauna outside and I was dripping sweat again. It was only noon and I already stunk to high heavens and needed a shower. The bank was running what I’m sure Germans mistake for an air conditioner, but I’d bet money it was set on fan-mode rather than cool because it was almost as sticky and muggy inside as it was outside.
Thanks to prompt and efficient Germans, at exactly noon, a nice looking gentlemen in a suit greeted us and walked us into his office. It took an hour to open the account because he wanted to make sure I understood everything and was interested to know how my husband and I met. One hurdle down! Finally! We were about to leave and I looked at my husband and asked, “Don’t we have to pay?”
I should mention… bank accounts aren’t free in Germany. Many people pay €3-€5 every month just for the privilege of a bank account. This burns me up! They’re already investing my money and making money on my money but they want me to pay them to do it! I told my husband there was no way I’d pay for a bank account. I won’t tolerate that nonsense. So after a lot of research, we discovered Spardabank. Their accounts are free, but they’re like an American credit union. You have to buy a share to open the account. You draw interest on the share and when you close your account you get your money back. I still don’t like the idea of paying someone to handle my money, but at least I get it back, right? It’s certainly better than throwing away money every month just to have an account. (This whole situation deserves the honor of Frustration #472 (or 8)).
Anyway, my husband said we had to go downstairs to pay. This was the first time I discovered that in an office, there’s always a cashier or treasurer and they’re typically the only person in the entire establishment who can handle money. I’m sure it cuts down on fraud, but it wasn’t the first time we’d have to go out of our way to make a payment that day, and it all feels highly inconvenient to me especially on a day when we were soooooo pressed for time.
We still had the situation of needing to exchange my U.S. dollars for euros so I could have money in the bank and, of course, the bank doesn’t do it. So we rushed, on foot, to the train station to find the Reisebank (travel bank) and exchange my money. It was hot as hell in there, too, and I want with all my might to award it a Frustration, but since I already mentioned the lack of air-conditioners, I don’t think it’s fair to award it a second Frustration point. We finally found the bank and you’ll never believe it… It was closed. The hours were clearly printed on the door and even I, the non-German-speaking-American understood that they should be open. But there was a note which my husband translated to me as, “Sorry. We are sick today so we are closed.” @#$#$%^$%@^$%^%^&%^&%^&#$%#$%&^(&*)&*)^&%$^%@#$@!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Frustration #9 (though it felt like frustration #9 through 1000)).
Have you ever… in all your banking experiences in America, known for an entire bank to be closed due to illness?!?! Do they only have ONE worker???!!!
I was ready to throw my body on the floor like a bratty 3 year old and scream while pounding my fists and feet on the ground. I wanted to kick in the glass door of the bank or pick something up and hurl it over the balcony. I was truly frustrated and I needed to go somewhere remote so I could throw a fit like a child and feel better. But instead I just sighed and muttered “UNBELIEVABLE”, and told my husband I needed to pee. We headed into Burger King since it was right next door. I found the entrance to the bathroom and was absolutely astonished by what I saw. I looked at my husband, puzzled, and with eyes that said, “What the…..????” He responded by saying, “Oh yeah. You have to pay here if you want to use the toilet.” (Frustration #10).
I honestly had no idea that first world countries in EUROPE were so hard up that they had to charge people money to relieve themselves. The only time in my whole life that I’ve ever been charged to pee was in Mexico. I stormed out of the restaurant and headed for the escalators so we could leave the train station. I’m not gonna pay to pee. That’s almost as bad as paying for a bank account! I headed for another establishment inside the train station and my husband said, “Honey, we are in the train station. Charging for the restroom is easy money. Anywhere you go you’ll have to pay.”
I’d like to say that I was super kind and loving but at this point I was no longer myself. I was dripping sweat, I was hungry, I needed to pee, I was exhausted, and I was having the day from hell. Later we found a Burger King outside of the train station, but you had to pay to pee there, too. A whopping 50 cents. I turned to leave with smoke coming out my ears and my husband said, “Please just go. I have 50 cents. It’s ok. You need to go. You should go.” “FINE!” I said. All the while I’m thinking, “If I’m gonna pay to pee, this bathroom sure as hell better be friggin pristine. I want gold flecks in the wall tiles and a bidet and a bathroom attendant who will hand me a paper towel and open the door for me to exit.”
But if you’re still reading, you already know that’s not how it was. You know it was a disgusting bathroom that smelled worse than ever because of the humidity. You know the paper towel dispenser was faulty resulting in me having to turn the knob with my clean hands and have water running up to my elbows just to get a paper towel to dry them. You know that the stall was tiny and the toilet was dirty and the floors were sticky. I don’t have to tell you that this is frustration #11.
I looked in the bathroom mirror and couldn’t believe what I saw. It literally looked like someone had thrown water in my face. I was covered in sweat. It was running into my eyes, and I was delirious with hunger, dehydration, exhaustion, and frustration. I barely recognized myself.
So, we walked another half-mile to the car and stopped for a soft pretzel and a €1 cheeseburger along the way, paid the parking garage attendant, and headed for the airport to change my money. From there we rushed to the registration office to register my car and get it tagged before they closed. We arrived at 4:30 and they close at 5:00. Then to the Standesamt (another government office) to conduct more business, and finally home. I could go on for another 2,000 words about the rest of the frustrations that occurred yesterday, but I assure you that you’ve heard enough. The day didn’t get better from there. And I let myself get so frustrated that my poor husband couldn’t handle it anymore and he, too, was finally cranky.
I take all the blame. I shouldn’t act so childish and let things like car-free zones, banking appointments, and humidity make me so crazy. I make no excuses for my outbursts and horrible behavior. I’m an adult and should know how to keep it together better.
Germany is a fantastic country with wonderful people. I do love it here, but things in America certainly seem easier sometimes. And maybe it’s because it’s familiar territory and I speak the language. Maybe a German would travel to America and think it’s just as difficult to become a permanent resident and conduct business with banks and the revenue office. I don’t regret my decision to come here for one single second. I’m happy to be here. Yesterday was the day from the pits of hell, but today is a new day. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, it isn’t hot, and I’m about to take my first solo drive around town just because I can. And in a few hours, my amazing, understanding, gentle husband will be home to kiss me and tell me how much he missed me while he was at work.
I’m living a life many Americans are jealous of… I get to live in Europe with a man who’s truly crazy about me so I’m making it a goal to not let these business days make me so crazy. Germany has been good to me and so has my husband.