German Language Consultant

Then and now – anecdotal observations

Week 5 Ch 9 ‘Saying sorry’

I just about fell off my seat when I realised that I should broach the subject of saying sorry with my ‘kids’. It was in particular the example scenario of pushing in in a queue by a mistake which invoked my mirth. One very regular question-asker reliably asked me, most perturbed, “But, Selly, I understand not…why must I apologise for that?” Clearly, he is very much a graduate from the school of ‘survival of the fittest’. I replied simply but along the lines of, “Ah, well, Heiko, therein lies the cultural difference…You may not think you have done anything wrong but my advice to you for your time in Malta would be to consider using the word ‘sorry’ a few times every day even it if causes you great discomfort.”

Shoppinghow things have changed or have they?

One of the real binds of life in Heidelberg and Berlin of the 1990s was shopping; it really was a source of major stress. The German rigid opening hours caused a serious hassle for many a spoilt Brit arriving on a Friday and lazily getting up on a Saturday to discover they had chosen the wrong weekend to arrive because there would be no shops open for any food business of any kind until Tuesday morning if you were unfortunate to hit a bank holiday! The stress I used to go through on a Friday evening knowing that we had to get up and rush around like mad before 1 pm to get everything (i.e. any presents, clothes, diy stuff, you name it) was awful, not to mention the queues and attitude of the staff. To be honest shopping was the bane of my life and I used to look forward to going home and heading into lovely Sainsbury’s, the friendly staff and the unpacked food on shelves and the gorgeous wide isles with no queue or aggressive cashier if you took too long or dared to ask for a plastic bag. Changed days… or are they?
I have to say have noticed a change in the ethos of supermarkets. They have clearly understood that unfriendliness does not wash and that having customers unpack their own stuff and take it to the cashier is not really what shopping is about. I think that the German supermarket industry has undergone a serious customer service course. Although I do detect a great deal of resistance as the token niceties and platitudes are spoken through gritted teeth. They do not have me fooled. However, the relaxed shopping hours regime is very much welcome and has alleviated the terribly long stressful queuing that I used to have to endure on Saturdays in Berlin.
I particularly enjoyed the following story while shopping at the Gohlis ‘Penny Markt’ a couple of weeks ago. I needed to buy some sugar to bake some cake with Conny. I was astounded that there was not a single bag of sugar to be had and asked a lady to help me. She also noted that there was none to be had. I met her again at the till and said that there was a sign up saying there was a sugar promotion and that each customer could only take a maximum of three bags. To which she replied, ‘Oh God, I thought these times were over!”


Not least on the tour of the ex-boyfriends, comes a visit to see Mathis from my Heidelberg days and his wife, Anke, and their four children in Jena, Thuringia. It was great to be welcomed into their home and have fun with their children.
Anke’s parents also came down from Berlin and were great company. They were born and raised in the East and, in the last twenty years, they have certainly more than made up for time in terms of travel and noticed that I was wearing a t-shirt from the Galapagos Islands and promptly launched into a long and lively conversation about adventure travel to all the far-flung places they had been to.
They have certainly benefited hugely from the political changes in 1989, which is why I pricked up my ears when I heard Anke’s dad, Bernd, mentioning Schabowski and discussing the events of November 1989 at the breakfast table on the Sunday morning as if it were yesterday and with some regret. Having thought about it I could fully empathise with him as there was a lot of good in the old order. He is an example of one of many of his generation who is still incredulous about the shattering of the country they knew and loved and who are sadly still looking for some kind of explanation.