Culture Shock 4: American Man Enters Bakery in His Pajamas Seeking Change

During the morning of November 29, 2012, the doorbell rang while I was working at my computer. It was pretty early, so I was still wearing my red plaid pajama pants and white undershirt. I was also wearing a pair of fuzzy slippers and my black Electric Six hoodie (with the hood drawn over my head, hovering just above my eyes, like a badass necromancer). I buzzed the person into the building and waited outside the door of our apartment. A mailman came charging up the stairs carrying a cardboard box addressed to me.

I spoke with him using a mix of English and violently broken German. What follows is our interaction, if everything were translated directly, word-for-word, into English.

ME: “A very pretty morning to you, Sir.”

MAILMAN: “Hello. This is a UPS delivery for you. You need to pay the shipping fee. It is €35.69 euros.”

ME: “You just said a bunch of things and mentioned some numbers. Oh look, this package is from my Dad!”

MAILMAN: “That will be €35.69 euros, please.”

ME: “Oh, I have to pay for this? Really? Weird. Okay, one sec.” (I ran from room to room looking for my wallet, grabbed my credit card and handed it to him.)

MAILMAN: “I’m sorry, we can’t take credit cards. Just cash.”

ME: “Oh my darling time, that sucks.” (I handed him the only cash I had, which was a €50 bill.)

MAILMAN: “We can’t make change either. Exact change only.”

ME: (I stood there a moment, unsure how to proceed) “Well then, fuck me, right?

MAILMAN: “We can get change from the nearby bakery. You can come with me.”

ME: “Wait, why in God’s name do I have to go to the bakery right now?”

MAILMAN: “We will ask the bakers to break your €50 bill.”

ME: “Your truck is nearest to this neutral bakery and it holds the gold? Your co-worker, he stands just to the right of the bakery with cash money? I don’t understand where the goddamn change comes from.” (I pulled out my iPhone and used my German dictionary app, ‘,’ to translate the mysterious verbs he kept using.) “Ohhhhh, we’re going to ask for change from the bakery. I am very sorry. I am currently, at this exact moment, learning German.”

MAILMAN: (He smiled politely, though clearly in a hurry, as he turned to descend the stairs.) “No problem. Let’s go.”

(I followed him outside, keenly aware I looked like a black-hooded, slipper-wearing derelict, and watched as he climbed inside his delivery truck to repark it.)

MAILMAN: “This will only take a second.”

(You know how big a UPS truck is? I watched, wide-eyed, as this guy parallel parked the holy shit out of one of these things right in front of me, then hopped out and beckoned for me to follow.)

ME: (Handing him my €50 bill as we speed-walked to the bakery on the corner.) “Please, for me, you speak The German.”

MAILMAN: “Of course.”

(Inside the bakery, I waited as the mailman asked for change, received a handful of coins, then counted them out for me on a table. As I watched, I realized my hood was still up over my head, doing absolutely nothing to improve my appearance. I reached up, pushed the hood back, dropped my hands to my sides and accidentally karate-chopped an old woman across the arm as she passed by.

ME: “Sweet Jesus! I am so sorry! Please it to you are having excuse from me!”

OLD LADY: “Do not worry a bit, young man. I am fine.” (By the way she smiled I could tell she was super nice, but my God, she was old as balls.)

(The mailman handed the change to me — a fistful of shiny coins, like something out of The Hobbit — and we shook hands.)

ME: “Thank you for your long time. I mean your nice talk. Your patience, for Christ’s sake.”

MAILMAN: “It was my pleasure. Have a nice day.”

I scurried home as fast as humanly possible, walked directly to my desk and wrote an email to my Dad, which read simply:

Dear Father,
Thank you for the early Christmas gift, but please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t mail shit to Germany via UPS.

Click here to learn more about the term “Culture Shock.”

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60 thoughts

  1. I’m guessing what you paid was the customs fee. As inconvenient at that was, it could have been worse. The private services such as UPS/DHL etc.will deal pay the customs and collect from you. If your dad had mailed it via USPS, then you would have gotten a notice in your mail box and you would have had to have paid a visit to the Customs Office, where you wait until your number is called and open your package in front of the inspector, whereupon he will ask you to place a value (in Euros, of course) on things like a hand-made blanket your cousin made for your grandson, for example. Then he’ll give you a bill and you’ll have stand in line elsewhere, pay your fee, and go back to the waiting room and wait for your number to be called so you can retrieve your package. Given how far our flat is from the Customs Office, this is a full half-day process, between getting to and fro and waiting your turn.


  2. I never shipped anything via UPS unless it was an order. How strange that you had to pay for it. I have never seen a person in Pajamas in a store in Germany. People even look at you when you wear jogging pants as your regular outfit. I’m surprised the mailman asked you to go with you right away and not giving you the option to change.



  3. That is a fantastic story! I love the cultural exchange bit. And the UPS dude! HAHA! Germans are so damn conscientious, right?? “I don’t have change, but let’s have a journey and get some so everything is fair!” Fairness and accuracy rests FAR above proper social attire in German society.

    I just sent my gf a xmas gift to Deutschland, and I dare not even ask the customs rate. Apparently, you may also have to “prove” that the person sending you the gift is a real person, and not you sending yourself something and trying to dodge some fee… she brought a photo of us when she went to pick up my gift, just in case. :-)


  4. Things are going great! My gf is coming to visit soon, and I am going to enroll in a German language course this coming February at the local German American Institute (we have a LOT of Germans and Swedes here!). I want to pass my A-levels before any sort of far-in-the-future-trans-continental job search!
    Keep up the post my good man. I enjoy the stories! & was caught laughing out lout at work last night while reading this one. :-D


  5. Loved your comment about the little old lady! Properly set me off :-)

    Don’t worry too much about the pj’s – there’s some places in northern Ireland you can’t go a few hours without seeing someone shopping in night wear and slippers! they don’t give a toss!


      1. Well prior to moving here (when I was little) I believed sinn fein was a country in the middle east and the only accents I’d heard from here were Ian Paisly and wife beater Jim MacDonald from the soap opera Coronation Street – so I got my eyes opened quite a lot really! lol

        So much is the same but a little bit different – I’m still finding stuff I could never explain or understand after 6 years


  6. Ha, I’m surprised no-one outed you as an American in that bakery. I always see pictures of these impossibly dressed, ‘well-fed’ Americans shopping at Wal Mart and think “This is definitely taking the ‘free’ country too far!” Although I have to admit that track suit bottoms seem to be a perfectly proper every-day attire in the UK as well. Strange…


    1. Oh God, you’re talking about the People of Wal-Mart. Yeah, the rest of America thinks those people are freaks too.

      I’m sure the bakers know I’m American because I normally go there with my wife and speak English with her.
      ME: “You do the talking, honey.”


      1. I work where all those People of Walmart seem to live. Parents come to school to drop off kids, for meetings, and even to volunteer in Jammies. Great story!


      2. Heck no! Backwoods Texas where they eat squirrels and stuff (don’t worry, I’m a transplant), although I’ll bet they have the same Walmart dwellers in Jersey, too. If that makes you feel better :-)


  7. hahaha! Very funny!! If it makes you feel any better, even sending things to England can be a bit of an issue! I think your transaction went pretty well, given the language barrier. Oh, and UPS sucks. I now have an account with FED EX and it’s much easier. :)


      1. This is what you have to do; make sure the sender pays for all the taxes, weird charges, etc. on their end. There’s two boxes to check that indicate all charges were taken care of with the sender.
        If sending packages is going to be an ongoing thing, then I might think about opening a FedEx account. You get a number and it makes life really easy. Both my kids went to school in England so I know the tricks of the trade.


      2. My daughter had attended Utah State for a year and a half, got tired of it and came back to Illinois. She, on a whim, decided to do a study abroad with a community college while she was figuring things out. She spent 6 months at Christ Church University in Canterbury and LOVED it. So she decided to finish her history degree there. When my son graduated from HS – he decided to go there as well, since schools in England are 3 years for a Bachelor’s degree. (He liked the sound of that)
        Both graduated and have wonderful memories. (my memories are of standing in line and sending packages!) haha!


  8. hahaha! Yeah, I’ve dealt with customs when I first moved to Canada, they charge for everything! And to list every piece that is in the box is, well it’s an invasion of privacy! This was funny. :-)


  9. I couldn’t imagine trying to use another country’s currency. I’m not that great with my own. I love the translations! That’s about what my Spanish probably sounds like to Spanish people, and I’ve had years of the stuff.


      1. Haw! “Anglos.”

        I had Spanish in highschool as well. HATED it.

        Strangely, Spanish words kept popping into my mind when I started learning German though. And I hadn’t thought about any Spanish words in 14 years! I guess taking up German activated the language center of my brain, you know?


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