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, ‘dict.cc,’ 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:
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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