Saturday, March 16, 2013

Friday night with the neighbors (part 2)

Here's the (not-so) exciting conclusion to my last post:

I spent Friday night with the neighbors, trying to follow a discussion in German about window repair and water heaters.

Claudia and Nordbert were hosting a meeting of neighbors to talk about the unusually high bills for 2011's Nebenkosten. Brian was also having a "fun" Friday night chaperoning a 4th and 5th grade dance at the school (and wouldn't have understood much anyway), so I was on my own. Their apartment looks like the grown-up page from the Ikea catalog. It's all white and beige and sleek, with fake animal skin rugs and a beautiful stainless-steel kitchen that made me drool.

Like some other gatherings I've been to in Germany, it started out with a bunch of people going outside to smoke while I played with the kid. 4 year old Julian is the son of our next-door neighbor, and has some Playmobil soldiers on horseback that are pretty cool. He also does not use words like "radiator repair".

I decided to play the dumb foreigner card yet again and tell Nordbert that this Nebenkosten thing was all new to us. In the U.S., rent is rent and anything that it doesn't cover is the landlord's responsibility. When the Nebenkosten conversation began and I basically stopped talking and put all my brainpower toward listening. A couple of the neighbors do speak English, but what was I going to do, stop the whole group and ask them to translate some kind of a tenants' rights statute to me? I prefer to struggle through and smile and just get the main ideas down. 

After an hour of going through the documentation line by line, we decided that Claudia would email the landlady and ask for an extension for all of us on paying the bills, and Meike would meet with the tenants' rights organization and find out what we could do. The main issues were that: 1. some expenses showed up as on our bills than they were on the attached receipts, and 2. we were being billed for some costs, like functioning windows, that should be the landlady's responsibility. Another couple, who are not foreign, had paid their bill too, making me feel a little better. If any of the costs are adjusted, we can probably get our money back. I'm pretty sure that's what I heard.

The more interesting part of the evening, though, was the talk about the neighbors who weren't there. The therapist with a practice on the ground floor apparently had her husband playing trumpet on Christmas morning, and he woke everyone up. There was some joke that the sketchy-looking older guy from the 3rd floor (who I sometimes see walking around with a lot of plastic bags) smells like garlic, and makes the building smell like garlic. I am not sure if there was some history there I didn't know about, or if I missed too many words, but everyone else seemed to find it funny.  They clearly all knew each other pretty well.

As the conversation wrapped up, Nordbert asked me how long it takes me to run around the Maschsee. I was not expecting that question but it made me realize what they probably say about Brian and me when we are not around. They see us going out for runs or a bike rides and don't know much else about us... other than that we speak English and sometimes drop ashes and passports and other items from our balcony onto their windowsills and balconies below.

What did they say about me when I left the room? Who knows. They did make me promise that Brian and I would come out the next time they have a barbecue (grill-party in German) in the back yard. We generally avoid those events because Brian and I both hate making people speak English to us and keeping them from having normal relaxed conversations in a social situation. It makes us feel like dumb foreigners who need extra assistance. Which, I guess, is what we are. Katrin, who is the target of our ash-dropping, did tell the story of coming to our housewarming/Thanksgiving party last year and hearing everyone around her speak English and feeling helpless. So maybe she empathizes.

What comes next with the Nebenkosten? We will wait to hear, or get another letter from the landlady. What comes next with our neighbors? Maybe I'll talk with them more, or at least give them something more to talk about.

No comments:

Post a Comment

About Me

My photo
Thanks for coming to my blog. It started as a way to keep in touch with family and friends, and now has become an ongoing project. I'm an American living in Germany and trying to travel whenever I can. I write about my experiences as an expatriate (the interesting ones and the embarrassing ones), and about my travels. There are some recurring characters in this blog, particularly my husband Brian and several of our friends. The title comes from the idea that living in a foreign country means making a lot of mistakes. So the things you used to do easily you now have to try over and over again. Hopefully, like me, you can laugh at how idiotic it feels. If you have happened upon my blog, then welcome. Knowing that people are reading what I write makes me keep going. Feel free to write comments or suggestions for future posts.