I got an early birthday present this week.
I had been wanting to get an old beater of a bike to ride around town, especially as the snow fell this winter and I was riding around on my old road bike with skinny tires and no fenders, and brakes that were getting sticky. Plus, that bike is too pretty. It's bright blue and looks like a bike someone would want to steal, even if the chain is rusted. I wanted to (I know it sounds lame) fit in. My blue bike just screams "foreigner". I wanted to be one of those people who rides a bike slowly, sitting completely upright, holding an umbrella, wearing a skirt, and smoking a cigarette. (Ok, not the cigarette part, but you get the picture.)
I told my idea to Brian one day. "Oh," he said, "that's what I was going to get you for your birthday." (My birthday is still a month away.) Brian and I spend more time together than we used to. And sometimes we start to think the same things. So it was settled. I was going to get a new (old) bike.
I did most of the searching online through Kleinanzeigen, which is a part of Ebay where people can post classified ads for free. It's like the German version of Craig's List. I emailed a few sellers and never heard back, so I decided to call. Calling people in Germany is scary for me. I have no hand gestures or smiles or looks of confusion to rely on. And after one awkward conversation in which I concentrated really hard trying to understand a man who must have been the fastest-talking German alive, I decided to be more humble. The first thing I should have said was "I'm sorry, my German is not very good, could you please speak slower?". What do I gain by pretending I understand everything he says? I know that's the logical way to think about it, but in the moment I so wanted to be a fully-functioning and literate adult that I couldn't bring myself to say it.
On Wednesday I acted fast. Two bikes had been posted online the night before, and I emailed right away, then sent them text messages. One replied to say that the bike was gone already, and the other wanted me to come and see the bike that afternoon. When I got there, a little late because I'd gotten lost, the first thing I told the lady who answered the door was "I'm sorry, I don't speak German very well." "Neither do I, she replied," and we laughed. I think she is Russian or Ukranian or from somewhere east of here. Her bike was pink and purple with a teal colored chain guard, and fenders, a chain that doesn't squeak and a light that works. I bought it. Fifty-five euros later, I felt just slightly less foreign. I rode home sitting straight upright.
- 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.