Monday, February 18, 2019

Today on German newsstands: a SPECIAL ISSUE of BEEF! about that special kind of cow called a “pig.”

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Germans love to make plans. They spend hours making incredibly intricate plans, and just when you’re ready to congratulate them on a job well done they start on the backup plan.

Of course this means Germans are great to travel with, because everything will be fine. When I get in the car with my boyfriend, I know he’s already checked the traffic, the weather, the tire pressure and the gas gauge. He's got bottled water and emergency sandwiches. And that’s when we’re going to the post office.

I actually appreciate the planning, since it's pretty much the opposite of my Brooklyn life. I've been to parties where the host forgot to show up. I've been to barbecues where nobody bought charcoal. I’ve heard all of the excuses for no-shows: their grandmother died, their subway train broke down, their boss kept them late at work. Everybody in Brooklyn knows these actually mean, "I got really stoned and fell asleep."

My friend Charlotte cancels plans if her dog coughs. Emma won't go if her horoscope is bad. It's a relief, then, to be in Germany and to know that if you have a party that ‪starts at 8‬, all the guests will be there by 8:01. If you say the party ‪ends at 10‬, everybody will be gone by ten. Brooklyn guests don’t show up before midnight, and that’s if you invite them to brunch.

When Germans are done with their own plans, they start making them for other people. “My niece is coming over tomorrow," my boyfriend announced the other day.

"That's nice," I said. "Why is she stopping by?"

I was expecting an American answer along the lines of, “Just to say hi.” Germans, however, are distinctly different people. "She will be driving past our apartment on the highway," my boyfriend said. “It is a five-hour drive, so she will park outside, sit on the couch, drink a cup of coffee, and use the toilet."

Germans plan to use the toilet a lot.

One day I noticed my boyfriend had a calendar with my name on it, and he was pencilling in entries for just about every day. "Are you ... filling up a calendar for me?" I asked. "Are you actually making a schedule for what I have to do next year?

He didn't look up but kept writing. "No, no," he said. "I am not doing that."

"Okay," I said. "Good."

"I finished that calendar hours ago," he announced. "This is what you will do in 2039."

German plans always start from the beginning and include all the mundane details. When I ask my boyfriend, "What would you like to do tomorrow?" I want an answer like, "How about if we do some shopping and maybe have lunch downtown?" or "We really should stay home and clean." A typical German answer, though, goes something like this:

"We will wake up ‪at 7:15‬. First you will use the toilet, and then I will use the toilet. I will check the weather while you take a shower, and I will take a shower while you brush your teeth.”

Unfortunately Germans get offended if you say, “Can you skip ahead eight hours, to when we’ve left the house?” You have to prop your eyes open and listen, because there’s always a step that’s a bit less mundane, like, “We will go visit my nudist friends.”

Germans are always thinking, usually about two or three things at a time. It’s exhausting just to sit and watch, but sometimes it can be frightening.

One day my boyfriend was in the garden chopping firewood. A chainsaw screeched and belched smoke into the air, and then suddenly it stopped.

I heard a scream in my boyfriend's voice. "OH NO!" it said.

I dropped everything I was doing and ran outside, expecting to see body parts. “WHAT???"

He put down the chainsaw and wiped his brow. "I just remembered I have a library book overdue."

Plus, common sense is wonderful in theory but not always in practice. When my boyfriend and I were looking at apartments, he said we shouldn't look at anything higher than the second floor.

I knew he’d have a good reason. "Because higher floors are more expensive?" I asked. "It'll be easier to move our stuff in?"

He shook his head. "The day will come when you will not be able to walk up stairs."

American wedding proposals start with something like, "I've loved you since the moment I saw you.” Skipping the schmaltz, German ones more commonly open with, “Experts agree you have eight to ten years left to live." My boyfriend used almost those exact words to propose to me, but for some reason I still said yes. Sure, it sounded creepy. And it wasn't exactly logical either: we were roughly the same age yet the sad claw of decrepitude was always knocking at my door.

Germans also don't waste time, so just a few days later he had an idea for a wedding ring. "I have a jeweler who can make anything we want," he announced. “How about we have simple silver bands engraved with our fingerprints? Your ring will have my fingerprint on it, and my ring will have your fingerprint."

The sentiment shocked me, his vulnerability contrasting sharply with the harsh accent. "So ... they're unique?” I asked. “Celebrating the two of us? Your ring says I am yours, and my ring says you are mine?”

He took a second to translate my words in his head, then he said, "Yes. That is exactly it."

I almost started crying. He wasn’t cold: he was an old softie suffering from the language problem. His sensitive soul was disguised by his broken English. I wholeheartedly agreed, and a few weeks after pressing our fingers into melted wax we got the breathtaking results. I slid mine on, this time unable to hold back the tears. He smiled and put on the other one.

We are a couple. My finger is forever holding his, and his is forever holding mine. I am getting married, I am moving to Germany, and I am never going to have to worry about the weather again.

If we were driving to a courthouse in Brooklyn and my friends were in the back of the car, I know exactly how the chatter would go. "This is sooo romantic!" Emma would say.

"I can't believe it," Charlotte would observe. "How often in this miserable fuckin' life do you get a happy ending?"

Instead, we are driving to a courthouse in Berlin, with my boyfriend's best friends in the back seat. He's already told me that my American best friends will be replaced by this heavily-accented trio: Rolf, Helmut, and Wolfgang. Rolf is a rough, butch doctor who’s also into leather and S&M. Helmut is breathtakingly handsome, and he goes skiing in the Alps every weekend. Wolfgang is an intellectual whose art collection includes a Dali, two Miros and a Cocteau. They seem friendly enough I think that it could work.

My boyfriend maneuvers the Mercedes into traffic. It beeps because he gets too close to a pole. It beeps because my seat belt isn't fastened. It beeps because someone is riding a bicycle fourteen miles away. It doesn’t bother me. I look at the people and the buildings we pass and barely hear the back-seat talk.

"I hope they have completed the paperwork in case one of them dies," Rolf says.

"They must have," Helmut replies. "It would be nonsensical to take such an important step without completing the necessary procedures."

"Did you see they have wedding rings with each others' fingerprints on them?" Rolf says.

Helmut nods. "That is a really wonderful idea."

"Yes," Wolfgang says. "It will help if they need to identify bodies."