Happy Shinny People

I have been debating what to say on my blog after a long pause. Even finding the right words feels out of practice. Certainly, the blog is a creative outlet, but recently I have been enjoying painting and sketching. Rather than an online blog, I’ve filled a couple sketchbooks with pen and ink drawings and watercolour paintings. Even the format of the blog post seems to have changed in the few months of my absence, but I hope I can make go of it.

Part of my absence has been due to some health concerns. Making frequent visits to doctors and specialists; being tested, poked, prodded. I had been training for a marathon, and signed up for some more half marathons. I love running. I found that as I ran longer distances I was consuming more food. (Duh) This makes perfect sense. Then for a few months, no matter what I ate, or how much I ate, I was loosing weight. Apparently, this makes some people very jealous and people were asking how I did it. I was starting to wondering myself. I began to cut down on my weekly millage, and still eat a healthy diet, but strangely I could not put weight on.

Then the pain started. Sure there is pain in running, but pain in my gut was becoming steadily stronger. Off to the doctors office I went and with some tests and results there was enough concern to send me off to specialists with even more special tests. I am fortunate to live in Germany were there is a good healthcare system, and relatively low wait times to see specialists.

What was probably the most difficult part of this journey though illness is the waiting. Something about a doctor in a white coat telling you we are looking for this disease or this type of cancer, certainly sharpens the mind. The unknowing and the sense of helplessness as you go through tests is exhausting.

I was also curious as to how people perceive image. As a priest I have had plenty of experience with various people in and outside of church-land giving me their perceptions of what a priest/pastor/minister should and should not look like. I think female clergy get this treatment to a greater degree. Wearing a white alb, and a clergy collar is like walking around with a huge screen where everyone projects something onto you.

You haven’t shaved.

Your hair is getting too long.

Your hair cut is too short.

Your eyes are bloodshot.

You’re wearing brown / black / blue / no shoes!

Did you cut yourself shaving?

Is that a tattoo?!

You’ve been in the sun.

You look tired / wired / excited / sad / etc.

The best comments are often the ones that are left unsaid and there is only the look of shock or horror that appears on the persons face when I don’t make the grade.

However, there is a public dimension to clergy, and people expect a lot of us, and how we are to behave and act. Getting thinner and thinner with less and less energy doesn’t seem to go over well with people. It doesn’t go over well with me either. Maybe it is like having an overweight, smoking, and drinking doctor. “Physician heal thyself!”

I’m feeling pretty good at the moment, running more, seeing how things work as a vegetarian in Germany (the Vegan movement is only just beginning here), gaining a little more weight, regaining strength and energy. I’m happy being myself and know that suffering and illness are just part of life.

I have finished reading “In Search of the Lost: The death and life of seven peacemakers of the Melanesian Brotherhood” by Richard Anthony Carter. I have had this book for over ten years and have never been able to pass the first chapter. Not that it is poorly written, or that the narrative is terrible – it certainly isn’t either of these. I’ve not been able to read it as it is too close to home, as it describes people I know and times which were chaotic. My wife bought be a copy not realizing that I have had one on the shelf for ages. I guess it was now time to read it. It has been a healing read to make it through the book and remember some of the great sadness of life in Solomon Islands. There are times I could barely read because it describes so perfectly some of the tragedy. The book has brought back both painful memories and many joyous ones. Brother Richard Carter, as I knew him, was somewhat of a legend and I only got to briefly meet him as our two Toyota Hilux trucks past each other in a bit of a lull as we drove through a river heading to the brothers main house. However, Richard’s presence was larger than life, as tremendous stories of love and friendship, wisdom and teaching seemed to follow him around the region – and still do. He has done a fine job of writing about the great trauma and even great sacrifice made by many of the Melanesian Brothers, and other religious in the country during a time of great uncertainty and horror.

One aspect of the book is the ability to convey that suffering is everywhere. Death doesn’t just come close, it comes and waits in your home. The wails of birth, and the gasps of death are all part of life. It seems that in a developing country it is a lot closer then what we try to sterilize in our great civilizations. You quickly realize that suffering is all around us, and in many ways, unites us to each other. To suffer alone is something nobody should try, but many do. We cannot all be shinny happy people choosing our best side, our favourite moment, and our clan of friends as we seem to do with our online presence only to agonize in our day-to-day lives.

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Bigger than a shoebox with much more inside

For the most part, homes in Germany are smaller by comparison to North American homes. Obviously, with a larger population, and a smaller landmass you get roughly 230 people per square kilometre in Germany, whereas in Canada you have 2.3 people per square kilometre. Consequently, living arrangements are on the whole different, but I have often wondered about all the stuff that people supposedly amass.

I realize that family homes can quickly fill up with items in a short period of time – I arrived with two suitcases and a dog – and now have a house brimming with items. A new fad is of Spring cleaning is making headlines, and changing lives. For odd reasons people have even shown me personal photos of their closets where very little is left after a big purge, but what remains somehow fills the owners heart with joy, and things appear more accessible due to colour coding.

There was a growing market for storage facilities. People seemed too attached to all there stuff, realized that they needed some room to live, and instead of clearing out, an expensive heated secure storage room is rented to accommodate all the extra stuff. I haven’t seen anything like this in Germany, but perhaps I am just ignorant. I’ve noticed fields that fill up with caravans and camping vans for the winter, and now that the Spring sun is brighter and some flower petals are emerging, some of the tattered tarpaulins have been folded up, wheels inflated and caravans hitched up to the backs of cars, ready for a new season of European holiday making.

Where do they put all the stuff? Do they even have that much? Do people just buy less, or do they secretly throw it out?

It is now the season of the ‘Spurrmüll’ where people purchase a certain amount of cubic metres of disposal. Wood, metal, and plastic get placed upon the curb ready for a large truck to come along and a team of burly men to start hauling it away. If your neighbours are friendly with you, they will say that they still have some space and you are welcome to add a cubic metre or two. Sofas, dinning tables, beds, cupboards etc. all sits out on the side of the road and it is this time of year that you see the garage doors opening to reveal, ‘one mans treasure, and another mans garbage’.

In our neighbourhood I find people to be rather inquisitive, and at times nosy, about what is actually in a garage. If, on a sunny afternoon, I have our garage door open, and sit in the garden I observe the pedestrians walking past the house a little more slowly. Head turn, necks bend, but they keep on walking past, taking in the view of whatever it is that might be in the garage. I find myself doing the same thing, as most of the homes will, come evening, clatter with the rolled shutters which hang over the majority of windows. Only pinhole light emerges from the lighted interior of the homes, and your guess is as good as mine as to what is inside. Perhaps it is this inability to really see into other peoples homes that makes an open garage door so much more attractive. In Vancouver, with multi-million dollar homes and properties often making the news the reverse happens, as wide windows, and bright interiors gleam out like signals of wealth and great opulence onto the night sky. In fact, I recall one home/mansion which I frequently passed on the way to university being in the news for a number of reasons. One reason for the newsworthiness was that the amount of money that was estimated to have been spent on the renovations; the other was that the owner was the owner of Lululemon, the Yoga fashion label. In a tongue in cheek comment passersby could enjoy the beachfront as you could look right through the home from one end to the other. It just so happened that this took place around the unfortunate time that the Yoga leggings were making the headlines due to some error in design and quality of material, as the tightly stretched fabric became remarkably thin when stretched. This caused both the design of the house and the flaw in the leggings to be similarly transparent.

I have to admit that while I was out walking the dog I walked past one apartment block which has a series of squat garages lined up in front, and saw that one young fellow who has a hobby, or business, of fixing up old cars had his garage opened up and one of his new projects parked in front of the garage door. It is magnificent to see the transformation of the cars, that usually arrive on a flatbed truck in some major state of disrepair; only to see them several months later looking like they have come from the movie set of one of the Fast and Furious films. I completely expected to see a miniaturized auto detailing set-up with a garage lined with tools and specialized equipment. As I slowed my pace and turned my head to see what was in the garage I was astonished to see boxes and boxes of shoes and a small rack of clothes. Some of the shoes seemed to be out on display, more so than any of the cars I had ever noticed in passing. Blue Adidas shoe boxes seemed alternately stacked with orange Nike shoeboxes. Trainers of all sorts of designs and colours lined the walls of the garage so tightly I can only think that once a small car is parked inside, the driver would have no choice but to exit the vehicle through the rear hatch-back.

Returning back to my own home I realize with more interest that ‘stuff’ has pilled up far beyond a meagre two suitcases. A neighbour comes over and offers a couple cubic metres of space on his large pile of rubbish. My neck feels a bit cramped from looking sideways at the neighbouring garage whilst being pulled along by an ever excited dog. The buds are forming. The birds are arriving from distant lands. The garage doors are opening to disgorge the amassed collections.

Surely, this must be Spring in Germany.

Posting about Post

There are a couple differences to the postal services of Germany and Canada, as well as some similarities. Now that Spring feels like it is budding forth more and more each day with still chilled mornings met with afternoon temperatures, at times, in the balmy double digits, the window in my office is opened and the sound of birdsong fills the air. Along with the metallic squawking of the pair of Magpies constructing a nest of twigs in the neighbours tree there is the familiar hum and squeak of the Deutsche Post’s uniquely made yellow cube-like postal vehicle. With electric motor and (maybe purposely) noisy brakes, the postman makes his rounds.

The dog, from a dead sleep, can hear the garage door opening, the foot falls of children returning from school and a cheese wrapper being opened in the kitchen at 2 in the morning. Yet, day-by-day the dog has yet to realize, as I do, the faithful sound of the postal truck and so he is rudely awakened most mornings by the ringing door buzzer like a hound stung by a hornet.

I have to admit that I have long held a great respect for the postal service, as in Canada they were people, which for the most part, were fit, friendly, and got to drive around in little right-hand drive jeeps that parked on the sidewalks. Perhaps the postal service was also idealized in my Richard Scarey books growing up, or that they always seemed invincible wearing shorts in any weather. As such, the tradition has long been that, come Christmas time, we usually left a small present out for the ‘postie’.

Now in Germany, I would hazard a guess and say that 98 percent of the time the arrival of a package is not for anyone in our home, rather for one of the other two apartments as our neighbours seem to do the majority of their shopping online so the parcels with grinning Amazon logos sit at our respective doorways after being signed for by yours truly.

I have, due only to the frequency of meeting, become more acquainted with the postal worker who, day after day, pounds the pavement (after parking his little yellow electric van) in our neighbourhood. There is usually a polite request over the intercom at the door asking if I would be so kind as to sign for the parcels that have arrived for my neighbours. I’m referred to by name — Herr Parsons — and told that “it is very nice of you to always do this!”. Recently, just after signing my signature on an mobile phone like device, and already being handed a few small packages and envelopes, I was asked to wait at the door for an extra package that was large. Looking from our front steps out onto the street the postman walked up to the bright yellow cube on four wheels, and after rolling up the rear door, proceeded to struggle with a cardboard box which looked incredibly heavy. Seeing the scarf-clad postman hauling and sliding a large box to the edge of the vehicle door it was like watching a mid-wife helping the postal van give birth to another little cube. I ran out in my bare feet and surprised the postman as I stood next to him so as to take one end of the crate. Taking hold of the package: it took the two of us a great deal of effort to manhandle it through the narrow doorway of the house. I’m still not sure what was in the heavy box, but in the past I have received everything from a set of winter tires to a plate-full of steamed broccoli in a Styrofoam box which was forgotten as part of a meal delivery, so your guess is as good as mine. With a glistening of sweat on our brows there was a polite thank you (we are on ‘Sie’ terms) and a handshake. The electric hum of the postal van as it drove down the street seemed to be less strained, less burdened, its yellow a bit more shiny, as if it was now a proud parent handing out cigars.

There are also some postal mishaps that can be frustrating either in Canada; like striking under-appreciated postal workers, or in Germany, as with postal agent who sent an important parcel to Edmonton via Hong Kong and Australia by surface.

Recently it felt like Christmas in February as a batch of Christmas cards were delivered, allaying my fears that I had unknowingly annoyed a great many people and had been struck from the list. As my oldest prepares for Confirmation, the letters of invitation and announcement were sent out weeks ago. We had one letter returned with a pencilled apology from a Canadian postal worker which said, “Sorry! I tried very hard to find this address but couldn’t in the end.”. We had, in our rush, forgotten to put most of the address on the envelope, but a valiant effort was seemingly made to find the recipient.

For a time I lived and worked in a neighbourhood which had an noticeably ugly house. A colleague said that he had devised a test for the postal workers, sending a stamped postcard addressed to something similar as, “TO: the Ugly Eggplant Purple bungalow with Bile Green trim on the corner of Arbutus Street and Broadway”. No numeric address and no postal code. A week later, passing the ugly house on the way into work he knocked on the front door and inquired if his postcard had arrived – it had! Soon afterwards we noticed that the house had been freshly painted with new colours.

The Job Fair

A couple of weeks ago I attended a job fair which was held at a local school. The premise was that students nearing the end of their school year would come and look at the many local and international job opportunities. It has been many-a-year since I attended my own high school job fair, and I found myself in a reflective mood. If I was a bit wiser, and could now go back to those pre-graduation days, I would certainly give myself a forceful shake and tell myself to take things more seriously.

Like most grade 12 students I had to endure the career and aptitude test, which consisted of a school councillor leading the class to the library where we sat for 45 minutes in front of yellow computer monitors plunking responses to questions. The dot-matrix printer would scream and grind out our results: I was either going to be a priest of a biologist. I kid you not. A neighbouring student asked the from the front of the room as he held his paper up, “what’s a backhoe operator?”. Apparently, he is still a backhoe operator; seems very happy with his life, and probably makes a lot more money than I do on any particular job site.

Of the German job fair there were the usual types of companies; however, there were a few differences. One being that there were no ‘resource industries’ represented. Nobody is going to grow up to be a logger, or fisherman here! Instead, the University was present with a sign saying that they ‘invest in people’ which is very much what the German work environment does. There’s not a lot of nature, but there sure is a lot of people.

Another interesting difference was that I was on the market; meaning, a few people from the job stands came up to chat with me. One was a company which focuses on retraining people – say from Coal Miner to become an Electrical Engineer. At my own high school job fair I remember feeling that I was the one trying to sell myself to the employers, not vice versa. I may have seen one or two young people handing out resumés the entire evening, but on the whole, it was the companies which were trying to sell themselves to the students.

My job, that evening, was to walk around with a sausage and bun lathered in mustard, slowly enjoying my food so that people would find themselves hungry and head to the class shop selling food, drinks and cake — all to raise funds for my daughters school trip. I was a walking advertisement.

Many of the employers at the school job fair struggle to find workers, and there is nowhere near the same level of flexibility in your career pick, but you do end up with some very highly trained and highly dedicated employees. In Germany, employers will train people for sometimes 2-3 years, often with the assurance of a career at the end of it all. The catch is that while a company invests in your training, they really don’t pay well during that period. In a way, both parties, the employee and the employer are banking on the future. One problem is that you better be darn sure you are going to like being a florist (which are in short supply apparently), as I have heard horror stories of people training for years in a specialized career only to find that in the real job situation they actually (finally) find that they have no desire whatsoever to do the job. (Who new I was so allergic to flowers!) And there’s the trap. Either you are going to get a heavily invested, highly trained workforce; or you get people who hate every moment of their jobs and they know that they will be doing this for the rest of their working career. Welcome the passive aggressive customer service representative who robotically makes a habit of making my life in the store a tedious experience. (Maybe that is what they are really trained to do in the first place?) The system seems to produce the very best, or possibly the very worst.

On the other hand, it reminded me of being a student handing out resumé after resumé being asked if I have experience in — fill-in-the-blank — job as they only hire people with experience. How can I have experience if I’ve never had a job? Just how difficult is it to wash dishes anyway?

Nearing the end of high school I can remember job hunting with a friend. We both went to a restaurant as a number of positions were advertised as available. We were both told that we might be able to work as dishwashers, because we were not good looking enough to be serving staff. I left the interview then and there, whilst my friend got the job…and left after a week because he hated it so much.

For this particular evening at the German school job fair my role was to be the supportive husband and loving father. I taxied people back and forth from the school and came late to pick up the left over racks from the bakery and my wife who had done the bulk of the organization. I ‘modelled’ the Wurst waving the scent around so that people would become moved with hunger and finance my daughters school trip. I consoled groups of students who felt too nervous to go and talk with the technical employer as they didn’t really know what to ask. I asked the strange unexpected questions to some of the kiosk members (like, why do you have a beard if you are working in the Army? I had to explain, as the smile on the large man in camouflage disappeared that this isn’t really done in Canada unless you are Navy). I held bags of ‘swag’ that students had collected (we have more pens, sticky-notes, and key chains than we know what to do with). I met and spoke to a few teachers, parents and some job fair headhunters and tried to explain my own job as the Anglican priest in Freiburg.

Maybe we just land in the right job, big or small, after all is said and done.

The Ways We Talk

This Advent I have begun an educational series on morality based upon several podcast episodes from the BBC titled, ‘Morality in the 21st Century‘ which is hosted by Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.  What I admire about the series is the ability to learn from each other, whilst asking difficult questions.  While there are points in each of the conversations that some might describe as ‘more heated’ than others, the general consensus is that using language in a dignified and edifying way certainly helps to debate issues which are challenging.  Many of the deeply rooted ethical conundrums we find ourselves in are about choosing between two ‘goods’, or ‘the lesser of two evils.’  Given the seriousness of the theological, moral and ethical issues which the church faces (or refuses to face) to meet together with some decorum goes a long way.  

Watching debates in German politics feels to me a very intellectual matter, not only for me to consciously translate, but in the way that serious issues are looked at and scrutinized.  To flip over to the Parliamentary broadcasts of the UK House of Commons, is to some extent, like changing channels on the television from the scenic Christmas-log-burning-on-the-fire, to a wrestling match between thespians.  Recent political manoeuvres around the Brexit debate, the challenges made within and beyond the Conservative government and party leadership has made for fascinating late night viewing.  The quick witted remarks, the scathing insults, the show and shout of the backbenches, and the cries from the Speaker — ‘Order! Order!’ — are all a little bit addictive.  The form and function of parliamentary debate have always fascinated me, as much of the Church governance operates on a similar system…without the yelling (usually).  There is some niceties to all of it that being the address of the individual to another member of the house, such as: ‘I would like to thank the Honourable Member across from me…,’ and other small, but important, acknowledgements of world affairs like that of the recent events in Strasbourg’s Christmas Market.  

When I show my children the proceedings of the Canadian House of Parliament, the biggest surprise came from one of my daughters, “Daddy, why does that man have a woman’s voice?!”  As we were watching the proceedings in English the various simultaneous translators, either male or female, work hard to get the messages out in either French or English, so the message can come across with a disembodied feel.  The Canadian House of Commons has a different feel and indeed, a different atmosphere of debate as Members and staff flip back and forth in either one of the two official languages.  While there is nothing on the scale of Brexit in Canada, there remains other national issues that cause debate, and still, the thanks continue to go back and forth across the chamber before arguments and points of order are fired off.  

The Church of England has regular General Synod meetings, which you can also view online, and which also has a parliamentary structure.  Difficult topics can be raised, debated and voted upon.  While these systems in the UK, Canada and Germany slightly differ, they are the models of governance we have to work with, and they do work.  

I think that as Church, canons and regulations are debated, and in Parliamentary systems, country laws and state bills are argued about it.  In every place it is important to remember how we speak to people who may hold differing views.  There may be something that we can learn from another point of view if we risk listening.  

The News

Lately I have been wondering how best to keep up with world affairs.  For what feels like over a dozen years I have subscribed to the Guardian Weekly.  Many attempts at reformatting the paper have taken place over those years, and I remember receiving the different formats, if you are a familiar reader, you will know that stories from other dedicated readers who describe the thin onion-skin-like quality of the paper for delivery via Air Mail.  The shape and size of the paper has changed and now is a brightly coloured magazine.  The price has also changed.  While I like the various points of view my subscription has lapsed and I feel reluctant to renew.  Maybe I will, but for now I am shopping around for other options.  

Many people don’t realize this, but I am a Doctor.  Well, that is at least what comes every so often in the post.  Letters addressed not as Mr. or even Rev. but Dr., due to, as far as I can discern, a typo in my school address list which may have either been sold, or picked up by other junk mail providers.  It was the easiest PhD, and it did come with some benefits.  At one time I took out a subscription to The Economist which I also enjoyed, more so because of the ‘professional rate’ given to me which made each issue about 25 cents a copy.  This was all due to being a ‘Doctor’ as I received a special advertisement to help stock my waiting room with important magazines for all my patients.  The Economist, was a mighty challenge to read from cover to cover each week.  I feel badly if I don’t read the whole issue.  Yes, this may be strange, but it is true.  

Now living in Germany the added challenge is to find something to read in English.  Occasionally we buy a issue of Der Spiegel (and I thought that the Economist was difficult to finish in a weeks time!).  Inevitably, it is only the newsstands at the main translations that have the largest selection of daily and weekly publications.  This means either a subscription, with home delivery as I still don’t really like reading off of a screen, or a dedicated effort to get to the Newsstands before the other 5 people who buy the same English newspaper get there.  Sorry if you have a standing order and find that your copy is mysteriously gone from the stands.  

There are some news magazines which I might have an interest in reading, but frankly I can’t put my head around spending 13 Euros for a copy of the New Yorker.  Then of course, there are plenty of newspapers and magazines which, even if they were given away I probably wouldn’t have any interest reading.  Now passing the newsstands I spin the carousel of newspapers and glance at Le Monde Diplomatique which only shows up in French or German given where we live.  My French is rust, but I can still read a fair amount, but it can be a strain.  

Flights which take me through the UK usually mean that I have creative pockets and ways of sneaking onboard a pile of magazines and books despite the weight restrictions of Ryan Air or Easy Jet.  Necessity is the mother of all invention I say, as I stuff my jacket full of reading material.  However, even some of the UK publications can seem to be an entirely different beast.  Take the Spectator for example, even when recognizing one contributing writer as a Canadian who has adopted London as a new home, the Spectator has a rather narrow focus.  If I wanted to read more about thoughts on Brexit then certainly it would be a magazine to look through.  For a time I had a generous gift of the Church Times, which kept me abreast of what was going on in the C of E, and a tad with the rest of the Anglican Communion.  

For my birthday I wished for an internet radio, which I was pleased to receive, and now I can tune into radio stations from all over the world.  What this basically means, in the short time that I have had the radio, is that it is like getting your news from Facebook posts.  The ten spots to remember stations have been filled with what I want to hear.  Either that or they are stations which we enjoyed while living in Victoria and we feel like night owls listening to shows playing in what would be the dead of night on the west coast of Canada.  So, the search continues for something to read, in English.  While I still keep my Guardian Weekly addiction through the kindness of those who pass along copies, I do want to find something else.  I’m still looking to devour a newspaper, or news magazine that is something other than the likes of chicken soup – tasty, but never really satisfying.  

The Unofficial Official (or, don’t cross on a red light)

Last week I returned, once again, to the local authorities for an extension on my visa which allows me to live and work in Germany.  The Landratsamt – Breisgau — Hochschwarzwald is like many other government buildings, functional and institutional.  There is a lot of concrete, and only one flight of stairs down has the feel of being subterranean.

I have spent a great deal of effort photocopying my forms and checking off lists of documents that are full of official stamps.  A hefty file folder sits in my bag and summarizes my basic existence in Germany.  As I stand at a cross walk waiting for the lights to change my thoughts begin to wander.  A few men are standing behind me, and a few other people standing at the street corner.  The men are loudly speaking a language that I do not recognize.  They seem to be having a conversation well known to them which is punctuated with what I considered to be sarcastic laughter, but they seem to be in good spirits.  I realize that in my own nervousness in going to visit the government building and its power-welding employees that I am probably feeling a bit threatened for no good reason.  A bunch of traffic drives past and there is a pause of absolutely no street traffic.  There are no cars, nor bikes of any kind.  I, and the several people gathered on either side of the cross walk stand and wait for the ‘green man’ walking light.  The three men behind, push and bump there way through the little crowd standing at the corner and walk across the street.  I find myself shaking my head along with the others, and seeing what looks like one parent across the road standing with a hand on the shoulder of a child, shooting daggers at the men as they amble across the quiet intersection with the blazing ‘red man’ crossing signal burning a hole in the grey air.

I find myself irritated that the three men have now successfully crossed the road, but now stop on the opposite corner as the crosswalk light turns green for pedestrians, so that they can turn and stare – no, stop and ogle – a young woman crossing the street.  The scene prompts whispered remarks and shaking of heads again from the other people gathered.

By this time, I think that I really don’t need the negative thoughts racing through my head prior to my visit to the visa office so I hurriedly walk past and ahead of the three young men still laughing and still rubbernecking the women crossing the road.

It isn’t a long before I turn the corner and see the building looming on the next city block and I begin to think to myself, “Do I have that form? Did I take that document?”.  Like checking for watch, wallet, glasses…I am padding myself down and opening my bag to check for the umpteenth time my list of items which I might need.  I feel a fool.  Now the three men are past me again and seem to be going to the same building.  This would not be unusual.

As it turns out, they are heading to the same building, and the same department.  And this is where I start to think to myself about my hidden anger.  Despite being 30 minutes early for opening time, there is already a line up of about 50 people, just for the ticket dispenser.  There are some changes since the last time I visited, notably, there are two security guards giving people, in a friendly way, instructions on how to line up, and how to speed up the process by having your Personalausweiß (ID like my Passport) handy, as your name and place in the line up will be required by the woman entering the information into the ticket machine.  Having an employee at the ticket dispenser is also a new feature, and it certainly seemed to speed things up.

This process did not seem to impress the three young men who now stood in front of me in the snaking line. For one, they did not seem to understand the instructions, despite the repeated attempts to clarify by one security guard.  Once the instructions seemed to be understood there seemed to be a lot of disbelief on a couple of accounts.  One was, that only one of the three had business to conduct in the office, the other two were just buddies or relatives along for the journey.  Only the one conducting business needed to be in line.  This seemed hard to understand that not all three needed a ticket.  The other complication was that the fellow which needed a ticket, had no personal ID in order to get a ticket.  He argued that he would use his friends ID instead.  This was also met with more clarity around the rules offered by the still smiling security guard.  To my dismay the one fellow left the line up and walked up to the front of the line and after some waving of arms and shouting back and forth this his two friends, or family members, tried to explain to the guard that he doesn’t need to wait in the line up, and that they don’t need a woman to help them at the end of the line.

This ended up to be the end of the line for the three men who were politely told by the still smiling security guard that there is a procedure and rules that need to be followed.  The three men left for home to get the necessary documentation, and I hope, a bit more humility.

These events are relatively uncommon, but they are part of the ‘gut-reactions’ that often lead to miscommunication and prejudice.  I know that I was dismayed at the behaviours around the treatment of women while crossing the road.  What I am left with after the relatively brief encounter is the professionalism of the staff, especially the smiling security guard.  Crossing on a red light is a cultural ‘no-no’ in Germany, and even Germans will have a laugh about this at times.  My own personal cultural taboo was crossed with what looked like the disrespect and objectification of women, especially women in some role of authority like a the ticket giver.

After not too long a time, I found myself at the front of the line and greeted the woman asking for my ID so she could see my name.  After saying good day, the woman looked up with stunned shock that I had spoken to her.  She even said this aloud and was glad to return a final greeting as I departed to look for a hard plastic seat for my long wait.

The procedure past the ticket dispenser is a long wait sitting in an uncomfortable chair glancing up at a tv screen waiting for the opening time to start and the various ticket numbers to start flashing next to room numbers.  There are all sorts of different tactics and behaviours for this wait.  Some people, like a man sitting next to me in a chair, rocks gently back and forth with breathing that sounds like he’s in a pre-natal class preparing to give birth.  Then there are those who ‘camp out’ with computers watching foreign shows and movies, spreading a small banquet over one of the few tables.  Then there are those, who are the opportunistic type that go from door to door in this circular hallway knocking quickly and then going in to the small office.  One such fellow did exactly this to the office door which was nearest where I sat.  A slightly tired and irritated voice of a woman came through the shut door explaining that, “No, you cannot just come in and jump the cue, there is a process.  No, I cannot help you with these papers. No, you will need to wait outside please.”  Then, out comes the man, and off he goes to the next door.

It was not as long a wait as I had thought until my ticket Letter and Number ‘pinged’ on the many screens.  I jumped up with my belongings and ran for the door like I’d won some jackpot.  A quick knock on the door before entering and an official looking across the desk asked for proof of my number so I gave over my ticket.  I was asked, “What do you want?” and I blurted out a very long German word which basically means a-permission-to-sit in the country.  My file was pulled up on the screen of her computer and a trainee perched next to the official reviewed my status.

I was asked, “Did you get a letter from the state to apply? Or are you doing this on your?”

I meekly said, “I am doing this on my own,” thinking that this is where the rejection starts.

The Official replied, “do you have form X?”

“Yes,” I said. And I handed over the form.

(Then in the tone of her voice it seemed we were playing card games like ‘go-fish’) “Well, do you have copies of Y?”

Yes!

This went on a few more times as I handed over documents and letters and stamped copies of translations.  I brought out of my bag the entire file folder with orange label tabs as a statement that I was well prepared.

“Herr Parsons, please wait in the hallway until you see your number again. We will deliberate your case.”

In twenty minutes a few other officials came and went from the office as I tried to imagine their thoughts from the expressions on their faces.

Eventually my number came up again, to the astonishment of the crowd around me, and I returned to the office.  In the end, I got another appointment not during business hours and with ‘no ticket’ required to bring a photo along with my passport.  I was then presented with a small document giving permission to stay in the country for a few more months, a “fiction”, or an unofficial official document until my personal card arrives for pick up.

I can stay in the country, thankfully, and the extra document helps cover the gap of an old visa until the new Personalausweiß arrives.