Making my morning trek to the bakery, I often listen to French lessons on my iPhone. Why French? Lots of explaining to do, but to continue:
So, this very odd American strolls down the street casting out a string of very random phrases in French. Nobody seems to be with him and no one dares approach to ask.
I don’t understand what you mean.
You don’t understand what I mean?
Do you understand what I mean?
I am excited to understand what you mean.
I didn’t understand yesterday, but will try to understand what you mean today.
Understanding what you mean is very important to me.
Does this mean you understand me?
Can you understand me when I tell you what I mean?
Some people only stare and Germans are among the world’s best starers. Others gather their children protectively. Those walking their dogs cross the street and readjust the leashes. I smile. They clutch their children closer.
The German bakery (Bäckeri), just fifteen minutes away, is my German wakeup. I chat with random people, know most of the staff, read a book, drink a couple of coffees, and munch a redolent roll just retrieved from an industrial oven that billows out steam and fresh bread aroma when a bakery clerk cracks open the door.
D--- is a beautiful woman, in her mid twenties and pregnant with their second child. She works swing shifts, modified to allow one parent to take their son to the kindergarten. Yes, Germans use the same word, which in German means Children’s Garden. Oh, that it were so in every school everywhere.
D---’s husband is a metal worker and the money is good. Her back aches some. Her baby is doing fine, but she sometimes has morning sickness. I pull a trashcan over and she smiles.
The apprentice program is still a bulwark of jobs in Germany. Electricians, carpenters, bakery clerks, plumbers, as well as office workers all serve an apprenticeship of some length. For bakery clerks it’s a couple of months, long enough to impart sufficiency in every phrase of the operation. And it’s a big operation, with not only more than half a dozen satellite outlets, but also trucks leaving for deliveries to shops and restaurants and grocery stores in a steady flow of morning traffic.
Some of the ladies here have been here for years. Pleasing smiles and welcoming attitudes are ingrained. Every customer is respected and the customers are varied. Some workers in well-worn work clothes come in for a coffee and roll to go (to take with, in German), others want a sandwich. One woman, whom I believe works at a nearby kindergarten, strolls out with a huge sack of rolls every early morning. If you get there at 0730, you’ll have missed her.
Interesting how the clerks ask the questions in a different way than we do in English.
Instead of “Who’s next?” They say, “Who comes?”
Instead of “Anything else?” or “Is that it?” the Germans say, “Another wish?”
M--- is a longtime counter clerk and she always asks about my family. “How’s your wife?”
“My wife? I’m not married.” I pat the seat beside me. M--- gives me a reluctant smile or grimace. Hard to tell. With a dismissive wave, she goes back to work. But, she does come back later and steps much closer.
Mostly it’s the people that keep me coming back, but it’s also a very nice and comfortable spot to observe the changing of the seasons based solely on what customers are wearing. They’re in scarves and jackets now and the parade of folks is as interesting as their sartorial styles. Open toed sandals have given way to clunkier footwear. The young mothers push one well-wrapped babe in a stroller and eye a toddler making a mess of the glass on the display counters. Retired men and women sit at one of the three tables and chat while they sip milk coffee and pack in enough sweet rolls to supply Mrs. Betty Buns’ obesity club. The older wives come in, dressed to the nines, the way American women used to dress before our culture gave up the ghost.
But, German youth have spent enough time immersed in American TV culture that they also sport ripped jeans, untied sneakers, an array of tattoos and hair colors formerly reserved for rodeo clowns.
From my experience, German bakeries serve as the same kind of social leveler as pubs do in England. Everyone is welcome and everyone comes by, even if a strange American comes through the door spouting unrelated sentences in French.