Or, as they call it in Germany, the Standesamt. Though, to be honest, I’m not sure that’s what they call it. I know that Standesamt is something, but I’ve also heard it called the Rathaus, the Bürgeramt and the Bürgerbüro. As far as I know, which is not much at all, they all have something to do with what we’d call City Hall. I believe one of them might be the Foreign Office. I have no idea and I should because I’ve had to spend far too much time there.
Today, we were going to get a paper stamped and signed for our Kindergeld, the money that we should be getting, and have yet to get, for our little man. Isn’t that amazing? Have a kid in Germany? Here’s some money. However, they fool you because to get it, one has to trudge through a mess of German bureaucracy. It has taken us over a year now to do. Mostly because we had no freaking clue what we needed to do.
Now, as anyone knows, if you want to really experience the worst (and at times the best) of any given culture, go to a government office. You want to really see that no one in California speaks English (and that we, as a state, are incredibly, amazingly multicultural) and that the state is bankrupt? You want to finally understand that absolutely no one wants to do ANY work in Barcelona and they will outright lie to you to get out of doing it? Go to the DMV or the Ajuntament.
So, what have I learned about the Germans today? For one, they are amazingly adverse to integrating other languages into their services. I had always wondered how it was possible that EVERYONE in Germany speaks English quite well until you step into City Hall, where they all just stare at you blankly, as if they’d never even heard the word Englisch. Especially in the Foreign Office, where you’d think at least someone would understand that they are dealing with foreigners and therefore, you know, foreign languages. Well, today I learned that they are actually not allowed to speak any language other than German, whether the person actually can speak it or not. At least I think that’s what I learned. I’m not sure because it was in German…
Secondly, they are the worst at queueing. You would think they’d be excellent. You think German, you think stiff and precise (ignoring the other stereotype of Heidi’s grandfather of course). However, not so. They are officially the worst. I thought that the Catalans were funny because upon entering a building, be it the Ajuntament or a bank, they would ask who the last person in line was and then sit or stand wherever they please. That way they don’t have to actually wait in line, but there is still an order involved. Until you get to an FC Barça game, then all bets are off and those little old ladies aren’t adverse to throwing elbows. Here, however, there is no order. It is entirely chaos.
We arrived at the Standesamt (or whatever the hell it’s called) at 8:00 in the morning. Because that is what time they open. Well… except Tuesdays, it turns out. They open at 9:30 on Tuesdays. Of course. So after 15 minutes of moaning about why we live in this country, my husband decided he couldn’t wait the hour and a half and so, went to work. I decided that it was worth me waiting and trying without him because I did not want to come again. The boy and I went and had breakfast (Quiche, which is the closest thing to “breakfast” I’ve been able to find anywhere. A post on that to follow.) and returned around 9:00. There were already about 15 people waiting around in the entry hall. Some were sitting on benches, some were standing ridiculously close to the door, waiting for it to open and some were standing and smoking in places I would bet money they were not allowed to smoke. I let the wild one out of his cage (stroller) and spent the next 15 minutes or so chasing after him whilst trying to drink my tea (which I almost spilled on his head. Twice.).
At that point, I figured we should get close to the door. I’m glad I did because there were then about 30 people all “queueing” at the door – meaning, they were bundled around the door and they sort of kept inching forward every few minutes, especially if they saw their neighbor moving even a millimeter in front of them. Now the child did not appreciate being put back in his cage (stroller) and was at this point, protesting. Not embarrassingly loudly, but to the point where I was starting to panic a little bit. Did that keep people from inching in front of me or actually physically moving the stroller so that they could make it known that they were before me (even if they had just appeared out of nowhere from behind)? No, it did not.
When the doors finally opened, after two full minutes of door-banging by two old ladies at the front, everyone moved. There was only one door, yet everyone seemed to fit through at once. No one thought to hold the door for the poor ladies with the Kinderwagen (there were 3 of us), so I had to sort of prop it open and push through, while bodies were slipping and sliding past on all sides. Once inside, I expected the lines to form. I mean, without direction, fair enough, but now inside, there were those line dividers made out of seatbelt material (I’m sure there’s a word for that, but having lived in foreign lands for 7 years, I can no longer be expected to speak English.). Line dividers = line. Right? Wrong.
They were STILL just inching forward and pushing me/my child out of the way. It was ridiculous. And as he got more and more fussy and actually began to cry, and as I got more and more sick of singing Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes (his current favorite), I expected someone to show mercy. People were looking at me with pity just oozing from their face; A man tried to fan the little one to keep him from crying; A woman kept looking over and making faces at him, trying to get him to laugh. You could tell they cared. Did that mean that man didn’t drop his fan and rush in front of me when the attendant called ‘next’ (or whatever it is she called) even though he very definitely arrived after me? No, it certainly did not.
Luckily, as I finally pulled to the front, the child was still crying and pulling hard against his restraints, trying to slide out of the cage so the woman took pity on me and signed and stamped my paper even though it was in my husband’s name and he had left, happily avoiding all of it. Now I have to take my stamped paper along with a different stamped paper to an entirely different government office tomorrow.
And so it continues.
It should be noted that this lovely woman also complimented me on my German, and though I know very well that she was lying, it made me feel better all the same.