Thursday, 24 February 2011

The one where I deprive the neighbours of heat on the coldest day of the year

I believe we are known as 'the English' by some people in our building. In the same way our previous downstairs neighbours were called 'the Canadians'. It's not so much the name, and who cares about that anyway, cause as Scot's it's not our country that's getting derided. No, it's the tone it's said in. We might as well be 'the Gypsies' or 'the people who don't recycle correctly' - yes, it's that bad.

Our crime in earning this name, was that we complained about the appliances in the apartment to our landlord. I won't go into it. I probably already have many months ago. Anyway, our landlord went straight from our apartment to his best friend's upstairs, and presumably bad-mouthed us for his own failings. I'm not sure what the Canadians did to deserve, in actual fact, worse disdain from the neighbours. I think it might have something to do with wanting a satellite dish. Or maybe simply just having an apartment twice the size of everyone elses, when really as an old snob, you want to be the top dog in the 'Haus'. Certainly, they've never missed an opportunity to tell us that their apartment is bigger than ours because they gain about a square metre due to the position of the stairs.

Anyway, I shall get to my point on this in due course. What happened was that there was a letter posted on the inner door downstairs telling us that there was a leak in the cellar and on such and such a date we would all have to turn our heating off by 8am at the latest while it was repaired. As luck would have it, it was the day we were to experience some of the lowest temperatures this winter: -11 between 6am and 11am and then a slightly warmer -9 to -6 around lunchtime I think. I was dreading it and decided that if the apartment was freezing when I got back from German class and picking up the kids, then we would just go to the KaDeWe and take full advantage of their 3 hours of free, roasty-toasty childcare and expensive coffee.

But when we got back the flat seemed warm enough. Certainly warm enough for my two lovely children to strip off and run around naked as is their want most days. At the time we returned there was no notice up to say that we could put our heating back on, and as I didn't feel we needed it, I didn't even try.

Fast forward 8 hours. There's a banging on the door. The following conversation is very jaggily translated)

Neighbour who organised the repairs: "Are you ok? Are you ok?",

Me: "Sure, we're fine! Why, what's up?".

Neighbour: "None of the other neighbours have any heat. We can't work out the problem. Both the side houses have got heat back on, and have had heat all afternoon, but there is still a problem with our house, and many of the neighbours are worried because they are so cold. Do you have heat coming out of your radiators?"

Me: "...well, I haven't turned them back on yet."

Neighbour: "There was a notice downstairs to say that you must put your heating back on and turn all the radiators to 4".

It's not like I can say, "Ah, but I have 2 kids who won't wear clothes in the afternoon, and I'm not taking them up and down in the lift naked to check for notices".
So I said: "Oh". That seemed to cover it. There was no point in adding that Stevie can't read (and understand) German, so just doesn't even bother trying, so he wouldn't even have seen it when he got home from work.

So the neighbour demanded that we turn our radiators on to 4, and guess what, all of a sudden everyone elses heating came on too. I like to think that it was a coincidence (ha, ha, ha!), but I have the feeling that more of our neighbours will be referring to us as 'the English'. But at least we've proven what a hardy bunch we Scot's really are!!


  1. Oh god I'm really sorry you're being called The English. I wouldn't want to get called that, and I am English. Mind you everyone else in our building is over 90, so I suppose they probably refer to us as The Young People.

  2. I quite like it to be honest. It makes me smile. And anyway, we're nowhere near as hated as 'the Canadians' and I think they're really nice, so that must mean we're lovely! Welcome to my world of warped logic!

  3. Hi, I just stumbled over your blog and this article.
    So sorry for you to be just "THE ..." This could have happened to you also if you were "THE Bavarians", "THE Frisian", "THE Saxonian", "THE Hamburger" (not the meat, but the people from Hamburg" - or "THE Müslis" or "THE Brillenträger" or "THE ones with the 3 kids" - ARGH.

    Do you know the word "Fremdschämen"? Maybe we can translate it with "vicarious embarrassment" - that's the feeling I get whenever I read stories like these that happen to our guests from abroad.

    Please don't give up on Germany and the Germans - there are many similar stories that we have to deal with as Germans in Germany.
    I simply don't know.

    Life could be so easy...


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