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Search complete October 31, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Rack your brains no longer. I’ve found my dream job. Not that I’ve actually secured a position yet, you understand, but I’m sure it can only be a matter of time.

I’ve got my genes to thank for my eureka moment. Inherited from my father, along with a great love of fried potatoes, booze and fags, is asthma. Yes, of course I effing know I shouldn’t smoke. In fact, I even had a freshly converted Allen Carr evangelist here on Saturday night and some of his evangelism must have had a subliminal effect because I’ve forgotten to smoke since Sunday. And, anyway, asthma provided me with a useful German lesson. As I psyched myself up for a trip to the quack one day, I boned up on my German grammar, and discovered, to my delight, that it is DER Inhalator, DIE Praxis and DAS Asthma. When I mysteriously become fluent in German and get a job as a German teacher – not to be confused with the dream job. I’ve taught language before. The hardest job I’ve ever done. Not that I’ve done many jobs, really. But it was harder than sitting around drinking tea in Russia for a living, let me tell you – it’s the example I’ll give everyone for them to get to grips with gender.


I plan to become a doctor’s surgery receptionist. In Germany. I see only a couple of necessary qualifications and, while I agree that it would be better, for tradition’s sake, if I were a woman, I am sure that I’ve got every requirement covered. For, as I see it, to work in a doctor’s surgery in Germany, one need only be skinny, obese or old-&-dim. I plan to fill the latter category’s professional shoes.

I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if my health’s actually a bit of a mess – I’m so glad we’re not seethrough – but I don’t normally bother with quacks. As I’ve reported before on these here pages, either they’ll try to convince me I’m a woman or, as not reported, bollock me for doing a sedentary job. And the time I had my ears syringed was almost too pornographic to go into. So I won’t. But with asthma, there’s no way round it. There’s delaying it, which I do galore. As long as I’ve at least got an empty inhaler lying around the place, my body’s normally kept placeboishly in order. But Scotland beckoned of late, and any interaction with the Celtic world is almost bound to set me wheezing, so I dashed to the local chest-quacks to get me some real drugs.

A queer thing about being here, and my ludicrous working-life, is that I’ve got posh health insurance. It’s the only type a freelancer can get, and it’s worth every penny for the half second of respect it gets you in dealings with strangers. As I’m hopeless at haughtiness in the day-to-day, I do get a minor pitter-patter as I see the staff sit up in their chairs, speak nicely and make every effort to get me an appointment as quickly as possible. And it’s the one bit of naughtiness I’m vaguely prepared to exploit at the expense of your regular Germans. (Oh god, I remember, with massive internal cringe, that I used to jump queues in Russia too, though this was against my will. Foreigners were constantly given preferential treatment in Russia, and I would close my eyes as I walked past a snaking line of utterly beautiful folk, mentally cutting my heart out with the venom of their stares.)

So I walked into my chest-quacks’ surgery. I sauntered up to the reception desk. Three women sat at it. One skinny. One obese. One old-&-dim. My natural preference was for the old-&-dim one, especially as the other two were under 12 and I thought I might have to give them some sweeties or talk about pop-music. “I’d like to make an appointment, please,” I said to Ms. O-&-D. She began flicking tomes ahead in her Big Book and was clearly aiming to give me an appointment shortly before Armageddon. I thought we’d better truncate this charade so I whipped out my posh insurance card and slid it under her nose. She had a slow-motion eureka moment all of her own and told me, mustering as much of a Hollywood smile as 60 years of being drunk every day would allow, that I could, should I so wish, take a seat, as they weren’t that busy, and a doctor would see to me straight away.

I sat in the waiting-room, having champagne and grapes fed to me, for the microscopic hiatus until the doctor decided to stop surfing youtube and came out to fetch me. But it was long enough to garner an understanding of the anthropology of doctor’s surgery receptionist hierarchy.

The young thin and fat ones of the triumverate should, ideally, be employed about a week apart. This instantly gives the more senior of the two a feeling of importance and perhaps means she won’t be quite so hopeless at her job. The younger of the two, meanwhile, merely makes up the numbers – perhaps it’s a Brussels requirement – and makes laughable attempts at answering people’s queries. “Ja, so ven can I make my next appointment?” asked a stern German pensioner with a Mrs. Thatcher haircut. “Er – pause to blow huge bubble-gum bubble – dunno. Wanna give us your number and I’ll ring ya?” Luckily for the young one, Mrs. Thatcher thought this must be technology and progress combining to make modern life difficult again and she went along with the youngster’s incompetence.

The only moment when the thin and fat young ones can have a second of solidarity is when Ms. O-&-D weighs in on proceedings. Ms. O-&-D had mastered the layout of the surgery after 45 years there and was awfully good at pointing people in the direction of the adjacent waiting-room, but her skills ended there. Otherwise, it was all blank stares and dribbling…

I put out my cigar, told the go-go boy his services were no longer required, and popped into the quack for a half-second chat. His computer told him I had private insurance so he thought he’d better do a few extra things like bestethoscoping me to squeeze a few more euros out of the transaction. He then gave me a repeat prescription and sent me back to the ladies with a bill… to be settled immediately.

I reappeared before Ms. O-&-D. A vague flicker of recognition spread across her sclerotic features. She fiddled around with some paper lying on her desk to give her a moment’s extra breathing space. Annoyingly, the least senior new one – obese, in this case, though the body-shape-seniority index can also work in the other direction – decided she’d better get in on the act. I duly handed her my bill. She looked perplexed. “Whassat?” “My bill.” But she couldn’t cope with this rare conundrum and bowed to Ms. O-&-D’s greater wisdom and experience.

The bill was for 19 euros something. Alas, I had no change and handed over a 20-euro bill. I think I sensed a moment of joy in Ms. O-&-D’s haggard visage as she had a quick thought along the lines of, “That’d get me five cans of Oettinger and four packets of woodbines,” but then she realised there was work to be done and staggered off in search of some cents. I stood nicely, declining offers of caviar from fatty and skinny. And stood. And stood. For a while I wondered whether this was a new take on mugging and whether I’d bump into Ms. O-&-D caning fags on Schönhauser Allee. But just as I was thinking I might take another glass of champers and lap-dance after all, she reappeared, tottering and apologetic, with about 5 euros in coin change. “But you only owe me 4 cents,” I protested. “It’s all we’ve got,” she retorted, and pretended to be busy by looking at the computer, which she thought was a complicated lamp. I thought it would be patronising to say, “Yes, aber you can take away the four euros straight away and that would make the change much closer to the mark,” but happily bade the staff farewell – I think I may have said hello instead of goodbye in all the excitement – and skipped downstairs and put my ill-gotten gains towards two inhalers and a packet of fags.

So, just as I soon as I learn German for, “Fucked if I know,” my application’s in the post.



1. Marsha Klein - October 31, 2006

This made me laugh. I’m glad to see that not everything in Germany is a model of efficiency – I thought it was only in Britain that they gave out doctors’ appointments which coincided with the end of civilisation.

Whereabouts in Scotland are you visiting? Or has your visit already taken place?

2. Wyndham - October 31, 2006

The one skill you need as a doctor’s receptionist is to be able to have entire conversations with a patient while looking in a completely different direction. I thought for a long time the receptionist ladies at our doctors’ had cricked necks. They look at the computer screen, at the wall of files, and at the clock, but not once have they ever looked at me. One day I’m going to go in, give my name as Edith Nibble the old lady down the road, and demand that my leg is amputated, just to see how far I get down the corridor.

3. BiB - November 1, 2006

MK, Scotland’s done and dusted, I’m afraid. It was the Glasgow trip, with shortbread, bagpipes and the Nissan Figaro. Germany, surprisingly, has plenty of moments of third-worldness. Not being able to pay with cards. Cash-points once every 40 miles. That sort of thing. Doctors themselves are mostly OK. But the minions! The minions! It might be a way of keeping customer numbers down, but then doctors are sort of self-employed here, so presumably depend on the customers flowing. As soon as I become a receptionist, the mystery will be solved.

Wynders, it must be because of your famous good looks. They are just too shy. But tell me, is this the receptionists at the Caversham Practice? I’ve been bollocked there for using the emergency surgery when it wasn’t an emergency more than once, let me tell you.

4. Mangonel - November 1, 2006

MK – congratulations on your new blog! It was very sweet and funny – I will definitely be back for more!

BiB – the closest I can offer is ‘Weisz der Henker’ which is ‘Fuck knows’.

You’re welcome, and good luck.

5. BiB - November 1, 2006

Mango, MK’s got a blog? Do give me the address, as me clicking on ‘Marsha Klein’ here doesn’t get me anywhere. Blogger excels itself once more. This could be an alpha-beta war.

Also, Mango, what is your German connection? Henker is my new word of the day. (Well, night. Think it’s another all-night translating sesh for me. Must get my Lebenslauf sorted and get some applications out. “What, sir, you think you’re having a Herzinfarkt? Just fill out these 700 forms and I should be able to give you an appointment before kingdom come.” See? I think I’m made for the job.)

Always happy to meet another blogging night-owl.

6. Mangonel - November 1, 2006

About MK – I was being ironic. (Irony – bit like goldy and silvery, but cheaper?) She has got herself an ID, and the most basic profile page, but that’s all. No personal details at all, much less a post. My breath is bated.

My father was german, ergo half my family is. I speak the language with far more enthusiasm than accuracy, but as its with family, who cares.

Which language(s) are you working in then?

I shall be sniggering about your proposed bedside manner all day now – I don’t know that my pelvic floor can stand that sort of strain.

7. Bowleserised - November 1, 2006

*Taking notes*Weisz…der…Hen–ker..Weisz der Henker! Excellent!

8. BiB - November 1, 2006

B., Henker is hangman, so good old uncle Leo (the online dic) tells me. But Mango, what’s with the sz? Is this being literal about the ß? I have the current good fortune to be working from French and Deutsch into English. Luckily, there are about 400 doctor’s surgeries to stalk on this street alone. Better get started…

9. Ed Ward - November 1, 2006

If they won’t give you a job, look them straight in the eye and say “SMASH SEXISM!” I’m sure that’s German, because that’s how I see it scrawled on walls around here.

Henker is, I think, more accurately “executioner.” Don’t ask me how I know this, but it involved an axe.

10. Marsha Klein - November 1, 2006

BiB, I do have an (embryonic) blog now.


I only set it up last night!

11. BiB - November 1, 2006

Ed, you don’t mean you got back from the US and Canada and had to dash straight to a party dressed in vampirish robes and carrying a weapon? I resolutely ignored the children doing a bit of encouraged begging last night. Even though the lights and music were on, and the children knocked persistently, as far as they were concerned, there was no-one home.

MK, bloody well done. I shall drink to your success just as soon as I next get my hands on some booze. Shouldn’t be too long now!

12. Blonde at Heart - November 1, 2006

I never knew an appointment to the doctor could be so exciting!

13. BiB - November 2, 2006

It depends on the IQ of the staff, of course. I’m very disappointed when everything goes smoothly!

14. Christina - November 2, 2006

I’m changing from slobbering masses to priviledged few insurance in a month. I can’t wait to see the difference. I once sat in a waiting room for two hours, crying because I was in so much pain, while private patient after private patient waltzed into the doctors office ahead of me! I can’t wait!

15. Jelly Doughnut - November 4, 2006

I can’t believe how long it took me to discover the other Berlin blogs out there. Looks like my originality fantasy bubble has been burst. But cheers to some excellent writing!

16. Welsherella - November 5, 2006

This is a bit anti-smoking really so I hope you won’t all hate me but recently I sat in on an asthma clinic (oops, I’m a student nurse!) and one guy who smokes about 90 a day came in, no longer with asthma but now progressed to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (you will hate me, I’m really sorry but it’s funny!). When the nurse told him that he really, really should try and cut down because now his asthma has become irreversible, he replied “yeah, but it’s not the smoking is it?”. I don’t know if perhaps he couldn’t read but cigarette packets over here are emblazened with scary scary messages about death! (They weren’t, when I was in Deutschland so perhaps that’s why I enjoyed the few I smoked while I was there) Moving on… (because you all hate me already) we then discussed his 170 units of alcohol per week, whereby he explained that he “used to have a drink problem”…
Finally (in an attempt to redeem myself) I remember that ‘flu jab is ‘die grippeimfungsmerz’ or something, although reading that I am less than convinced because why would it involve pain…? Hmmm, anyway, also ‘ensundet’ which is inflamed or something. I have really forgotten far more than I thought :( Mangonel: any chance of some lessons?!
Sorry about the long comment but Bib, will you be one of those really arsey receptionists who announce your test results to the entire waiting room when you’ve whispered to them over the desk?

17. BiB - November 8, 2006

Christina, well, I’ve only ever had this posh insurance here, so can’t compare, but I must say I can’t complain about the level of treatment I’ve had. There are other odd little plusses, like not having to pay that 10-euro fee. If you need anything complicated done for which there might conceivably be a waiting-list, you’ll also probably be bumped up on that. And not all that negotiating with your Krankenkasse about whether they’ll pay for things or not.

JD, hello! Look forward to acquainting myself with your writing more as time goes on. Hope you’re enjoying the Berlin experience. Sounds like you are.

Welshy, I’m going to be the best thick receptionist you’ve ever seen, and I’ll announce supremely inappropriate things over a foghorn. Oh the fun I’m going to have! (Must give up smoking. Must give up smoking.)

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