Interkulturelle Fachkommunikation December 12, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
Tags: communication, mother-in-law
…or how not to hit it off with your mother-in-law-to-be.
Darlings, apologies in advance. This is going to be yet another of those wot-I-done posts, which I know are of no interest or good to man or beast, and I promise I’ll start posting about global warming any second now, but just quickly let me get this one out of my system first.
The Russian had a birthday, which was metronomically predictable, and we celebrated as metronomically predictably as possible and decided to abuse our bodies with booze, nosh and fags. “Darlink, vee khere 5 year now. Vot our favourite restaurant?” Which should have been an easy enough question to answer, but it wasn’t, and we realised we don’t have one, and thought that going to Berlin, which I’ve mentioned before, wouldn’t quite hit the spot on the festivity stakes.
“Darling, shall we go to that really horribly touristy (probably) arch-German one, called Lederhosen Pumpernickel or something, on that touristy street behind the monastery?” It was a deal, and off we set to Zur letzten Instanz (last resort) without so much as a reservation between us.
According to its website, it’s, “…a place full of history and poetry, of worldly charm and Berlin wit”. ‘Berlin wit’ means rudeness, incidentally. But the interior was just as we’d expected. Lots of dark wood. Waitresses carrying beer. And thankfully, considering we’d entered from utterly deserted streets, it was packed to the rafters. And it wasn’t that touristy after all. The clients were overwhelmingly German (both numerically and on the collective hysterical laughter front). And old. Which was lovely as I can’t bear anyone under the age of 80.
I explained to the boss, a great exponent of Berlin wit in its native environment, that we didn’t have a reservation but could he do his darnedest to find us a comfy spot? He hollered something back in Berlinese, which I didn’t understand, naturally, but we went in the direction that his flailing arm instructed. There didn’t appear to be a free table in the house but further helpful hollering made it clear that we were to take the free corner of the table that the group of four tourists – the only ones in the place, as far as I could tell – had just taken up.
The four tourists were three women and a man. I made some grammatically criminal attempt at politeness and asked if they wouldn’t mind awfully us perching at the unoccupied corner. The buxom matriarch looked at me with disdain and disgust out of overly made-up eyes and answered, in Esperanto, to my surprise, “Sin problemo”.
We made ourselves uncomfortable – I must start taking my own cushion with me to places – and got down to some serious eavesdropping and neighbour-watching. The younger two of the foursome were patently a couple. The older ladies were obviously family of some sort, but the relationships were unclear. And, as it turned out, the young gentleman was German and his girlfriend and her two older companions were Italian.
Which just made for such fucking brilliant eavesdropping, you can’t believe.
Now the youngsters were in love, which was lovely to see, even to my jaded and wizened old eyes. The young Italian lady was wearing a huge, fuck-off ring, so I think marriage was on the cards. And here was the German, doing his filial-in-law duty and taking the in-laws-to-be out, for what appeared to be their first meeting, and show those Italians what Germany was really like. Lederhosen, pumpernickel and all.
As we waded through our kilos of Rotkohl with a ps of main course – all very lovely, actually. Goose me, duck the Russian. And tonnes of it – the Russian and I were still unsure if the bossy matriarch was the mother or not. And who was the second older woman? But eventually the word ‘mama’ was to be heard emanating from the fiancée’s lips and we decided that the second woman was mama’s spinster sister who had only had a few dodgy boyfriends and had come to no good but was taken along to Germany to give a second opinion on this Teutonic interloper in the absence of a father who had, no doubt, been gunned down by the mob in the Sardinian – I heard Olbia mentioned – oregano wars.
The older ladies looked horrified when their Eisbeins (knuckle of pork) arrived. And not surprisingly, perhaps, as the Eisbein comes in one size only: absolutely fucking huge. Desperate Dan would baulk. The spinster aunt picked away moaningly and asked her niece to ask hubby-to-be if he and his friends – a clear dig at him living in shared accommodation and was that all her niece could expect? To live in not much better than a bedsit when didn’t he know who her father had been (before he was gunned down in the Sardinian oregano wars)? – had a dog to take the 99% leftovers home to. Fluttering her eyelashes lovingly, the niece translated this into passable English only for the very unlatin German to answer teutonically literally, and in much better English, that dogs were not allowed where he lives.
Mama would occasionally get bored of not being matriarch and would deem that she needed to take proceedings in hand. She decided she spoke English. “Allora… quando (aside to daughter, “Come si dice quando?” Souffleuse daughter, “a-when-a”) … a-when-a I was-a in Africa…,” “a-when-a I was-a in India…,” “a-when-a my a-daughter a-was-a three-a years-a old, I (aside to daughter, “Come si dice mandare?” Souffleuse daughter, “a-send-a”) … I a-send ‘er to English-a lesson.” “Shoulda fuckin’ sent yourself, luv,” I had an insatiable urge to cry out, in a Cockney accent, but I DID sate the urge, heroically.
And so their (and our) evening continued, with them struggling to overcome the language barrier and us suppressing bitchy giggles hardly a foot away. It all somehow reminded me of meeting my Croatian penpal when I was 14, me wearing a Smiths tie and struggling for words… They decided food was safe territory. Matriarch explained that bananas tasted different in Italy and Africa. Know-all son-in-law-to-be (though not if mama and aunt get their way, I shouldn’t wonder) explained without hesitation that this was down to freshness factors. He explained the difference between the store set by pasta and pesto in the German and Italian psyches. When the couple would drift off lovingly into each other’s eyes, mama and spinster aunt would shake their heads – their decision made – shrug their shoulders, raise their hands and begin utterances with an undisagreeable-with, “Ma!”
The ladies decided to drink the pain away. The bill was ordered. They both lit up elegant, slender, postprandial fags. And do you know what he did? He reached across the table and, without so much as a word, nudged the ashtray as far away from himself as was geometrically possible. The ladies gave each a very knowing look.
Come si dice ‘burn’ e ‘bridges’ in italiano?