Water is a big deal in Germany; no-one seems to drink from the tap, even though people will tell you it’s perfectly safe to drink. I used tap water in our kettle for a couple of months until it got clogged with a greyish-white sediment and had to be thrown away. Because then you start thinking about what’s going on in your stomach…
Modern apartments and workplaces generally have fancy built-in water filters, with two settings: one for still water, and one for bubbles. Bubbled water (Mineralwasser) is very popular. When I’m preparing for a German student to arrive in my classroom and I don’t know what his or her preference for water might be, my default is for bubbles. Germans even drink it in gyms.
So, if you don’t have the fancy filter, you have to buy it bottled. You can get it delivered to your door, (like we do) and we get glass bottles that are re-used and you get the deposit back for the bottles on the bill at the door. We also tip the driver pretty well, being on the third floor with no elevator. There’s twelve large bottles in a big plastic crate, and these guys are under huge time pressure for their runs. They’re always breathless by the end of the delivery … which makes understanding their German difficult.
No Delivery? no problem
The other option is to buy at the supermarket, and of course older people—who are not so internet savvy—usually do this (even though they could probably most benefit from delivery). We were at Trinkgut this morning, which is a big ‘drinks’ supermarket chain. The Trinkgut near us has a Bäckerei and Bistro attached to it, so we were there buying bread. (The bread in Germany is a revelation … but that’s another story.)
I was putting the trolley back when I noticed an old man, probably in his eighties, maybe born during the war, struggling to lift the first of the three crates of water he’s bought into the back of his tiny hatchback.
There’s no question about it: I should help this guy. My German fiancée is still at the bakery, so I have to get over my initial reluctance to speak German to an old guy in a parking lot.
And the story goes…
‘Kann ich Dir helfen?’ I manage. I immediately realise, dammit, should have used Sie. This is the trouble with talking with friends and family all the time. It’s always ‘Du’. I remind myself to do more smarterGerman Preaching using Sie and formal pronouns.
But it’s okay. I’m there to help, after all. He says something in fast natural German, and I pick up ‘danke’ and ‘kaufen’ in it. Fortunately, he also uses hand gestures, indicating where he’d like the crates to go. I put them in and he’s still talking, but I’ve got no idea what he’s saying.
Once I get the last crate in, I go to my standard explanation: ‘Es tut mir leid. Ich lerne Deutsch aber ich spreche noch nicht sehr gut Deutsch.’ This usually slows people down, at least.
He smiles, and says (more slowly) ‘Wo kommst Du her?‘ So we are good mates already, swapping informal pronouns. I feel better about my initial mistake.
‚Ich komme aus Australien.’
‚Ach das ist weit weg.’
‚Ja Du hast recht,‘ I manage.
He says something else that I don’t pick up, but my German back-up has just arrived. I introduce her to him, we swap a few final pleasantries, and then we shake hands. His hand is rough like sandpaper, obviously from a life of work. And sure, this Virus is still around and I’ll try not to touch my face before I get home, and I’ll wash my hands thoroughly too, which I would have done anyway, but I’m sure as heck not going to refuse a handshake from a guy like this.
He happily thumps me on the shoulder and says: ‚Bleib gesund. Alt wirst Du von alleine…‘
Stay healthy. You will get old by yourself.
He’s quite right, again. I hope I’m nearby next time he needs water.
Oh and do you want to know more about learning German around a detective story? Check out our Everyday German B1 course!
Written by Jeremy Davis