The Stingweed I MUST Have Deserved

| June 10, 2013

The Stingweed I MUST have deserved

First off, let’s talk about Germans and their matter-of-fact advice and statements.  For example—and this is a hackneyed example most expats mention—Germans will tell you that your child needs to have a jacket on once the temperature has dipped under, say, 75 degrees (which is about 95% of the year).  If you have not experienced a German telling you that your child needs to put on a coat, then a) your child has not yet been outside without a coat on, or b) you haven’t been here long enough.

How does this relate to my current woes about stingweed?  Well, I’ll tell you.  Just a few weeks ago, I was gardening.  A neighbor I recently met was gardening as well, on the other side of the fence.  His wife was also in the yard.  He called her over, as we had not yet met.  Within moments, upon noticing my bare hands, she said in German, (remember: this is our first time meeting) “You’re not wearing gloves.  You must wear gloves every time you garden.”

Now, she’s not wrong.  She’s especially right in light of the upcoming portion of this story.  This only highlights how commonplace it is for Germans to come out and tell you what you should or should not be doing.  They are not condescending or judgmental in tone, rather matter-of-fact.  She might be thinking, Why on earth is she not wearing gloves?, and she might go home and remark, “She really must wear gloves”.   And later when mentioning to another neighbor that she’d finally met me, the exchange might go:

“I finally met our new neighbor over the fence.  She was gardening, but she wasn’t wearing gloves.  She must wear gloves.”

“Yes, she must.  But she’s American, you know.”

Yes, she knows.  They all know.  The other day, an elderly couple walked by and talked to Sequoia over the fence.  As they continued past, Paul overheard one tell the other, “That’s where the Americans live.”  Nothing about the gloves.  Word hasn’t made it around yet.

But we haven’t yet gotten to the real problem here: Stingweed.

We recently had so much rain that the Rhein flooded.  And the local creeks.  And when the waterways cannot hold water, neither can the ground under our house.  We acquired water in the basement despite a perfectly functioning but overwhelmed pump.  This deluge of pouring down rain also brought weeds like I’ve never seen before.  I mean, the dandelions were the largest I’d ever seen just sneak up in a well-maintained garden.  Do you see this massive sprout in relation to my size 7?


As I was yanking these monstrous stalks from my garden without gloves (excuse: I had just returned from the store and was merely walking past this section of garden when I noticed the intruders), I noticed another stalk that was similar, missing only the budding dandelion flowers.


I approached and yanked.


There were no discernible thorns.  I had been attacked by this weed in a manner similar to the jellyfish that swam between my thighs in Stone Harbor in the summer of 1991.  My hands stung.  My poor, gloveless hands.

My neighbor’s words rang through my head.  “You must wear gloves every time you garden.”

Also playing through my head was a reel of my own words and actions the day Sequoia’s legs met well-concealed stingweed on a family hike.  I was exasperated as she continued to whine about this sting well down the path.   Paul told me that stingweed does, in fact, live up to its name.  “Well, how much?  For how long?”  “I don’t remember.  I haven’t been stung since I was a kid.”  “What’s it look like?”  “I don’t remember.  I haven’t seen it since I was a kid.”  (As I write this, I consider blaming Paul for this encounter.)

I’ll tell you this much: I owe my child an apology.  This freaking weed’s powers go far beyond the initial moments of contact.  Don’t let me exaggerate: it’s not as painful as the Stone Harbor jellyfish of 1991.  But nor is it as benign as brushing up against a soft-thorned stalk.  It stings, then it leaves behind its mark to remind you of its dominance.


“You must” carries some serious weight to Sequoia in German.  If I tell her to do something in English, she balks.  However, I’ve learned that if I switch and tell her, “Du musst”, I shit you not, the child just carries out what is asked of her.  Paul recently made this same observation.  Sequoia has even asked, in response to the English “you must”, “Ich muss?”  She does not equate the English ‘have to’ with ‘müssen’.  I guess in Kindergarten, when a teacher says “Du musst”, du musst.

Ich really muss wear gloves when gardening.

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Category: In Germany A Broad blog, Shits & Giggles

About the Author ()

Kari Martindale is a writer and ESL instructor. She’s visited all 50 states and 37 countries, including many of the big cities of Europe and a ton of Christmas Markets. She spends her days straddling the fence between a sense of adventure and a sense of dread. She is married to what is clearly a patient man and has a daughter who, frustratingly, is just like her. Her academic and professional backgrounds are in linguistics and foreign languages. When she's not teaching ESL, she's writing. When she's not writing, she's thinking about her next trip.

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  1. Laying it on thick | In Germany, A Broad | September 7, 2013
  1. Valerie says:

    When I was pregnant, enjoying some rare sun and warm temperatures by puttering in my garden, a neighbor came out of her house to tell me du musst …. I had to cover my lower back that was being bared slightly because my t-shirt was riding up and I had taken off my jacket because I was too warm in the sun. She was horrified, though, that I was exposing my kidneys to a chill and I really needed to think of the baby. That was definitely not the last du musst I have ever heard. Of course, I also have a German mother-in-law…

  2. Kari, deja vu…….I remember well your bout with poison ivy in Douglassville. :)

  3. Andi says:

    I always make it a point of showing new Girl Scouts (and their families when possible) here in Wiesbaden what stinging nettle is so that they can avoid it. My first experience with it was on my mountain bike and I rode though a huge clump of it…

    There are some other weeds that you can squish up and rub on the rash to get rid of the burn – common plantain and ribwort plantain.

  4. Kelly S. says:

    Loved this! Yes, Germans ALWAYS tell you what they think you should have on or be doing. And we have gotten the “sting weed” after tramping through fields more than once. You must also wear pants!

  5. Michele boyd says:

    Du musst always worked with me.