Transactions (and My Actions)

| January 27, 2013

“Kari, what’s it like buying things around Dieburg?”

Well, I’ll tell you.

In Dieburg, many places accept only cash.  A few more places also accept a Euro card of some sort, which I don’t have.  A few places additionally accept a credit/debit card with a Euro chip embedded in it, which I do have.  The Euro card and the card with this chip in it: not the same.  Then you eventually come to the establishments that accept any credit/debit card.  These places are, in Dieburg, few and far between.

Even ATM’s: some accept only their own bank cards; a few more, a wider selection of cards, but not necessarily yours, even if Euro chipped.  You really need to just wander around looking for the machine that likes your card.  Just because there’s a picture of a symbol found on your card on the machine or on a sign next to the machine, does not guarantee that your card will be accepted in the machine.  Incidentally, when you insert your card into the ATM at our local bank, the apparatus makes a crunching sound like it is eating the card and preparing to break down for repairs.  Fret not, it’s just calculating whether or not it feels like giving you money.

Meanwhile, bill paying is done by single bank transfers or ongoing automatic withdrawals.  You fill out slips of paper with your bank account number on them and take the paper to your bank, which transfers the money to their bank.  No checks.

But back to purchases.  Let us examine how transactions take place in our region:

Step one:            Search for the product/service online.  The product/service will have little to no web presence, but after some bilingual internet surfing, you will locate possible venues.  Noting that there is a lack of reliable information in one single place, piece together an address and phone number from multiple sources.

Step two:            Plug destination into GPS.  Soon you will be “arriving at destination, on right.”  You will be staring at a [field/recycling plant/private residence/chicken farm] that does not bear a sign for your destination.

Step three:         Drive around, certain you will happen upon the location.  Give up.  Call the location and have a broken conversation in which you are told that the GPS always takes you to the other side of town and, “No, there are no street names” to their location; or proceed directly home and never speak of this day again.

Step four:            Successfully navigate your way there or, in rare instances, wait for a kind person who, after three phone calls, says, “Stay there, I’ll come get you.”

Step five:             Head up a back flight of stairs, or into a storage room, or through a field, or into what would seem like a perilous situation under any other circumstances, to make the transaction.

Step six:               Not pay a single dime – not even a deposit – until you receive your product or service, be it in a day or 3 weeks.

Now, as if these transactions do not present enough of a culture shock to get accustomed to in the beginning, let’s factor into the equation my particular brand of disarray and take a look at what happens when Kari purchases a Thule storage container for the top of her car:

It was a day like any other.  I dropped Sequoia off at her German as a Second Language group and headed into town to pick up the dry cleaning.  The dry cleaner was closed.  I passed the bank and thought, I should get some cash…nah, I’ll stop later.  [Regret coming up]

I drove to a service station and, via one very painful conversation, made an appointment to drop Paul’s car off at noon to have the oil changed.  I then drove to our local market and filled my shopping cart with groceries.  I suddenly looked at my watch and realized that Sequoia’s class was ending.  I ran to the front, told the cashier I would be back for my cart, and flew out the door to pick up Sequoia.  Although the kids had just been let out of the room and were still putting on their coats, Sequoia was looking around wondering where I was, since I was usually on the bench as soon as she came out.  I felt terrible.

I dropped her off at kindergarten, returned to the market, paid cash for my groceries (Transaction #1 for the day completed), and drove to the base where Paul worked so that I could pick up the mail since he was out of town.  I passed the base ATM.  I should take out some cash.  I didn’t.  [Regret coming up]

I went to leave the base, but the main gate would not open.  It opened about a foot for my vehicle, then jammed.  One guard came out, then two.  After many futile attempts to fix the situation, they re-routed me to exit via the entrance.

I had planned to pick up the Thule storage container next.  I had already ordered it the week prior, after getting lost, calling, walking up a back stairwell into an office with a big dog in it, and signing a German-language document.  Now in the GPS, I selected the previous destination that I thought was the Thule dealer in Darmstadt.  Well into the drive, I realized that it was not, and that in fact I was almost to the cuckoo clock shop in Wiesbaden.  Remembering that I wanted to pick up a piece of dollhouse furniture, I decided to complete the drive.  I had just enough time to accomplish this task and get back to pick Sequoia up from kindergarten.  I mean, just.enough.time.

By the time I found a parking space, I had even less than just enough time—so I ran into the store and, knowing exactly where this piece of dollhouse furniture was, grabbed it, ran to the counter with my money out, threw the exact bill on the counter, and ran out of the store and back to the car.  This was all performed in such a manner that the casual observer would have thought that there was a dollhouse emergency in the city of Wiesbaden and I was the one person who could save the city.  (Transaction #2 for the day completed)

I raced back to the kindergarten faster than I’d ever driven in my entire life, which made me realize that I was indeed prepared for life on the Autobahn.  There sat Sequoia, waiting for me.  I had never been even one minute late to pick this child up from anything, and here I was on this day racing into both schools at the last minute.

Sequoia and I drove home, swapped cars, zipped to the service station, dropped Paul’s car off a little late, and walked home.  At this point, I realized I still had groceries in the back of my car to unload.  We unloaded and ate lunch.  An hour had passed by the time we walked outside and climbed into my car to head to the Thule dealer.  My car, which operates only when the key is in the car (but not in an ignition) would not start.  I pulled out my key ring.  My key was gone.

I had given the mechanic Paul’s car, but my key.

Fortunately, Paul hadn’t taken his copy of my key to CA with him, because he finds it rather large.  I ran inside and grabbed it, then we drove back to the service station.  There sat Paul’s car, blocking other cars and one garage door.  I ran inside with the key, looked at the guy, and said, “Ich bin American.”  He softened and swapped keys with me.

Sequoia and I were finally off to the Thule dealer.  It was not until we arrived that I thought to ask what forms of payment they accepted.

Cash.

They accepted cash.

For a €600 purchase, they accepted only cash.  Not debit, not credit, not Euro this, not bank transfer that.  Cash.  [Enter: Regret]

So not only do I need to go find an ATM that accepts my two bank cards, but I have to hope that the exchange rate is such that day, that I will not exceed the daily limit of $400 in withdrawals for each of the two cards.  God knows I didn’t want to resort to a credit card cash advance.  In order to avoid driving all over creation, I drove back to base to use the ATM because I knew it accepted both cards.  I took out the cash and left (through the entrance, because the gate was still broken).

I returned to the office and paid.  The salesman told me to follow him to the warehouse where the Thule was being stored.  We drove behind him, down the road to a gigantic building.  He rolled out the container and the two of us lifted it to the roof of my car.  As the guy began to attach it, he noticed that Paul, who didn’t know the container’s exact dimensions at the time he affixed the roof racks, had spaced the clips such that the container could not be attached.  A frantic search of the car followed by multiple texts to Paul revealed that he had left the tool we needed in the garage.

Seriously.

At this point, we could either put the Thule back into its box and put it in the warehouse for me to come back another time, or we could see if the largest available Thule could fit into the back of my XC70.

Well, if you don’t close the back, it fits, if you go by my definition of ‘fit’.

It’s December in Germany, we have no bungee cord, and we have a half an hour drive: through a city, followed by highway and then town driving, and a Thule is going to jut out of the back of the car.  This is not a great idea.  But really, when has that stopped me?

After carefully helping me load the Thule, staring skeptically, then shaking his head with doubt and my hand for good luck, the salesman was off, waving to the warehouse worker who had been watching the spectacle from a window the entire time.  (Transaction #3 for the day completed)

Sequoia and I made it back without incident.  She even managed to fall asleep.  She fell asleep in a car with the back open in December, her head under a giant container.

IMG_2215When we arrived home, I backed up to the garage and immediately had to wake Sequoia and jump out of the car to walk to the service station and (late) pick up Paul’s car.  Somehow, Sequoia convinced me to bring Flash.  She hung out with him outside the door as I paid, with my remaining cash—also the only thing they accepted at the service station.  I was down to coins by now.  Fortunately, a handful of coins in Europe can put your kids through college. (Transaction #4 for the day completed)

We returned home and somehow I managed to unload the Thule onto the garage floor by myself. I couldn’t wait for Paul’s return, because I didn’t want to drive around for a week with the back of my car open and a Thule sticking out.  It’s just not a good idea, you know?

And that, my friends, is what it’s like buying things around Dieburg.

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Category: Ex-pat Parenting, In Germany A Broad blog, Shits & Giggles, Travel

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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