Penny-pincher extraordinaire

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Advertising has got to be the easiest profession on Earth in Germany. You start out with a comprehensive technical description of your product, and then you just add “BILLIG” ( CHEAP) in large, bold capitals on top of it. Or the “creative” version “SCHNÄPPCHEN” (BARGAIN).  Heck, you can sell any rotten fruit, any withered vegetable and any drooping flower in Germany as long as it’s cheap. That’s our daily menu. Look at any mansion and, beyond the impressive and always freshly painted exterior, inside you are bound to find austere rooms furnished with the simplest genuine timber that gives them such a “last century” look. German meals normally have 1-2 courses (compare that to the 5-6 courses of an Italian meal, or the 20-something of a really byzantine East European feast) and those are usually brought by the guests. (I’m just being mean).

No, but seriously, some people would infer from this that the Germans are cheap. I mean, look at how they’re handling the Euro crisis… I wouldn’t say they’re cheap. They’re just, well… frugal. And you can’t really blame them either. Money-making is difficult here, what with all the regulations and stuff, and the only thing that still costs nothing is breathing. Any “offense” (such as parking on the correct side of the road but in the wrong direction) is immediately and severely punished, and a liter of gas is more expensive than a bottle of beer (going on €1,8/liter, actually, right now) so it’s really hard to hang on to money. The workplace is a combination between cubicle-induced psychosis, muted isolation and the most earnest productivity-obsessed torture chamber, and smiles are really rare. The only good thing is, they get served beer at lunch (gotta protect the industry, I guess).

So you can see why money is serious business to the Germans and why they have such a hard time parting with it. What’s more worrying is the effect on the immigrant psyche. I can still remember the days when my husband used to be this careless, wasteful and “irresponsible” youth, that would always buy me gifts and flowers and pretty cards for no reason. Now it’s like: “I see you’ve ordered some books, shall I take them out of your budget?” or “Honey, from now on please keep all the receipts, I want to analyze them and figure out a way to cut back on our expenses…”

At this point, let me just note that I do work, too, as a freelance translator and interpreter, while also being a full-time mom to my two kids and sparing our family budget the strain of hiring babysitters too often (which, as I said previously, are worth their weight in gold in this country). But I make nowhere near as much as he brings in. So that kind of gives him the upper hand in these matters, you see. Or so he thinks. His face turns all tense and worried when I want a piece of cake or an icecream, but not a week goes by that he doesn’t dish out money on very useful stuff such as a new smartphone screen protection film, some new cable for who knows what (maybe he is planning his escape…) or spark plugs for his 30-year-old motorbike. He bought it old on purpose – more things to fix.  Anyway, I usually don’t say anything, because he is this technical and computer guru that can fix anything around the house (and I mean ANYTHING), sometimes by breaking it first, but that’s another story…

Today, however, as I was wrapping up my work on another translation project, I was foolish enough to say to him:

“Phew, so at least I have made back some of the money I spent yesterday” (on that haircut he loved so much)

“What do you mean, SOME of the money?”, he said, visibly panicking.

“What do you expect? Haircut, pictures, a treat for the kids, filling up the car… ” said I.

He looked as if he’d just swallowed a broom. I think he actually started feeling nauseous and would have puked, if only he had been able to bend down. But he was immobilized by the computations in his brain. Noticing my atomizing glare, he tried to play it down and turn the whole thing into a joke, but I’m not laughing.

As a matter of fact, I promised I would get my revenge. I’m sooooo looking forward to the day when I will be out there, pulling all the ropes, making three times as much money as he makes now, and not giving him any. Perhaps, IF he’s good, does the laundry and spends each day with the screaming kids, and IF I feel very very generous, I will take him out to döner*!

Most definitely one of those makeshift places that have an oblique “CHEAP” sign across their menu…

*Döner = cheap corner-of-the-street kebab, full of onion and yoghurt sauce and sometimes wrapped in pita bread.

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