Thursday, August 10, 2006

Friendliest Man in the World

Originally uploaded by jsharpley.
I'm in Hamburg today. I found a free spot to park the car and I was going through my stuff, and cleaning the car. I noticed a man across the street watching me from his second story window. I started to wrap a birthday present I had gotten for Joe, his birthday is on the 13th. So this guy starts screaming at me in German. I think quickly, are there rules here against wrapping in the street? There are lots of rules here in Germany, although I think it’s fine or even encouraged that you smoke in a kindergarten class or hospital. So the guy screaming at me had string in his hands, and from what I could tell was saying here is some twine if you need it for that package you’re wrapping. I pulled out the green matching ribbon I had dutifully picked out earlier (exercising my innate Martha gene). Nein Danke! I said, I got ribbon. But I was really touched by his generosity. A few moments later I heard his wife yelling at him about something... he returned to the window with two beautiful white lilies, perfect ones, just blooming. He thought they would match the wrapping and add to the presentation of the gift! He was two floors up and had to be 70 plus. This guy had good taste as well as great vision! The lilies were perfect, but alas, I was just now wrapping the present again with brown paper for mailing. This one was a bit harder to explain to my new friend, but he soon understood that the present was going "post" die post! And the petals would not survive.

I've never had such a good time wrapping a present and rapping with a perfect stranger in a language I knew so little of.

As I finished organizing my stuff and cleaning the car, the guy comes out of his apt. He gives me a metal thermos that looked like it was from GDR times, it was full of fresh hot coffee. "For my travels" he explained taking a Marcel Marceau sip and then putting his hands on an imaginary steering wheel.
I surmised this guy was well retired, but must be accustomed to being very involved and busy. He must drive his wife insane now. He left back to his high perch and I had a nice cup of strong German coffee while I finished the packing. Finally, he tossed out a local phone book to me! Telling me this is good, with maps of the town and stuff I needed to know about Hamburg. I think this man had already showed me everything I needed to know. His outrageous hospitality was Aloha on steroids, but in truth, not at all uncommon here. I think the Germans travel a great deal and perhaps this is why they are so amazingly generous and kind to strangers. When sending notes on, every German replied back, either wanting to host me, find a host, or expressing real disappointment that they are unable to host (usually because they are away on travel). Although I usually find myself in a thick cloud of cigarette smoke wherever I go in Germany, these folks are always happy to pause between drags to say willkommen.

This man will never see this post and I will never see him again.  We never know what effect we have on those around us.  He will never know how touched I was, or that I've shared this story.  From this experience, I am reminded that each time we open our hearts, share with others, take the time to be loving and kind...we will never know what it might mean to someone, how touched they might be.  Our actions have meaning, and perhaps immense effect that we will never know.  

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At 4:48 PM, Blogger Timory said...

This is an oh-so-true perspective on German friendliness and I have to say that it is so well written and true to my experience. I can almost smell the smoke on my clothes reading it, no wait, that is actually the smoke of the friendly Germans I´m staying with now!


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