Is Anyone There?

Filed under: — lana @ 8:01 am

Germans and customer service do not go hand in hand. This became tragically evident on Friday in a few separate incidents when I had a mere few tasks to do.

And before I forget, it was also evident the day before when my German-bought vehicle failed inspection because the German inspection that was done immediately before I purchased the vehicle must not have included things like “operational reverse lights.” A stern talking-to later and that is being fixed so I can trade out the dull U.S. plates taped to the front of my car for those svelte European long plates that actually fit where the screws are supposed to go… I used a German-speaker for the stern talking-to part, because most of the impolite words I wanted to say I did not know the proper translation for, and my German friend pointed out that I would probably not want to trade having operational reverse lights for, say, having inoperational brake lines.

But I digress, as usual, from the fun that was my Friday afternoon. I had gone to the shop on post, sponsered by the Army (should have been my first clue something was amiss), to set up my internet and telephone service. As I have mentioned, these people are several sandwiches short of a good picnic, or even a moderately bad picnic, but since there were no important World Cup games to be held on Friday I was reasonably certain that all would go smoothly.

Two and a half hours into the six-hour window of waiting for the technician, I got an inkling that something might in fact be amiss. I called the company using my outrageously expensive pre-pay cell phone and sat on hold for a time until a very pleasant lady came on and told me that no, no one was coming out today, no, no one had intended to call and inform me of such, no, no one would provide a modem and I would have to go downtown and purchase one, and no, she didn’t particularly care that I thought this was the most absurd business practice ever. On top of that, she also told me that the technicians didn’t even have to come out to my house, so she didn’t know why I was home in the first place and it wasn’t her fault that no one had told me that I didn’t need to be there, and that they were just too busy today for one of those techicians to flip a switch somewhere to make everything go. I did hang up the phone before I wasted my euro with the extremely long stream of words that my elderly landlord probably would have found most amusing if his English were a bit better.

I then packed up and went to the orthopedist, who was located on a different floor than the one on which the Army had told me his office could be found and no one else in the building seemed to speak any English whatsoever so I got to puzzle out with my limited German skills exactly where I was and where I was supposed to be. Finding the office, I sat remarkably close to a man with hair exactly like that of David Hasselhoff and waited for my tall, blond, cloned-looking German doctor to wiggle my foot around and go “hmmm” a lot. He determined that Tanzania is not cold enough for frostbite (and did not want to hear what the temperature was next to the glaciers 6000 meters up from the Tanzanian plains), he had no idea what had caused the nerve damage to the foot, the ankle must have something wrong with the ligaments, and that the Army had failed to release my imagry records to me or to him so he was simply using his Jedi powers. I assumed the last part, anyway. He poked, prodded, and muttered in German to himself and his assistant, then said “The ankle is loose and your foot is less responsive than the other,” the crucial statement of the obvious that then led him to instruct me to find a German neurologist, someone to analyze blood samples, and to find a way to get my original imagry, and to then return to him with the results from all of this as soon as possible so he can arrange for ligament surgery (what?). With a swoosh of his heavily-styled mane, he then left the office.

I would have sat there a bit unnerved, but his non-english speaking assistant handed me a photocopy of my instructions and waved me back to the front desk. I went home, used the rest of my phone time at over 2 euros per minute calling my husband, watched the not-as-good-as-the-book movie of Catch-22, remembered that this is all the Army way, and went to bed comforted that I only had 75 more missions to fly…


World Cup Fever

Filed under: — lana @ 8:22 am

Many people around seem to have come down with the famed “World Cup Fever.” Apparently, this is a condition that confines many Germans to their homes (or their home away from home, the local bar) and results in a significant downturn for area productivity. Symptoms can last up to a month, and will most likely recur every four years in the early summer. This year the affliction has hit Germany exceptionally hard, most notably in the general vicinities of the stadiums where the football (to us foreign-folk, soccer) games are being held.

Thursday is the final game of the tournament to be held in Nurenberg, a short ways east from the humble town where I now hang my hat. Sometime last week I wandered into the internet provider office on post to inquire about hooking up access in my new apartment. After giving fifty euros to the nice lady as a deposit, she informed me that someone would be out there the following Thursday but that I really should come back on Friday or Monday to see if the provider could even supply broadband access to my residence. This in itself was a touch mind-boggling, as one would think they could solve such a quandry with a quick internet search, or even perhaps a phone call. But I agreed to come back on Monday to find out. She then, as I turned towards the door, mentioned that I would not get my fifty euros back, even if they could not supply my home with DSL internet (the most advanced technology the local area has to offer). I asked her why that was, and she said because I would still get a German phone line. I informed her that was all well and good, but I didn’t WANT a German phone line, I just wanted the line that would allow me to have internet. She said she didn’t know, but to come back later.

And so I did, going back into the office yesterday to discover my fate. The nice lady with my fifty euros was not there, but a gentleman made a phone call and about five minutes later found out that indeed, they do provide the service to my area. Why I had to wait a week for that, I still do not know. He then said that the information had not yet come back from the company with my scheduled appointment, so to check again the following day. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is same-day service in this country.

So this morning I walked to the office for the third time and the same gentleman said that the company had still not sent the information, so he called them. Five minutes (plus a day, counting yesterday) later he had the answer that Thursday would not be possible, it would have to be Friday afternoon, sometime within an atrocious six hour window that could not be narrowed down in the slightest.

Why is this date change, you ask? The technicians are all being allowed off for Thursday afternoon to watch the games. Thursday is the deciding day for the United States bracket, as well as a few others, and so they are all taking off with the exception of a moderate few, who already have booked schedules.

Football. The entire country is revolving around it. I admit, I have been to the bar for some of the games, and have actually gotten to the point where I can shout at the television along with the others when a bad call is made, at least until the replay is shown and we are all humbled because we were wrong…

The debilitating disease is even starting to permeate the office, with my boss bringing in a television and a small antenna to catch the games that start at 1600. Another office closed down early today because the German game is on during the early slot.

The best way to avoid the fever is to simply go about your daily routine and resist urges to throw empty beer glasses at televisions when a favored team loses. I think I will further that by, unless I am a social viewer watching at the local watering hole, waiting to catch the scores on the internet…

Which I expect should be hooked up sometime around 9 July…


Who Are You?

Filed under: — lana @ 7:16 am

So today I had some follow-up appointments to various medical issues back in North Carolina that were not fully resolved. It was to be a fun morning of misadventure, as always, and a lovely foray into the wide world of the Army Medical System.

So I check in for my appointments, handing them my ID card, and the nice lady at the desk says I am not in the system. She then enters my ID number and lo and behold, there is my information under my maiden name… which I changed legally and in the Army system back in twenty aught three. She digs a tad bit deeper and ah yes, there is my married name. However, my ID number pulls up that I am a dependent.

Of myself.

Apparently, for my tour in Europe, I am command sponsoring myself as a dependent, my maiden name being a dependent of my married name (I think). I said that means I should get paid more, because I clearly have someone else to support: myself. I also asked if they had mental health on staff because I might be having a multiple personality problem. They referred me downstairs to the healthcare administration room instead, to which I went and with much disappointment noted that they do not have any padding on the walls.

And so I attempted to straighten out the mess with the healthcare office. This is now after I have seen two doctors, who did remarkably little other than say, “Hmmm” a lot and refer me to German doctors in the area because everything out where we are is shutting down so the closest specialist doctors all seem to be in Landstul, a good three and a half to four hours away. So I take the referrals down to the healthcare office, as they arrange the German appointments anyway, and they begin to puzzle out the mess. Their system pulls up the maiden name, and the referrals have the maiden name on them. The problem then became how to fix it, because if they booked the appointments under the maiden name, the Germans may not see me because I have no identification in that name anymore, and then if the system were fixed before the bills came, the Army wouldn’t have a clue to whom the bills were to be delivered. However, they maintained that DEERS, the dependent enrollment system, had to make the name change. But since my ID card had my married name on it, clearly DEERS was not where the error was located. Natch.

So the process is on hold until Monday, since tomorrow is yet another German holiday since the Germans seem to take a holiday about every two weeks or so. The healthcare people are going to attempt to figure everything out in that time and by Monday I should be able to book the appointments.

If I held my breath for that one, I’d be dead shortly. But what name to put on the headstone?


Bombs and Cars, For Once Not Together

Filed under: — lana @ 7:09 am

First on the list, naturally, is the death of one Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, everyone’s favorite lovable and hugable terrorist who recently left to find his 42 virgins in the sky. Given how much time we all spent looking for that wily little guy while puttering around in Iraq, it is worth mentioning that it is somewhat of a relief that if we do have to return we can focus our attention on more important things such as, I don’t know, a clean water system that entails people bathing separately from their herd of cattle, sheep, or whatever other animal happens to wander into the same canal.

Now it is my personal belief that the death of ol’ AMZ will only provide a benefit for a few weeks until some other random yet well-connected extremist with a serious ego problem who probably didn’t get enough attention as a child is selected to replace our friend. After all, al Qaeda is a pretty big group of morons, so they aren’t exactly short of maniacal idiots to choose from. But given that AMZ was a touch on the power-hungry side (maybe shown by his tendency to kill people inside and outside the organization who disagreed with his philosophy), it may take them a few days or weeks to find someone just nutty enough to fill his sandals. I don’t forsee much of a change in the general attitude of the Iraqis, because most of the bad guys with the beards and dishdashas weren’t actual members of the organization anyway, but it really could go either way at this point. But no matter what, a big and well-deserved feather in the cap of the F-16 pilots as well as the folks on the ground getting the info and carrying out the mission…

And of course, who can think of bombs without thinking of cars, after how long we spent dodging anything on wheels and the occasional dead animal. I bought a car off of a German dealer yesterday, an adventure that proved more entertaining when the German who works in my office begged out of the experience to head off to complete some actual work for our office, so it was up to myself and another American with limited German skills to complete the mission.

Let me spell it out. In order to drive a car on an American installation in Europe, it must be registered with the military police, of course. In order to get it registered, it must be inspected to American standards. In order to get it inspected, it must be brought onto the installation. Here we begin to see the problem, but I continue. To get it onto the installation before it is registered, you must get the temporary plates for it from the military police. In order to get the temporary plates, you must ensure that the car is no longer enrolled in the German motor vehicle registration system. In order to de-register the car, it must be bought, signed, and paid for from the German dealer.

And so it was that my American friend and I went to the dealer, mumbled limited German and puzzled out his muddled English, bought the car, left it at the lot, went to the German DMV (which is substantially nicer, smoother, and faster than anything I have experienced stateside), deregistered the car thankful that most of the people in the DMV spoke English fairly well, went to the MP station on base, got the temporary tags, went BACK to the dealer, attached the tags (which are shaped like US plates and not German plates, so a nice German mechanic had to knock a new hole in the plate to make it screw onto the car after figuring out what my interpretive dance meant because I did not know what the words for “screwdriver” or “screw” or “Why the hell would they give me plates that are the wrong shape” were), found out that the Americans don’t do inspections on Fridays, drove the car to the barracks where I still remain pending my furniture delivery to my apartment, and will then next week have to take the car over to get it inspected and, finally, registered.

All in a day’s work. Next comes the process of finding internet capability that doesn’t cost so much it will neccessitate my finding work stuffing envelopes in the German paper mill on weekends…


Rainy Day Afternoon(s)

Filed under: — lana @ 8:39 am

So the nice German who works in my office has explained to me that every year around the first week of April the weather starts improving and gearing up for springtime (for… Hitler? We will leave that musical out of this). Then, for two weeks in about the middle of May, it gets a bit chilly and rains for the two weeks and then it gets to be the beautiful summertime that all of Germany knows.

Well, I’ve been here about three weeks. It has rained. Every. Single. Day. I tell my friend that his two weeks are up, and he laughs and ducks out of the conversation as quickly as he can.

Furthermore, I have noticed that Germans don’t always run on the same time schedule that we do. First of all, the German government regulates when stores are permitted to be open, such as limited stores remain open after 1800 on weekdays, most close by 1300 on Saturdays, and Sundays nearly everything is closed. This makes it more challenging to, say, purchase just about anything at any given time. Then again, with the Euro doing so much better than the dollar right now, perhaps that is in the American visitor’s best interest anyway.

The other timing issue appears to be with service. A German will not miss his lunch, and so if you are trying to get a task accomplished during lunchtime, you may be trying your luck. Civilians seem to come to work most but not all of the time, and this appears to be expected. When you call a business, you don’t neccessarily expect an answer. The proprieter may be with a customer, or they may have stepped out to get some shopping done of their own. It becomes expected, and therefore gradually less frustrating, though I would really appreciate it if someone in the only sew shop on post could find a few moments to sew a patch on my uniform…

So as I settle in, the rain lets up and it’s just a cold, biting wind outside. This might be my only chance to leave the office, so I should take it while I can get it…

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