15 September, 2008

Bitten by the Trojan horse. AGAIN!

A neighbor just popped by. Her son is one grade ahead of S and she brought me his schoolbooks from last year, figuring it might be handy for us to have a copy at home to avoid having to lug them back and forth everyday. I was really touched, and thanked her.

Then she said:

"OK, GREAT! Well if you like them, then I'd like 10 euros for them."

This keeps happening to me! Last week it was a used cell phone and a couple of weeks ago it was a pair of used sports shoes for B! This is one German custom that I just can't get used to! When I have something I no longer use I just pass it on (free of charge!) to friends and neighbors. I like making that connection; knowing that items that have served us well will go on to make someone else happy!

It just seems rude and unnecessary to try to earn chump change off of acquaintances. It's one thing to sell your stuff at a flea market, but it's quite another to offer something and then, when the person accepts it, to ask for 10 euros in return!

I think part of my problem is my Southern upbringing. I always try to accept offerings graciously, which makes it harder to back out of these "deals" when it turns out I'm expected to cough up money for something I don't really need.

I am also one of those people who is completely transparent. Just about every thought that goes through my head seems to be broadcast in neon on my forehead. Sensing that I was taken aback by her proposition, the neighbor left the books here so that I could consider her offer. Tomorrow I'm going to return them with a "thanks, but no thanks."

And for now I'm left seriously considering how I can avoid this type of experience in the future... For those of you living here in Germany: have you been hit with this as well?


C N Heidelberg said...

The horror!!!
That's really awful. I would just feel so betrayed and scammed. I'm not even Southern. Just American.
It has not happened to me, and I hope it doesn't, because I will feel like a fool. I'll be watching the comments here to see if anyone else has!

Betsy said...

You're right, CN, it's not just that I feel ambushed, but I also feel stupid. Stupid for thinking that someone would want to help me out without expecting some sort of personal gain. I hate the fact that I'm having to consider people's motivations before I react to an "act of kindness".

Anonymous said...

Okay, I just turned and asked my German hubby. He said unless an object is specified as a gift first and foremost ("I have something I'd like to give you, free...") it's safe to assume the person offering expects to be compensated.

Since it's happened to you so often it must be a cultural difference. I know I wouldn't be comfortable with it either.

Two other cultural differences I've never gotten used to are the expectation that I'll entertain and give other people gifts for my own birthday. That, and if I invite someone to spend time with me I'll be expected to foot the whole bill for whatever we're doing, start to finish.

I used to wonder and admire German people for having scores of friends together when they go out. Now I wonder how many of those people are along for the 'free ride'. How can the host gauge who is there because they enjoy spending time with you and who's there for the freebies? What defines the basis of friendship? The more often you pay the more 'friends' you have? I've not seen a lot of reciprocation going on between my husband and his 'friends'.


Betsy said...

ON the one hand it's a relief for me to hear that it's happening to other people too, and that it's not just me.

On the other hand, WTF?! And how often have I had to suffer through the old hackneyed cliche about Americans being shallow???

G in Berlin said...

When we go out with my husband's friends, we split the bill. And, contrary to what I have heard about Germans, when we go out with them and with other friends, we frequently do rounds and others do as well.
If someone offers me something, unless they upfront say that they are looking to sell the item, or wnder if I would be interested in buying it, I would assume it's a gift.

Definitely say no thanks. I can't see why she chose that amount... is it any appreciable part of the actual cost or is it just to get a few euros?

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you've seen this so often. Are they hard up for money or something? I freely give things away that I don't use and never would consider asking for money. Just last week, we gave the neighbor some lettuce and brocoli because we were going to be out of town and it would go bad before we had a chance to use it. (last minute plan change). It never occured to me to ask for 3€ to compensate ourselves, but maybe I should have? Nope, can't do it. The words could not pass my lips.

I asked hubby why his colleagues aren't having a graduation (MBA) party for him (ya know, drink meet up) and he says, no the germans think you have to foot the bill for that as the grad. WHAT?
Or as the Birthday Boy...same thing. Bring your own cake to work and drinks to boot. Again, What?
That must be a custom thing because as you state, it's just the opposite in the states.
Just baffles the hell out of me.
Lurking Lisa

Betsy said...

Hi G and Lisa!

No, it's always EUR 10, and it's definitely not coming from people who are short of cash. And the thing that is so irritating is that in my view it's always presented as a gift. (i.e. "You'll be needing to buy Sporthalle Turnschuhe for B soon! I've got a pair that my son has grown out of and thought maybe they might fit him!") And I keep falling for it, thinking: "Wow, that was really nice!"

I wonder if it's a Schwabian thing? Because it looks like Lisa and I have experienced it here in BW, whereas C in Heidelberg and G in Berlin haven't. ???

It's very weird...

C N Heidelberg said...

hahaha, that would certainly fit Swabian stereotypes! ;)

I've never encountered the 'expect you to pay for everything when going out' thing here in Germany, although I did encounter it in the US. (It was an ugly surprise. Visiting friend and her aunt from the South were in my town, I said we should meet for dinner, and I had to pay it all....) Maybe that's why people here don't seem to go out as often as we always went out in the US. Maybe they can't afford to plan going out because it means they have to pay?

C N Heidelberg said...

Oh, I see someone mentioned the birthday thing too. For some reason I'm more willing to accept that one as a cultural difference, although I do not like it...but I find it probably the most cruel thing for new immigrants. A friend of mine had her birthday a few weeks ago. She is a fellow immigrant, though not from the US. She wasn't at her desk that day so I left her a tiny box of chocolates there. She didn't find it until she stopped by her office 5 days later. She was overjoyed. She said IT WAS THE ONLY THING SHE GOT FOR HER BIRTHDAY. God. Everyone else was probably wondering where their handout was. I don't have words for how awful it is to come into such a backwards birthday custom if something like that happens to you. :( I felt so bad for her.

Goofball said...

Those gifts where you end up paying for, puzzle me too.

As a matter of fact I think you should be so blunt once as to respond "oh I had understood you were giving this to me for free. Oh sorry for the misunderstanding but we truly don't need the book as much as to pay a 10 euro's for it. Thank you very much for the offer anyway".

and then check her face. Maybe she has started seeing you as an easy target to get rid of her old stuff for money? Even if it is a local cultural habit to pay for gifts...it can't be so that you also must accept each offer???

As for the birthdays. Well I grew up here in Belgium and since kindergarden (age 2,5 - 3) I have been bringing gifts to school because it was my birthday. Same still at work.
it's the same in the Netherlands too. If you know that is expected of you, I think it's a great habit: ....buying gifts and treats once and getting treats from others many other days . And it is truly fun to arrive at work with a big cake or chips or a bottle of wine and gather all your colleagues in your office and have a nice little break. It's fun, it does feel like a birthday celebration even if you paid for it yourself!
And then it's nice to get invited at other's peoples desk in return, without having the hassle trying to remember everybody's birthday etc...

G in Berlin said...

What's interesting is that at the girls' kita, we do provide the cake (and this is standard, of course, in the US as well) but that she is not expected to bring in gifts for the others, rather they sing her songs, she blows out candles, they lift her in her chir (older only, but still amazing at 5!) and then the clss presents to her a gift (chosen of course by the teacher). My little one got a tiny rucksack, the older a book (way too advanced, but I assume it's a ceremonial, ritual gift).
Whoops- excue me-- I prepare treat bags for everyone, just like in the States, and they were way better than the treat bags we generally get here- but I don't know whether I consider that gifts for others and that is exactly the same as in the US.

Africakid said...

Huh, haven't had this happen to me yet. But then, our street is a big mix of people from all over (India, Ghana, US, France, etc).

Maybe when she returns, you could say "I decided not to buy these books. But did you want to buy (fill in the blank) from me?" See how she reacts!

Anonymous said...

We used to have a calendar at the office with everyone's birthdate on it, so we could decide who would bake the cake (or pick it up on the way to work) and that's how we did it at my last job. I think that's only fair, but I'm American, so what do I know?
Of course, here in BW, we have to install kitchens when we move in but I hear that's not required up north. Now, we're trying to figure out what to do with that kitchen when we leave! Sledge hammer anyone?
Lurking Lisa in Stuttyville.

Jenn in Holland said...

One would think this would be the case with the frugal (read as stingy) Dutch, but it has not been my experience at all. What a strange, strange culture you are living in...
As for bringing the birthday treats, that is indeed the tradition in Holland. The birthday person provides the treats for co-workers etc. on his/her special day.
But going out with a group? You'd better believe all in the party will be paying. That, after all, is what it means to be "going Dutch"!

Martina said...

I've experienced this the other way around, meaning I've had something that I thought somebody else could still get some use out of, so I offered it to them only to have them ask, "how much do you want for it?" which blew me away in the beginning.

Over the years I've learned to phrase it differently, so I now say "I have (insert object) which I'd like to give away and thought you might get some use out of it".