I’ve developed this thing where every time post arrives at our Berlin apartment, I experience a flash of dread. Not a lot. But I can’t help it. It’s my first reaction to any letter in German. Pages of legalese, with long, threatening words that even Google Translate struggles to unwrap into coherent English. When I close my eyes, I can picture a lean nazi officer passing my letter to a short man with black hair and a toothbrush mustache, who then yells out the contents of the message to the gathered crowd.
The reasons for all that anxiety are simple. I’ve heard horror stories of people like us—expats, freshly moved to Germany—now having to pay two or three phone bills every month because of a bureaucratic mishap. Because while salespeople may speak English, the support does not. And once you have a problem, well, brother, then you’re done. Your German friends will be quick to point out that you could always claim your Insuranceagainstbureaucraticmisshaps, no problem. Cool. Only no one told you that you need one.
“You don’t have it?” they’ll ask, horrified and astonished. “And what about Insuranceagainstdeathfrompoorcirculation?”
They have insurance for everything over here.
Anyway, imagine our horror when we received not one, not two, not even three, but four electricity contracts for our new place. Plus two extra letters from Vattenfall. The rustle of torn envelopes was louder than gunfire.
The first contract was made in our name (spelled wrong) by the building administrator. Second, was his attempt to correct the spelling mistake, the third was the one we requested. The fourth, a reminder that someone living under this address needs to pay the overdue amount of €700.
Thump-thump, my heart went, and then skipped a beat.
And this was just electricity. Did I tell you that Germans require a letter for everything? I’ve got one from the internet provider, and I’m not making this up, telling me what to expect from the other five that will arrive shortly.
The sheer mass of cellulose consumed daily by the German bureaucratic machine astounds me.
And taxes? It took me three months to find a bookkeeper that was willing to work over email without me having to forward them all the paperwork by post. I fell in love the moment she said,
“But I need to warn you, sir, we’re a modern bookkeeping agency, and we only do business digitally, so if you ever want to send us documentation, it will need to be digital. I hope you are fine with that?”
Fine? Fine? I was ecstatic! And so she helped me register a business in the country of Ordnung and Wurst. Or at least that’s what I think has happened. For all I know, I might’ve donated both my kidneys to some Lithuanian charity.
I honestly wouldn’t know.
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