Photo by wfabry (Flickr CC)
I would never call German men stingy. But the other day, when I was at Potsdamer Platz with my boyfriend, we saw Pete, a friend of ours, all skulking around, looking bored.
“Pete,” I said. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, Jacinta,” he said. “Fancy seeing you here. I just went and watched a Western with Marlene Dietrich in it. It was a bit stupid. I didn't like it that much. I wouldn't recommend it.”
“Stay and have a beer,” I said. “Or a White Russian. We're having White Russians. They're delicious. This cocktail waitress has got a really good Ausbildung; she's being all expert-mäßig about the White Russians.”
“Oh, I can't,” he said. “I'm with someone.”
I looked around. “Oh,” I said. “Where is he?”
Pete then looked visibly embarrassed. He kind of cringed. “It's a bit embarrassing, really,” he said. “It's this old German guy I know. I've known him since I first got here, he's a great guy. He's a retired judge.”
“And where is he?”
Pete bit his lip and then chewed on it for approximately 30 seconds.
“He's got this thing he does.”
“What thing?” I asked.
“He likes to collect the money out of phone boxes. It's so embarrassing. I told him today, I said: 'Siegfried. I'll only come to the Marlene Dietrich Western with you if you promise not to fish the leftover money out of all the Telefonzelles.' But he just can't help himself. You know. Then I said to him, after the film: 'Siegfried, please don't do this, this is embarrassing me.' And he said: 'But I've already found €2.70 today.' He's a retired judge, you know? He so doesn't need the money. He does it for the thrill of it. It's so embarrassing.”
“He must really hate card phones,” said my boyfriend.
“Well, he will take a card out of a card phone box, too,” said Pete. “But he prefers the coin ones, for sure. He's a retired judge, you know? It's so embarrassing. I just can't stand next to him while he's doing it. So I've given him five minutes to indulge himself. But I'm meant to meet him outside the casino – well, right about now, in fact.”
“Okay, Pete,” I said. “We'll see you later.”
“I might come back,” he said. “If Siegfried suddenly decides he needs another hit, you know? I'll come back and try one of the expertly made White Russians.”
“Can I use that story, Pete?” I said. “Can I have it?”
Pete looked slightly worried. “What for?” He asked. “For stand-up?”
“Just for life,” I said. “Just for the rest of my life. I'm going to tell everyone I ever meet the story of Siegfried the retired judge who collects the leftover money out of phone boxes for the rest of my life.”
“Okay,” said Pete. “But don't be too hard on him, okay? That's just this thing he does. He can't help himself.”
"I know," I said, and took another slurp of my gorgeous, creamy White Russian.
Anyway, that did get me thinking. Are German men the stingiest men in the history of stinginess, ever? I'm not sure but I did once sleep with a fairly good German friend. The next morning, we went out for breakfast. After we'd eaten, and wanted to pay, the waitress asked us: “Zusammen oder getrennt?” My German friend said immediately: “Getrennt, bitte.” The waitress walked away.
“Markus,” I hissed at him, outraged, over the table. “We had sex last night and you're not even gonna invite me for fucking breakfast?”
He looked at me blankly. He shrugged. “But why should I?” He asked.
“I sucked your dick,” I whispered at him. “I swallowed your cum. Remember?”
Markus grinned at me cheerfully. I like the way German boys grin at you when they think you're being all old-fashioned and Carrie Bradshaw with them. It's a tiny bit malicious but basically good-natured.
“Well, then,” he said, shrugging again. “I have already provided you with one source of nutrition for the day. Really, you ought to be buying me breakfast.”
Also, once another German friend of mine tried to persuade me to have sex with him after a night out in a disco.
“We could go back to my house,” he said. “We could share the costs of the taxi. I mean, if you don't come back, I'll just get a night bus, but if you do come back with me, we can pay 50/50 for the taxi, and it'll be much quicker.”
I didn't want to have sex with him anyway actually, but part of me couldn't help feeling a bit put-out that I was expected to pay half the taxi costs even BEFORE we had sex.
“You wouldn't pay the whole of the taxi?” I asked.
“Jacinta,” he said. “I live near Jannowitzbrücke. It'll be about €20 from here.”
But the stingiest thing I ever heard was a story from this guy called Horst. I was in a bar with a South American friend, and we got chatting with these two German lads. She was speaking to the slightly more attractive one, and I was talking to Horst. I think Horst was just chatting to me so that the slightly more attractive one could chat up Juliana, to be honest. We were in a booth, sat opposite from each other. I could see – but not hear – Juliana and she could see – but not hear – me.
So, I was chatting away to Horst. He came from Spandau, and had a girlfriend. He told me he met her by buying her an ice-cream. He gave her the ice-cream and said: “You are so skinny, please eat this ice-cream.” Then they got together. “So,” he said. “I lost €1 but I gained a girlfriend.”
“Aw,” I said. “That's so romantic.” I mean, it is for a German.
So then Horst started telling me how he and his girlfriend paid everything 50/50. Exactly 50/50. Not 60/40, not 70/30, but 50/50. Not even 55/45. FIFTY-fucking-FIFTY. When the bill came, he paid for his pizza and she paid for her pasta and they were totally equals, and absolutely quit.
“Well, that's fair enough,” I said. I mean, he was German, I thought to myself. 50/50. That's the German way, isn't it? It's okay.
“Well, actually,” he said. “I sometimes get her to pay a bit more than I do.”
“Oh,” I said. Hmmmm. Maybe he was unemployed and she was a lawyer or a teacher or a doctor or something? That would be totally acceptable then, you know. I mean, we are in Germany and this is the 21st century and everything.
“Yeah,” he said. “Because we always hang out at my place. We see each other three or four times a week, and she always sleeps at mine. I mean, at least three times a week she will sleep at mine, yeah. So, once a week, I make her pay slightly more than I do. To make up for the Betriebskosten.”
I didn't say anything for a long time. I just sat there, silently, taking it in.
“What?” I said, after a silence of about three minutes while my brain processed the sentence which had just been uttered to me.
“Yeah,” he said. “Like, the Heizkosten, and the water bills. She has a shower every morning after she wakes up. So, once a week, she has to – not invite me, but pay for my drinks, for example. That's fair.”
I didn't say anything. I just stared at him. “I have to go to the toilet,” I said, and squeezed my way out of the booth.
“Wait a minute,” called Juliana. “I'll come with you.”
So we did the girls in the toilet thing. You know, in front of the mirror and that. Blah, blah, blah. Hiding in the toilets, whispering secretly to each other, just like Offred and Moira at that dodgy disco with their raggedy bunny outfits on. I don't know why we do it, but we just do, okay? I suppose maybe men can talk freely everywhere but we only feel truly free in a place where men can't hear our words, like Muslim women in the kitchen at a wedding, you know. Maybe.
“What did your fella say to you, just then?” Juliana asked me. “I thought he must've told you his grandpa was a Nazi or he was into pooey sex or a paedophile or something. You looked like the Lady of Shalott for a moment.”
So now it was my turn. I told her. I watched her face in the mirror as I told her. To say she turned to stone would be untertreibing it. Her skin turned ashen grey and then crumbled to dust in front of my very eyes. She looked like the White Witch every time the dwarfs mention Father Christmas, or they see a snowdrop poking out from under the ice, or they have to get out of the sleigh and start walking coz they just can't sled anymore. She looked awful.
“What?” she whispered.
“Yeah,” I said. “She has a shower every time she stays there, and she stays there at least three times a week.”
The colour slowly returned to Juliana's cheeks. She shook her head at me, and blinked her heavy black eyes at me disapprovingly, but I could tell she was getting over the shock.
“And they have the guts to call the Scottish stingy,” she said, as we returned to our seats.
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “Pot, kettle. Kettle, pot.”
But still. They are very, very good at giving head.