My boyfriend’s mum is a German lady who’s been living in England since the 1960s or something. When she comes over to see us, she always calls the kettle a Kessel instead of a Wasserkocher.
“You call the Wasserkocher a Kessel because of the English word “kettle”, right?” I asked her once. “Because a kettle is a Kessel – that’s why you call the Wasserkocher a Kessel.”
She looked a tiny bit embarrassed.
“Actually,” she said, “when I moved out to England they hadn’t invented Wasserkochers yet.”
“Oh,” I said. She’s been living there for fucking ages.
So, one of the nice things about coming from London is that you hardly ever get pissed off with the BVG. Thing is, back when I was a kid, they just used to put this big blackboard up in Liverpool Street telling you which lines were down. Then they’d write: “Please use the bus.” Sometimes they wouldn’t even tell you which bus they meant. You had to go and ask the guards or a person working in the newsagent’s which bus you needed and where the bus stop was. It was a nightmare. It just meant you always had to give yourself half-an-hour extra to get anywhere, or else accept the fact that you were gonna be late.
I can remember the first time I was on the U-Bahn and a line was down. I’d not been long in the country, I had a job interview. I was on the U1. I was doing alright for time and that, and then suddenly the U-Bahn stopped.
“What’s happening?” I asked an old guy across from me. I was never able to understand the BVG people in those days. Half the time I don’t understand them properly now, back then I didn’t stand a chance.
“The line stops here,” he said. “You have to get a bus.”
Okay, I know this is a bit mad of me, but my eyes filled up with panicky tears.
“Oh, no,” I said. “I’ll have to get a taxi. I’ve got a job interview.”
“No, you don’t need a taxi,” he said. “You can get a bus.”
“I don’t know where the bus stop is,” I said.
“It’ll be easy to find,” he said. “Look, here it is.”
It was as well. Right outside the station.
“How did you know it would be here?” I asked. “Do you normally take the bus? How long will we have to wait?”
“It’s a special bus,” he said.
“A special bus?”
“Because the U-Bahn’s not working.”
“Oh,” I said. “That’s a really good idea.”
The special bus came in, like, one and a half minutes. I told the special bus driver what a good idea I thought his special buses were.
“That’s really nice,” I said. I was siezen him and everything, me and the old boy had been duzen each other – he started it – but I was speaking my best German with the special bus driver and so I Sieed him up a bit, “that you put on this special bus for us, because the U-Bahn’s not working. Because I wouldn’t know where to get a normal bus from. I would’ve had to get a taxi. I’ve got a job interview. I would’ve been late.”
“That’s okay,” he said. “You’ll be fine.”
“We don’t have this in my country,” I told him. “We don’t even have a word for Schienenersatzverkehr.”
I knew I’d been living here for ages when I started taking the Schienenersatzverkehr for granted. My cousin came over and she was, all, like, “Wow, Jacinta, they put a special bus on for you when the train lines are down? That’s so nice of them.” I just gave a nonchalant Berliner shrug and said: “Well, if they didn’t, we’d be totally screwed, wouldn’t we? And we have paid for our tickets, after all. But I knew I’d been really living here for ages. When I didn’t just take the Schienenersatzverkehr for granted, I was just pissed off that the U2 was down. “Schienenersatzverkehr is my least favourite word in the German language,” I told my son.
And then last time I was back in England, I realized I had really been fucking living in Germany for fucking ages. The train taking me to my dad was down and we had to get a replacement bus service.
“We’re going to get on a replacement bus service,” I said in a bright, cheerful voice. “It’s just like in Berlin, when we have to get the Schienenersatzverkehr.”
“Mum,” said my son sternly, as we sat at the front of a double-decker. “You told me there was no English word for Schienenersatzverkehr.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I did, didn’t I?”
“Did you lie, Mama?” He asked me. “You shouldn’t lie.”
“I didn’t lie,” I told him. “I’ve just been living in Germany for a really long time, that’s all. It makes me a bit sad, sometimes.”
You know, sometimes I worry that by the time I move back to England people won’t even queue up for a bus or put milk in their tea anymore. It really worries me. But not enough to make me move back.