I remember, when I first came to Germany, after a night out, I’d call out, as I left the bar: “Gute Nacht!” And then, one day, my then-boyfriend now-ex-husband, whispered to me, as we walked out, obviously slightly embarrassed. “You don’t need to say good night to people who work in bars.”
I was surprised. “You don’t?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “In German, you only say good night when you have your pyjamas on.”
“I dunno, that seems pretty rude to me?” I answered. “What are you meant to say, then?”
“You can just say have a nice evening – schönen Abend noch! Or wish them a nice Feierabend. That’s nice, wishing people a nice Feierabend.”
“What’s a Feierabend?” I asked.
“Your free-time in the evening,” my then-boyfriend, now-ex-husband explained. I looked at him skeptically. “Isn’t it a bit cheeky to say to people – ” I looked at my wristwatch, I am very old, I had a wristwatch once, and not in an ironic hipster way, but in a non-ironic I want to tell the time way – “at three in the bloody morning that they should enjoy their free-time in the evening? It’s kind of, like, rubbing it in a bit, isn’t it?”
It’s confusing. Learning German. Tricky. Especially the whole evening/night stuff. Germans often say evening when we would say night. My friend Otto once said to me: “Yesterday evening I went to a grill-party!” and I had to inform him, that, in actual fact, last night he had gone to a barbecue. I once saw a boy I knew with his girlfriend at Schlesisches Tor, the night before we’d done a poetry slam together and afterwards gone for lots and lots of drinks with all the other slammers. I smiled at him happily and said, innocently: “Oh gestern Nacht war so schön, oder, hat echt Spaß gemacht!” I thought I was being polite, and friendly and things like that. He looked at me somewhat panicked. “But we didn’t spend the night together, Jacinta!” (I also once, after a slam in Cologne, said “bis später” to the same guy – which I thought just meant see you later, as in later on in time. But in German bis später means later on that day. The poetry slammer sitting next to me nodded knowingly: “You guys are sharing a hotel room? You know, I’ve always thought there was something going on between the two of you.”)
And what is with heute Nacht? The first time I ever stayed over at a German girlfriend’s house (ALSO… have you noticed how the only German girlfriends who let you/want you to sleep over are a bit, well, mad? I think sane Germans don’t do sleepovers, they just meet up for coffee?) my friend said to me: “Hast du heute Nacht gut geschlafen?” I literally stared at her for seventy-four seconds, trying to work out what she was fucking getting at. “I don’t know,” I said finally. “Tonight hasn’t happened yet.”
Now my German is better and I barely make these kind of mistakes anymore. I remember that halb sechs is half-five even when I am ludicrously drunk and I can even do that Eastie thing where the concept of five o’clock is an actual cake so three quarters of five o’clock is three quarters of the way on the clock TOWARDS five and so therefore drei Viertel fünf is literally, literally, literally 4:45 – probably pm, let’s be honest. I do have to squint a bit to get there but I always get it right and afterwards everyone claps and says, darkly: “There are lots of West Germans who can’t do that.”
I still get a bit confused, sometimes, though. Once I collect my son from kita, as far as I am concerned, the day is OVER, especially if it’s getting dark outside. So now, it sometimes happens, that at 3.45 in the afternoon I will wish a bakery lady a schönen Abend noch and she will snarl in my face: IT IS NOT EVENING YET!
The funniest thing about living in Berlin is when people wish you a schönes Wochenende on Thursday. Berlin, probably the laziest capital city on earth. People used to wait until Thursday afternoon to wish you a nice weekend but the other day someone wished me one in the morning too. Hopefully, one day, we’ll all be living of Basic Citizens’ Income and then we’ll be able to move the schönes Wochenende wishing up to Tuesday morning. I’m not complaining. There’s nothing I hate more than work and nothing I love more than having nice weekends.