Last week, we bought several new carpets for our apartment. We wanted one in particular that would be big enough to go under our dining table. After browsing several different online stores, we decided to head to the local Poco, a self-described superwohnmarkt (basically a furniture/household goods store) to look at their selection in person.
I quickly fell into what I describe as a shopping coma. (This seems to be what Barry Schwartz describes in his book The Paradox of Choice—basically, I become overwhelmed and paralyzed by the plethora of options.) To deal with this, I zoomed in on the carpets that fit our exact specifications, including a very large, on-sale carpet with the right colors.
I should pause for a moment and point out that my husband is red-green colorblind. This causes me no end of grief when decorating our home, because one of my favorite colors is sage green, which he describes as the drabbest of drab colors. Most of our home is black, white, bright red, and blue. Sometimes this makes me want to cry. Other times I am grateful for the restrictions on my options (see paragraph above).
In any case, I thought we had picked the perfect carpet for our dining area. When we got home, however, things looked different. The carpet felt synthetic under our feet, it was actually a little too big, and, from my husband’s color-deficient perspective, the colors all blurred together. So we decided to return it.
Returning products means doing more than rote, everyday interactions. When purchasing an item, you can hand the item to the cashier with a quiet “Guten Tag,” sneak a peek at the register to make sure you heard the price right, and then gather up your purchase with a quick “Tchuss!” Returning an item requires an explanation.
We walked up to the customer service counter carrying our giant carpet, and my husband (who is also studying German, but at a slower pace because of his work) went through the normal introductory line: “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” [“Do you speak English?”] The friendly woman behind the counter promptly responded, “Nein, nur Deutsch.” [“No, only German.”]
Knowing that at this point my meager German skills are at least more than my husband’s, I zipped up to the counter and put together the only sentence that came to mind: “Das ist zu groß für die Raum.” [“This is too big for the room.” With some not-so-accurate declension, I know. We are learning the dative case next week.] To my relief, the woman replied with what I understood as a comment about how we wanted to return it. She handed us a slip of paper, which we took over to the carpet department. They did a quick inspection, signed the paper, and we got our money back.
All in all, it was a mostly painless experience! The worst part was the split second after I spoke in German. That’s the moment of truth, where the other person looks at me like I am crazy and/or stupid, or perhaps just starts rattling off a bunch of information that I can’t follow. (The latter is usually what happens on the phone. As you might guess, I don’t use the phone much here.)
We didn’t replace the carpet, so we have a smaller, temporary carpet under the dining table. Even though I didn’t get a new carpet, I did get a boost of confidence. Each time I try using German, the experience is a little better than the last. And I do appreciate the opportunities to practice. Most of the time here, people just switch to English. It makes the communication faster, but it doesn’t help me learn or gain confidence. And really, I know more than I give myself credit for.
And that’s a good thing, because I have my first German exam this Thursday. At that point, I’ll find out if I qualify as a (measly) A1 speaker. Wish me luck!