Sunday, May 10, 2015

Cold rocks, getting sick, and a friendly Frau

I visited the Terres des Hommes Fahrradmarkt in downtown Kaiserslautern yesterday. I wasn't really looking for a bike since I now own three of them, but I am nosy as all get out and wanted to write about it for you, faithful readers (it's cool if you cheat on my blog and read others too).

After I had looked around, I stopped by the Kuchen table and selected a lovely piece of rhubarb cake, so fresh that it was still warm from the oven. There was a table but people were hovering around it and I didn't want to do the awkward dance of seeing if I could sit there or not. Next to the table was a lovely, flat boulder, just the right height for sitting.

Perfect! I thought, and sat down to enjoy my cake. The crowd at the table departed and an older lady sat down. Seeing me, she became very concerned. I broke into the deer in the headlights look. You know, what those who don't speak German might think: oh no! She's telling me not to do something but it's in German so it's scary!

I then realized that, 1) duh, I can understand a decent amount of German so I needed to stop freaking out and listen to what she was saying; 2) she wasn't schimpfing (scolding) me; 3) instead, she was concerned for my health and welfare.

What was I doing that was potentially dangerous? I was sitting on a cold rock. She invited me to sit at the table to save me from the horrible fate that befalls those who sit on cold rocks. I didn't feel like moving so I said in German, "oh, thank you, but I will stay here." She was concerned, saying that I would get sick. I've been a bit saucy lately (aka assertive*, but not in a mean way) so I grinned and told her that it was nice of her to offer but I'm American and we don't seem to get sick from sitting on cold rocks;  I do it all the time.

I swear that I've written about this before, but I can't find it in my blog. There is this belief that I've heard echoed from many German women who are otherwise very scientific (literally, some of them are scientists): sitting on cold rocks is unhealthy and can result in illness. When I press for what can happen, I've been told that women will get bladder infections.

As someone who's sat on cold rocks and gone outside in the winter with wet hair (to the point that it gets ice crystals when it's cold enough) for decades and has suffered no ill effects, I have to call shenanigans on this one. Bacteria and viruses cause sickness, not cold rocks, and sitting clothed** on a cold rock would have no ill outcomes.

Following that, we had a nice conversation, mostly in German. She was there to find a new bike but she wasn't accustomed to bikes with hand breaks. She had been injured badly on a bike in the last year because she braked too hard. I wished her luck in finding a bike and told her about the Saarbrücken sale too.

Later it struck me as a little bit out of the ordinary that she'd speak with a stranger. Usually Germans aren't that into small talk with random people. This isn't to say that I haven't had it happen before. I guess what helps is that I (can) speak German (ish). The other way to get a German to talk to you? Be a woman and sit on a cold rock.***

*Okay, a bit of a feminist diversion here: why do women have to feel guilty about being assertive? Or, why is it, when we politely state how we feel about things and that we will be making our own decisions, it even gets labeled "assertive" but it's just the normal M.O. for men? This really isn't about the nice lady who was talking to me; she was being friendly and was concerned for my health, but my response started my thoughts about assertiveness and femininity.

**Not to be totally uncouth, but I guess there's a small chance that an unclothed person could pick up something from the rock, but it would have nothing to do with the rock being cold.

***For the record, the rock wasn't cold; I would say that it was slightly cool but that wouldn't have even registered had she not said something.

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