Coffee in Berlin - Anya navigates Bargeld
My name is Anya and I'm a 20-year-old Evolutionary Anthropology major and am currently studying in Germany.
Every day I wake up and pretend to know what I’m doing.
I do not.
Here’s the thing about studying abroad. It’s one of the best-worst things you can do. You give up everything you know to explore another country. You are excited, terrified, and in denial (about being terrified). You are thankful for your privilege and yet are going through one of the most difficult times of your life.
Let’s talk about getting coffee. When you’re an American used to charging $1.00 to your credit card, you’re not prepared to look dumb at a German coffee shop.
It’s raining on a Sunday. I have no place to be and a ton of homework that needs to get done. I sit at my desk, my cursor taunting me. I type a thought. I delete the thought – it’s an embarrassment to the German language. I sigh.
I’ve always liked writing. Some of my most intimate conversations have been on paper. Doing it in German? It’s just not the same. I don’t have the building blocks I need to properly express myself. My chin sits in my hands and my crashing motivation peeks at the bedcovers. I’m tempted.
I shove my laptop in my backpack before I give up entirely. In a last-ditch effort, I decide to go to a coffee shop.
Except, there’s a problem. For reasons involving a shredded debit card, Disney World, and poor planning, I have zero physical Euros. Absolutely none.
In Germany, paper money, called Bargeld, is used everywhere. Most places – especially the cute ones good for selfies -- don’t accept cards. So, if I want to go somewhere for coffee, I have to do a little recon.
With the help of google maps, I am overjoyed to find a coffeeshop that doesn’t require cash. Except, when I arrive, it doesn’t really look like a coffeeshop. It’s almost like a bar that also happens to sell coffee in the mornings.
I immediately stick out like a sore thumb – a young, black female with a backpack. Old men sit at barrels-turned-tables and watch the news. I feel pinned by their eyes. There’s a young woman at a counter. I’m elated to see her!
“Hallo! Nahmst du karte?” – “Hi! Do you take card?”
You have to ask this first. I have no desire to accept service and then be accused of theft! She nods. I order a coffee and hand her a credit card. She gives a look. “Wirklich?” her face says, “for 2 euros? Is this girl serious?”
I give her my best fear grimace.
The look of doubt on her face is amazing. So expressive – 10/10, this girl should get an Oscar. She proceeds to check with her manager. Apparently, paying 2 euros with a card is not something you see every day.
Why are we talking about coffee? Or– more correctly – my amazing misadventures in obtaining coffee?
Being abroad is hard because of the little things. It’s the confusion, the misunderstandings, the embarrassment. The most trivial things become barriers and the parts of life we took for granted are suddenly highlighted. Despite it being painfully awkward (a word that German doesn’t have! *) it’s also wonderful.
Every day there’s learning to be done. It’s the little things – like the fact that Germans don’t believe in lines, they eat way too much bread, and refuse to j-walk– that are slightly magical. They highlight the things we as humans all have in common. They show the way we live together in harmony, silently and unknowingly building entire societies without ever really intending.
Tonight, I’m going to go to bed and when I wake up, I’m not going to know what I’m doing. And that’s okay. I’ll be learning, and growing, and enjoying the little things. And hopefully drinking coffee. We’ll see how that goes.