Sunday, March 2, 2008

Parking, A Cultural Thing

I think that Germany was building its first drive-in theater (in Frankfurt), when I returned to the US in 1963, after four and a half years. This would help account for at least one of the cultural differences between there and here, although the major reason for most of them would be Germany's recent history. I had arrived in Germany in February, 1959, not quite fourteen years after World War II. Although West Germany was thriving economically, some parts of it were still rubble. Germans my age had lived through some very difficult times, being four years old when the war ended.

Around 1962, Anna and I were just beginning to date when I suggested she try to think of someone for John to date. Anna, John, and I all worked in the same office on post, she being one of two civilian women there. Soon she thought of a high school girlfriend, Irma, whom she had not seen for a while. She called Irma, cleared it with John, and arranged a double date for dinner.

Irma spoke very little English, but had studied it at school a few years earlier. John spoke as close to no German as one could get. Anna was fluent in several languages - German, English, French, Spanish, and Italian. I spoke some German, what we called "street German," that I had picked up over the preceding several years, with the atrocious accents of Bavaria's Oberpfalz District. Anna and I agreed that except in the most extreme cases we would not help John and Irma with translations, and this worked very well.

I believe the first double date was just a trip to a local restaurant for dinner, and then a gasthaus for drinks. John and Irma were instant hits with each other. Soon the four of us became inseparable and in a very short time Irma's English came rushing back to her.

Well, John and I were GI's, and although the dollar was still very strong in Germany (a hair under four Deutsche Marks to the dollar), we weren't paid so well that constant dating didn't create a problem, so we often tried to think of inexpensive activities for the four of us that would still be fun. John came up with what seemed to be a brilliant idea for end-of-the-month activities, when he and I were usually broke or pretty close to it - parking.

We have now arrived at the cultural difference referred to in the first paragraph. We tried parking after dinner one night. The girls had never heard of it, and were skeptical. Justifiably skeptical, in fact.

John found an isolated spot in a wooded area and we found that our dates had the remarkable talent of turning into statues. Nothing heavy was going on, just a little light necking, but only two of us were attempting it - John and I. The girls had never been exposed to such a scenario and could not get by the fact that they could actually see each other. We soon gave it up as a bad job.

That night and for the next several days, John and I brooded over the situation, analyzing why it didn't work, wondering if it could somehow be made to work, and eventually stumbling over an idea.

After the next dinner we announced that we were going to try parking again, and were roundly booed by the girls. We promised that there would be a little change and that there was a good chance they would enjoy it. Understandably, they were as skeptical as ever, but . . . John and I pinned an Army blanket up between the front and back seats of John's 1950 Opel, and the statues melted. They were still a little reserved (they could hear each other, you see) but they were much more relaxed.

Still, it never became quite as comfortable as American guys were used to, and we only went parking once or twice more. Growing up in post-war Germany, their experiences were different - no drive-ins, few cars (and just about none to be used by teenagers for recreation), and little money for frivolities created an entirely different atmosphere during their formative years.

John and Irma got engaged, and as I was returning to the States before John, I was tapped to visit his family and reassure them about Irma. I spent several days with them, assuring them that Irma wasn't just some girl he'd picked up in a bar - they'd heard some disaster stories about that - and by the time I moved on to Fort Sam Houston they were comfortable with it all, or at least much more comfortable than they had been.

My friends did get married and as far as I know are still married. I have visited them but it has been many years now.

No comments: