Thursday, September 27, 2012

Things to Get Used to 1: Locked Doors

One of the first things I need to get used to is the doors over here - doors to rooms, houses, offices, garages, and cars.  Our front door, for instance, has no handle on the outside. It is permanently locked, and there is no way to leave the door unlocked so that coming in and out while doing yard work, for instance, is easy. If I go out our front door, I better have my key in my pocket, or I'll be walking to the office to get a spare from Martin to let myself back in. The only way to open the front door is to insert and turn the key. This is quite nice for a feeling of security, in addition to the fact that the door is made of very solid heavy wood, and I don't even think Fezzik could break it down.

This did make me wonder what paramedics do if I'd ever need to call them and can't get to the door to open it.  Martin said they'd have to break in a window.

Next we have the garage door. The garage is separate from the house, and although there is a handle, Martin keeps it always locked.  When we go into the garage to leave with the car, we unlock the door and then lock it again with the key from the inside.  The other day while Martin was at work, I wanted to put our shopping bags into the car so we wouldn't forget them later. I left the house with my house keys so I could get back in, unlocked the garage door, went to the car and found the car doors locked.  This is just a difference in habit, I think, and it's obviously more sensible to lock one's car wherever it's parked. My children do this in the States, too, and I'm glad it's their habit.

Unlike in the States, almost every room in a house here has a door that closes. The "open concept" and "great rooms" that are popular in Wisconsin are not common here. The kitchen, the living room, the hallway leading to the bedrooms, and in some homes (but not ours) the dining room can all be closed off. I'm sure this helps with controlling heat and noise - Martin often closes the kitchen door when he's making coffee because his coffee maker is so loud as it's grinding the beans.  He has spent enough time in American homes, though, and our inside doors to the various rooms stay open most of the time.

I come from Smalltown, Wisconsin, and I was not very good about locking my doors. I never locked the car doors when the car was in the garage, if I had to step out and knew a friend was stopping over before I'd return I would leave the back door unlocked. Once recently I left for a few hours without realizing that I'd not only forgotten to lock the front door to the house, but I left the inner door standing wide open. I usually locked all the doors at night before I went to bed, but I sometimes forgot.  This won't happen here, which is good.

Lastly we have offices. Martin and I have spent considerable time in the last 10 days driving into town to visit a bank, the Ausländeramt ("Alien Department"), the Finanzamt ("Taxation Office"), the Standesamt ("Registrar's Office") and at least one more Amt (office) to get my papers in order so that I can work, get health insurance, and acquire a residency permit, Lohnsteuerkarte (salary tax card) and bank account. Many offices in these old buildings also have solid doors and no windows to the hallway, so you're never quite sure if the person you need to see is available or if you're in the right place. One needs to listen briefly to see if there's chatter inside or if it might be a convenient time, knock on the door, and hopefully hear someone say "Herein, bitte" (Please come in).  Today at the Ausländeramt we heard lots of talking inside, so we waited in the hall. When a family came out of the office, we started in but were told to please wait. So we closed the door again. It feels awkward to not really know if anyone knows you're there waiting, not wanting to interrupt, but also needing to get your business taken care of. Eventually I was able to turn in my application for permanent residency, record my fingerprints, and turn in my biometric photo.  In a few weeks I should have my Aufenthaltstitel (residency permit).

On the way home we stopped at the store, where Martin selected the meat for tonight's dinner.

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