Monday, July 24, 2006


Trip dist: 88 kms. Trip time: 6 hrs, 3 min. Tot dist: 4,350 kms.


Blech, the ride today was not fun. It had a lot of some rather steep uphills like the one you see here, and what's more when they ended they didn't result in a later downhill but simply masked another climb right behind. Blech.

The Germans try to help me constantly.

At the Siegen hotel the first thing the lady in charge said to me in the morning was "When you pick up your bike, you need to go through this door, then park here [she walked with me to the exact spot where it should be done and walked me carefully through the steps, even demonstrating some of the required door locking procedures as she was speaking], then close this door, then exit through this other door.

When you're hauling 30 kgs of panniers that you need to pack up on your bike quickly in the morning, believe me, the last thing you want is to go through two sets of doors, obstacle-course through the furniture at the reception bar, load the bike in the "parking spot" in the Biergarten, only to then have to roll the bike through very loose gravel (no traction) in order to get to the front door 70 meters away, where the road you want is. So after listening carefully to her instructions and waiting for her to leave me (studied pleasant innocent smile frozen in my face), I simply parked the bike outside the front door and exited through there (only 1 set of doors), left the keys where she said, and saved up about 70% of my energy nevermind some kilobytes of brain cells in not having to remember the precise instructions either. You won't tell, will you?

No sooner than I arrived to the city (the hotel in Siegen was about 3 kms on the outskirts---long story), I was checking my map next to a construction site, when an elder passerby gentleman (in his 80's I would guess) said to me: "At the corner, you must take the road." I of course had no idea what he was referring to, he couldn't have possibly read my mind and answer the question that I had posed in my head just a fraction of a second before, which was: "Which way to Dillenburg?", that would be a rather...extraordinary coincidence and I haven't been getting three soccer balls in a row in my McDonald's tickets lately, so I asked him for directions, just to be sure.

He replied most kindly, and in great detail (his directions went all the way through several left and right turns through the next 3 or 4 towns and which I couldn't possibly remember in one short breath), and added at the end, again, his earlier commentary: "When you turn this corner, you must take the road, the sidewalk near the construction site is too narrow."

Ah. Right then. I thanked him, of course.

Not 10 minutes later, I was on the road after turning the corner, when a lady in her 50's approached me in her car, coming close enough to my bike to make me uncomfortable for my safety, and then slowed the car to keep pace with me for a while as she shouted to me: "You must watch out for your bags!", before accelerating and speeding off (here the operative verb is the German müssen, which in English translates precisely as "must", not "should" or "ought to", for which there are other German verbs). Admonished with such imperatives, I stopped the bike to see what was the problem. Something fell out? Bungee cords loose? Nope. Turns out my yellow thermos bag was sticking out of one of the panniers a little, making for a lopsided outline as seen from behind, and that was surely the cause of the bother, nevermind, of course, that the thermos bag was secured by clip to the panniers, as always, which are also secured by clip to the bike frame, as always.

I know. They're just being polite. But with all these rules and unwarranted protections and cautions here, and all of them in a row within 30 minutes of each other, even when uncalled for and unnecessary, even when I know full well the intention is simply to help, I couldn't help feeling like a scolded child.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Don't know if you still read this comment at all, but I'd just like to say that the following:

"You must watch out for your bags!", before accelerating and speeding off (here the operative verb is the German müssen, which in English translates precisely as "must", not "should" or "ought to", for which there are other German verbs)."

I don't believe to be true. In German, when giving directions or advice, usage of 'müssen' has quite a different feel to it than the english 'must'.

So 'Müssen' does not precisely translate to 'must' at all.

In most cases a closer translation would perhaps be 'have to' which I believe is a bit less imparative in English than 'must'. Then again English is not my first language, so I might be wrong. And sometimes even 'should' or 'ought' can be a more appropiate translation.

My point is, that 'müssen' in German is not normally (or at least less strongly) meant as imparative as the English 'must'. 'Müssen' is most often not meant as an order, but more like stating a advice or neccessity for you to reach a goal.

For Imparatives the negation 'nicht dürfen' (may not) is more common.

Using 'sollten' (should) for giving directions, would actualy sound a bit silly in German. To me at least. I'd never or rarely use 'sollten' for something like that.

I believe it is for translation nuances like this, that Germans often get the impression that the Brits are very polite - but a bit cold and stiff. A possibly good example is that in english, it is quite acceptable (or isn't it?) to use the subjunctive for a question/invitation as in "would you like some x" even among friends.
The grammatical equivalent in German would be "würdest sie gerne x haben?" which is very formal and never used among friends. A correct translation would be more like "Magst du auch was von x". But because of the grammatical equivalence, for Germans the English sounds much more polite/formal/cold than it would for English people. I guess the same is true the other way around, and your blog post may describe one such example.

Than again, I agree, people in Germany can be obnoxious, and quite possibly more so than in some other countries and I assume that it was not just the word 'müssen' that caused your feelings. Still wanted to point this out :)