Today on the street, I received the secret handshake. After living in the same house for five years, I have finally been initiated into the neighbourhood. The ceremony was brief and simple, but moving nevertheless. It was lead by Frau S, a widow, who lives next door. She has always been very kind to our family, remembering the children’s birthdays and giving them small Easter and Christmas presents. She has also been kind to us, telling us to how to improve the nature of our bins when other neighbours complain about them, sympathising when still other neighbours complain about our barbeque smoke and claiming that she loves the dulcet tones of our children screaming at each other, or indeed me, in the garden. She even goes so far as to say that it is quiet and boring when we are away, and she is always happy when she sees our bathroom light left on all night (sorry planet, but it stops nightmares) because that means we are back making the neighbourhood colourful and interesting once more.
At a recent dinner-party, we discovered that many of our habits are of such exceptional interest to Frau S, who it must be emphasized is a lovely lady, that she shares them with one – probably more – of her best friends, who happens to be the granny of Ollie’s best friend, whose parents came to dinner two weeks ago. Our habits of not rolling down our kitchen blinds at night, of leaving the aforementioned bathroom light on all night, our refusal to fit in with the neighbourhood lace curtain policy or the local manicured garden ordinance, are all newsworthy. But the main thing about Frau S is that she is kind and nice, and if we give her something to chat about with her other granny friends, then we are pleased. Not many grannies get to be neighbours with foreigners after all. We provide Frau S with special status in this corner of the Burg.
So it was especially meaningful that Frau S. chose to conduct my initiation ceremony today. It was also a surprise occasion, timed perfectly for the moment when I was dashing home to grab the pram with five minutes to spare before dashing out to collect Ollie from kindergarten. If I was breathless to begin with, Frau S’s guerilla induction into Burg society left me stunned. Socially, I have made it. I am there. My hand has been secretly shaken and I am one of us. My cruelty to lace curtains and my laissez-faire garden maintenance no longer count against me. I am practically family.
Dear readers, Frau S asked me to call her by her first name. I think it’s time to drop all pretences and apply for my German passport.