One big difference between German and American customs is that a German person will only ask "how are you" to someone they are quite close to. While Americans use "How are you" as almost a secondary greeting, and will typically respond with a simple "fine" or "great", Germans are going to get personal and fast. It's actually something I really love about Germans. They are face value kind of people. They will stare you down from their front window if they think you look interesting. They aren't warm and fuzzy, but they are sincere and frank. You never have to wonder what a German person really thinks about you or what's going on in their life. If you ask, they'll let you know. Sometimes, even if you don't ask...
Last week, when I was out for a run, I had my own experience getting up close and personal with a German from a neighboring village, and I haven't been able to get him and his family out of my mind.
I was running on a sidewalk, and had to slow down to squeeze between a house and a car parked halfway up on the curb. As I started walking, to make sure I didn't crash into a side mirror or ram into the house, a man standing in his driveway caught sight of the girls in the jogging stroller and started gesturing frantically to someone. I realized we were about to have a Twin Convo, and started practicing relevant German words in my head for impending deployment-- "Ja, Zwillinge" "Zwei Madchen" "Eins Jahre".
I stopped when a grandmotherly type rounded the corner from the driveway and her eyes lit up upon seeing Charlotte and Annabelle. Fortunately for me, the younger man spoke decent English, so I didn't have to inflict too much of my terrible German on them. It turned out that he lived in this house and the older woman was his mother who lived a couple villages over.
After covering the usual twin topics, he said to me "I have twins coming!" beaming proudly. I congratulated him and asked when they were due, and he said in June--but that his wife had gone to the hospital the day before with complications. She now had to remain in the hospital until the twins--a boy and a girl, Hannah and Nelson--were born. Later in the conversation it came out that one of the twins was having some kind of a problem with his heart and the doctor was worried they might have to deliver soon, but it is still so early and each baby only weighs about 1 kilogram.
I just kept telling him that I hoped all would be okay, and that I would keep an eye out for him and his family when I went out for my runs. It was only maybe a 5-7 minute conversation, but as I said goodbye and started back on my run, I felt like I took a little piece of him with me. I often take for granted how lucky I was to have such an incredibly uncomplicated pregnancy. That I made it to 37 weeks before being induced and that the girls didn't have to spend any time in the NICU. I can't help but hear stories like this one and feel a retroactive terror that something so awful could have gone wrong.
I keep thinking about my friendly neighbor who so clearly needed a listening ear, and wondering about his poor wife who is hopefully going to be spending months in a hospital bed-I say hopefully only because each day that passes gives the babies a better chance. I wonder about Hannah and Nelson. Whether they've been born yet. If they're still baking in their mama. Whether I'll ever get to know the outcome.
It all happened so quickly, I'm not even positive exactly which house I was in front of (stuccoed walls, lace curtains, ummm... that narrows it down to every house on the street), so I'm not sure how to go about stalking them. But if you're a good juju person, or a praying person, or a happy thoughts person, please join me in sending a little positive energy into the world for tiny Hannah and Nelson. And hopefully, in a few months I'll be out for a run or a walk, and will come across them in their double stroller with their proud Mutter, Vater, and Oma in tow. If I do, I'll be sure to ask "How are you!"