I arrived in rainy Germany. It had only been a month since the last visit, but the day had much shortened, and the heatwave was a long-gone memory. I didn’t bother carrying an umbrella because my hands were needed for luggage.
I had already signed for an apartment during the previous visit. It was a one-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor of a liftless building, just a three-minute walk from the nearest subway station and a block away from the start of a shopping street. It was furnished with colorful IKEA furniture except for a hefty-looking black leather sofa in the living room. Through the glass door of the living room, I could step out on the balcony, which was spacious enough to place a white garden table and two chairs. From there, I could see the turret of the nearby church loftily standing against the sky and towering over the sea of house roofs. A room with a view is a luxury because of its rarity, and we are forever in search of one. However my life here was to turn out, I thought, at least I’d have a view.
The landlady was an old lady, and when I came to view the room with a Japanese realtor and asked questions about the contents of the rental agreement, she was visibly frustrated and complained that it was a standard contract, and no one had ever bothered to ask questions before. I had read somewhere that many Japanese people had apartment problems in Germany. Some said it was simply due to misunderstandings, and some claimed they blatantly tricked foreigners for their gain. Either way, you needed to understand the rental agreement well to avoid conflicts. A few days after I signed the documents, I received a phone call from the landlady’s daughter, who called on behalf of her mother, who didn’t speak English. She said her mother was indignant of my impertinence and thought I was “too Americanized.” I was bewildered by her accusation and tried to explain myself to the old lady’s daughter, who sounded annoyed having to intervene in the dispute. I didn’t want to have the landlady think ill of me, so I wrote a letter of apology, in which I also noted how delighted I was to live in such a beautiful apartment. The old lady was pleased with this, and peace was restored.
As I got to know her better, I learned she liked to “mother” her tenants, especially a single foreign woman like myself. When I paid her an additional 17 euros every month for the use of laundry, I slipped a letter in the envelope with the banknotes to tell her about the quotidian of my life. And she’d reply in German, which I had to get help from a colleague to read.
But the landlady was just one of many people I had to learn to appease in my new world.