Saturday, August 11, 2012


Earlier this week I went to the gym to get my sweat on and a little stress out.  I did a circuit of weights, and then headed straight to the Erg (rowing) machine for some long slow distance.  I was planning to do 10,000 meters in 50 minutes, not a strenuous pace by any means, but a good one for me.  Let me spoil the ending my telling you that my goal was not reached and that I left the gym in an expletive filled huff. 

My friends here and I like to trade stories of cultural misunderstandings and basic whuck-ness that happens to us as foreigners living in Berlin.  These are usually punctuated by exasperated sighs, hands thrown in the air, shoulder shrugging, head shaking, and one of us saying, “Das ist Deutschland!”  When we first arrived, the frustration level was ridiculously high and this was honestly the best way that we had for relieving the pressure of trying to navigate this place individually together.  This is one of those stories that I will be telling again and again to illustrate the nosy critical German-ness that I experience here on a very regular basis.  I am not trying to herein suggest that ALL Germans are like this, rather that nosiness is a more common trait here than I ever expected.   

Back to the story: So I get going on the Erg.  I am about 4500 meters into the workout and I feel like I’m starting to hit a good pace that I can keep going for the duration of what I have left.  All of a sudden, I feel a tap on my shoulder.  I look up to see an elderly German woman standing less than a foot away from my sweat soaked body.  The exchange went something like this, only in German:

Nosy Lady:  Has anyone ever shown you how to do this before? 

Me: Yes, a friend of mine at home is a rower and she showed me how. 

Nosy Lady:  Well you are doing it all wrong and it just isn’t effective the way you are doing it.  Can I show you how?  (sits down on Erg next to mine) You see you need to…

Let me just stop here and move to my inner dialogue at this point.

In my head: Why is this woman showing me how to do this when I already know how?  Does she work here?  No.  Hmm…ok, so she’s just trying to be nice and show me the proper technique so that I don’t hurt myself.  I guess my posture was really bad.  OK, so I’ll work on it, but seriously, why is she showing me this.  Has she been behind me on the treadmill this whole 20 minutes worried about my posture and rowing technique?  Blah blah blah lady, I get it.  Yes yes, I’ll try to do better, now go back to your treadmill and leave me alone. 

I smiled.  She went back to her treadmill next to her friend directly behind me, and I started rowing again.  Then I hear this:

Nosy Lady:  Oh, you see she’s doing it all wrong again.  She’s leaning back too far and she’s going to hurt herself. 

Similarly Nosy Friend: Oh yes, that’s not good.

Nosy Lady: Oh no, that was better…no, not like that, that was too high on her chest again.

Similarly Nosy Friend: She’s really not doing it the correct way.  You know it really just doesn’t go that way.

Nosy Lady: She really has to learn how to do it more precisely.

Aaaand this is when I completely lost my Schmidt.  I could not listen to one more word of these two ridiculous ladies any more.  What may have started out as well-intentioned advice had turned into a full-on running commentary and critique.  My adrenaline had been pumping from the workout before, but now it was in overdrive.  I felt my blood pressure going up and my face contorted into absolute RAGE as I threw down the Erg pull.  I whipped my head around, gave them the meanest possible glare that I could muster without a growl, and muttered through my teeth, “Lass mich doch allein!”  (Leave me alone!)

I stormed out of the gym while continuously telling the ground to, “Leave me the F*** alone.”  I didn’t finish my workout.  I rode my bike home and was still angry. 

This is the deal: The gym is the one place where I can go work out some of my frustrations and stress.  I go there to sweat out the bad stuff and try to regroup my mind a little as well.  Going to the gym is as good for my mental health as it has for my physical health.  I didn’t get to get that frustration out.  I couldn’t escape the critical nosiness for a whole hour, and that does not make me a very happy girl. 

I wish I had the guts enough to ream that lady out.  I wish I had said a great many things to her, and if I was in the US, I probably would have.  What really gets me in the end was her absolute audacity to come up to me in the middle of a workout to stop me and tell me what to do. 

I think next time I use the Erg, I’m going to pin a sign on my back that says LEAVE ME ALONE!!!

On a much related note: I have since told this story to several friends (German and American), and they have all laughed and thought it was ridiculous.  Apparently this lady is just the bully of the gym though, as she has also yelled at two of my American friends for chatting too much while on the treadmill and for not being properly polite in the locker room by greeting everyone in it upon arrival.  She has a severe distaste for "foreigners" too, and today I was outed as one to her when she glared at the 3 of us while we were chatting on the elliptical machines.  The empathy of friends is an amazing thing, and we all had fun giving her simultaneous nasty looks.    


  1. Love this one though I feel for you with the nosiness! Also, can't wait to see you at AAA!

    1. Sooooo sad to report I won't be attending AAA, but will submit an abstract for SfAA in the spring. :-(



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