Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The German Do-It-Yourself Culture

The Germans think they can do everything on their own. I'm not referring to the country in general. Germany, we all know, can in fact do everything on its own. Or, how many countries do you know of that can lose a war, and less than 50 years later be a world power? As in awe as I am of the country and its leaders and its people, I did not refer to them. I meant the normal, everyday, average German. They think they can do everything on their own. And what sucks--or what is amazing, really--is that they can do everything on their own.

You see, we're moving into a new apartment in a couple of weeks. When we looked at the apartment back in November and decided that that was to be our new home in the new year, it looked perfect to us. But the owners said they would have the apartment renovated before we moved in. Excellent, I thought. I get a brand new life in a brand new year in a brand new apartment in a brand new country--with the same old boyfriend. Something old, something new... I need to get something blue! I could imagine the team of carpenters, plumbers, painters, decorators and such going in and out of the apartment, fixing every little detail in our new home, so that when we moved in, we would have the feeling of a real new apartment.

I was wrong just for one little, tiny thing: there was no team. I got a few pictures one day, in which I saw the owners of the apartment doing everything themselves. Mr. Owner is an engineer, and although I have absolutely no doubts whatsoever about his carpentry/plumbing/painting/general revonation abilities, I did feel terribly bad. Mrs. Owner is a Therapist, and I could not imagine her enjoying the hard work, although I did not have doubts about her abilities either. When they got married, they decided to buy a house and completely renovate it. Crazy people, these Germans. Why can't you buy a house and like it the way it is?

The apartment was perfect when we first saw it... but, nooooo. They had to renovate it. We could have covered the torn wallpaper with the sofa, or with a chair... but nooooo. The had to remove the wallpaper completely and re-paint. There was nothing wrong with the dirty carpet in the bedroom, but noooo. They had to remove it and place a new wooden floor.

Don't get me wrong: I'm in no way complaining. But must they really do it all themselves? What about generating employment? What about hiring a team of helpers? They did get helpers--but they weren't precisely hired, so to speak. Their youngest son helps often... and even Honey and I went there a couple of times to help. The first three or four minutes of work were super cool. I felt handy, useful, able. But at the fifth minute, my hands started to hurt, and I realized I had not done more than a half a meter of work... Then, every thirty seconds, I looked out the window and asked myself, Why aren't we in Colombia, where we can hire people to do this and not go broke? And, also, I need to talk to my mom about giving retroactive payment to our painter, because painting is hard work!

I learned all about this "do-it-yourself" culture in the US. I remember when our Landlady told Pearl and me that we could paint the house any color we wanted. That was fun... for like 5 minutes. I also remember the day Pearl bought a computer desk, and it came in little pieces in a box. Now, I'm quite skilled at building these thingies... but that does not mean I like to do it. Come on: I played Handball with Inga. I can do anything now. I'm invincible.

(I'm also a little lazy, and really don't like to have to do a lot of stuff...)

Our new apartment is looking awesome. It will be a bit empty for a while, because we don't have much furniture. But it will be our first home together. That is definitely worth the extra minute of hard work! And as much as I like the hire-someone-to-do-it-for-you culture, I have to admit I feel a certain sense of accomplishment: Every time I look at that little piece of the big wall in the living room, I will know that was my work. And every time I look at the windowsill in the kitchen (and I see all the mistakes I made while painting), I will know that was my idea or "art". And every time I go to bed, I will look at the walls and say, I helped do this. Of course, by "help" I mean I stood where I did not bother and made decisions like, "The wooden panels need to be in a north-south direction" and "no, we don't have to paint the ceiling, but OK, we can do it." It's the little things that matter, you know?


  1. Hola Prima, siempre he disfrutado tus escritos, don't stop, you are great
    luv ya

  2. Natal... si tienes tanto espacio, no lo dudes, ve ya mismo y COMPRA UNA MESA DE PING PONG. Toda la familia Conejin te lo agradecerá. Honey juega ping pong, cierto?