My hands were sweating. My mouth was dry. So in the beginning everything was normal. I had done extra research on Sweden, the family's country of origin, beforehand. With his father I now chatted about Swedish politics. Everything went well. Until suddenly the school topic came up.
"What kind of grades did you get in school??" He asked me. My friend immediately intervened: "Why are you bringing up this subject again??" Father and son changed into their mother tongue. Only the gestures told me that the two were arguing – it was getting louder and louder at the table. Baffled, I sat among the screaming family members. Finally, my friend stormed out of the house in a rage. With the slamming of the front door it became silent. "Now that was completely over the top of him, wasn't it?" His mother asked me. I felt cornered. "I, uh. I do not know?" I really did not know, I had not understood anything. But the parents did not seem to realize that.
At my grandpa's birthday dinner a few weeks later there was no screaming. "So you are not from Germany?", my grandmother asked the new stranger. "Then you must know Russian, don't you??"When he tried to explain to her that not all foreigners are necessarily Russian, she proudly began to show him her language skills. She recited to him all the sentences she knew in Russian. "Did I say it right?My friend chose the only diplomatic solution: "Yes, it was almost perfect"!"
The corpses in the cellar
At 16 I was shy. Very shy. I was enormously afraid of making a bad impression on my friend's parents. For six months I had managed to avoid any longer meeting. But then the big show was about to begin: the 50. Birthday of his mother Heike. In one fell swoop I was to get to know the entire family. Just thinking about nosy grandparents who might pinch my cheek and ask me embarrassing questions made me feel sick.
And so they were all gathered: After the grandparents ("You're a pretty little bee"), the friends ("That's your? Cutting!") and all cousins and great-aunts the welcome part of the evening was over. After three hours, I was an integral part of the "girls' clique, as the friends of Heike called themselves. The disgusting strawberry schnapps that had been circling for hours just wouldn't run out.
After five hours, my father-in-law-to-be had explained to me all the tree species of the local forest. I had better not tell the enthusiastic hunter that I was a vegetarian.
After seven hours, a very drunk uncle finally confessed to me all his affairs, which were known neither to the relatives nor to his own wife.
Then everything was over: The evening had finally taken away my fear. And if at some point there should be a family quarrel, I know about many a corpse in the cellar.
The car breakdown
It was date number two. The first was about a week ago out of the house – cinema and holding hands. The film was bad, but we thought we were really good. So now I drove out to her parents' big, cobblestone yard, where Dad's Fendt tractors used to cruise around in the daytime. In the evening, thankfully, everything was empty, and I parked my parents' red VW van where I thought I would be least noticed.
I rang. Fortunately, she answered the front door herself. We quickly crept up the stairs, no parents in sight. After all, it was only a DVD evening. Quite classic. With shy approaches and unpracticed making out. Parents would only have disturbed.
And then it happened: Suddenly and without a warning knock, our hanky-panky was interrupted, and her mother was standing in the room. In record time we were sitting upright on the edge of the bed again. Stared strained at the laptop monitor. I expected, depending on how much she was still aware of our hustle and bustle, either a beaming "Nice to meet you" or a gruff "Keep your hands off my daughter!".
"Martin, I crashed into your car," blurted out her mother excitedly. When backing up, it had simply overlooked my parents' T4. The adults then took care of the insurance stuff among themselves. So our parents got to know each other directly. Nothing stood in the way of a relationship.
You are a smoker."My girlfriend's father's first words were about my body odor. I was not surprised by his coarseness: he worked in the Bundeswehr, often flew to Afghanistan. He had built the family home with his own hands. A brand-name homebuilder.. Non-smoker. And non-smokers. Me on the other hand: fully tattooed, pacifist, vegetarian, punk. And, well, smokers.
When I got together with my girlfriend, he had just returned to the Afghan field camp. This gave me time to check in with the rest of the family – and build anxiety. And so, a few weeks later, we finally shook hands. He with a strong handshake. Friendly rudeness. Me with sweaty hands and overplayed insecurity. I think we were both aware of the irony of the situation.
We developed a scarce, gruff contact with each other. I learned to respect him, despite my political views, as a man who worked hard for his family. And he didn't turn my head when I stumbled around the house a bit louder at night after wild parties.
While preparing for a small party in the family basement, he finally even entrusted me with his music collection. My girlfriend was about to take a shower. "You can have a look when you're done," he said to me, responding to our puzzled looks: "Maybe you want to take a shower together – I don't know!"And I was sure: There was a bit of insecurity in his gaze.
The wrong one
For starters, my new friend's mother served salad and nice small talk. We talked about hobbies. Favorite movies. Fortunately – I was relieved. The first meeting with the parents went quite well after all.
But during the main course I suddenly felt like a defendant under cross-examination: "What do your parents do for a living?? What is your school performance and what are your future plans??" Politely I answered all her questions, after all I really wanted her to like me. I also told about my part-time job as a saleswoman, which I did after school hours. But instead of acknowledging how diligent I was, Mrs. Mother-in-Law replied dismissively, "Our son doesn't have to do anything like this." Great. Only now I noticed that their permanent smile was quite put on.
In the next few weeks, I spent a lot of time at my new friend's house anyway. His mother would already get used to it, I thought.
But I was wrong: I got more and more the impression that she didn't like our relationship at all. She tried to just shut me out of conversations at the breakfast table and only had her fake smile for me. But nobody seemed to notice this except me, not even my friend.
Then one day she asked my friend to limit contact with me because his little brother would be jealous. Yes, of course, the brother. So the next few times we preferred to meet at my place. And when I wanted to visit my friend after all, I served her a fake smile.