Years ago, when I thought I didn’t know any Rihanna songs – I think now, looking back, that I probably did know some, really, I just hadn’t matched the song up to the person yet – and she got beaten up by Chris Brown, that is to say, Chris Brown beat her up, and that image of her face, all usually so solid and firm and perfect, immaculate, even, now, swollen, bloated with blood and bruises, watery, disfigured, destroyed, filled the media outlets – old and new – well, to be honest, I didn’t really think about her much, not back then, not when it was all new. I hate to say it but I hardly ever thought about her, I felt, vaguely, that he was a bad guy for beating her up and that it was sad that even rich, successful, beautiful women like Rihanna get beaten up by their partners.
Well, I didn’t think about her much when I was awake. When I was asleep it was a different story.
I started having all these recurring dreams where I would save Rihanna from Chris Brown and the violence and bring her to a Frauenhaus. I’d turn up at one of those scruffy but sprawling huge New York terraces – you know the houses I mean – I mean the Sesame Street terraces with basements and the puppets sit on the stairs bit for the song – and I’d be in a Trabi – one time it was a three-wheeler like in Only Fools and Horses. And I’d shout: RIHANNA! GET IN THE CAR! And then we’d roar off, screeching our way to the Frauenhaus, sometimes Chris Brown would run after us, wordlessly, slowly, like a stupid zombie.
So I told my Best German Friend about these dreams.
-Oh! He said indifferently. That means you’re German now.
-Yeah, he said. Germans are so emotionally repressed, we like to give practical help when people are having a hard time. We’ll fill in forms for them. Or paint their bathrooms. Or put up shelves. That kind of thing.
Well, now I know it is true, because I have been having a hard time recently and have been literally drowning in actual offers of practical help. Don’t get me wrong, my English-speaking friends have been there for me to – and I really do appreciate the phone calls to check in on me, the requests for meeting up for tea and/or wine, the promises of talk and counsel and advice and moral support. I don’t want to sound ungrateful for any of that. But fucking hell, man. Germans are great in a crisis no wonder Merkel said they’d schaffen it. They ring you up – either through Facebook messenger or maybe Whatsapp and sometimes even the actual actual phone – and bark impatiently down the line HOW CAN I HELP YOU DO YOU NEED ME TO HELP YOU FILL IN THE WOHNGELDANTRAG WHEN DO YOU WANT ME TO BABYSIT HAVE YOU GOT ENOUGH FOOD IN THE HOUSE DO YOU WANT MY PAYBACKPÜNKTE HAVE YOU BEEN TO THE JUGENDAMT YET. Their exasperation at you, their desperation to help, makes you get over any last embarrassment about being needy/taking advantage of others. LET ME KNOW WHEN I CAN COME OVER AND COOK YOU AND THE KIDS DINNER, they shout, IF YOU DONT LET ME KNOW WHAT TIMES SUIT YOU HOW CAN I COME OVER TO HELP?
So this is what I have realized about the German Way of Helping – it helps you twice. Once, quite simply, because their practical help literally entlastets you at a time when you might be/probably are feeling emotionally overwhelmed and physically drained. But secondly, the practical help they offer makes you feel as loved and supported as the emotional support would anyway – on a symbolic level they are emotionally supporting you by making you feel cared for and supported, practically speaking they are literally making your life easier at a really hard time.
I’m going to be a German Friend from now on, anyways. Next time a friend of mine needs help or support, I will cook, clean, shop, fill in forms, babysit and maybe even garden. I won’t be putting up any shelves though, so don’t get too cocky just yet. And I won’t send flowers – I’ll send groceries. I’m going to be a German friend from now on