And Then I Ran Into Mr Schmalz

Last week I wrote the post about funky German last names. Afterward, I revised it, probably generating as many typos as I managed to defeat. Satisfied I hit post and shortly thereafter, I went to the first Christmas party of the year. Yes, it was still November (it was the Saturday evening before the First Advent) and the weather was cold, wet, and horrible. What can I say? German like to stand around in the dark and freezing clutching steaming mugs of Glühwein (mulled wine), generally generously spiked with run or brandy, or Kinderpunsch (super sweet mulled apple juice, more or less, for the young, the dull, and the designated drivers). And I had my next face to face encounter with a terrible German name.

I’ll say one thing for the Germans. They may like to get sozzled. Often sozzled, even. But they are generally cherubic drunks. As was Mr Schmalz, who was at least 6’4″, robust, and, by the time I made his acquaintance, well on his way to a terrible hangover, if not also the possibility of a life-changing injury.

Although if you watch German television, like the police procedurals Tatort and Polizeiruf 911, you’ll come away with the impression that even Germans who’ve known each other for decades still use Sie instead of du and refer to each other as Herr Dieses or Frau Das instead of calling them by their first name, Mr Schmalz introduced himself to me with his first name. Hypothetically, we’ll say it was Georg. But then the great, smiling bulk of Georg Schmalz leaned down toward little me and confided that when he was on vacation outside of Germany—in certain Danish pubs and campgrounds, for instance—he was known as Klaus. Klaus Klaus, even, even if (IMHO) Klaus Klausson would sound better.

Georg tapped my arm. “When I left the pub one time without paying the bill, they said to my wife, ‘Klaus did not pay his bill.'”

He seemed to be waiting for me to nod at this, so I did.

“And do you know what she said?”

His eyes beamed encouragement at me, but I had no idea. I shook my head. I had not idea what she said.

He smacked my arm lightly again and, hooting, delivered the coup de grâce.

“‘His name isn’t Klaus!'”

Then he called out his wife’s name—he was so proud of her!—and a woman on the other side of the huge Christmas tree in the garden gave us a big smile and a wave.

Some time later, Georg came back over and introduced himself to Spouse, Spouse’s business partner, and Spouse’s business partner’s wife. This time he said his full name. Because he hadn’t introduced himself to me, they asked me if I knew him and I said yes. His namse was Klaus.

“No,” said Georg Schmalz. “That’s not really my name.”

At which point, Spouse’s slightly sozzled business partner yelled out, “No! His first name is Greiben!” as if Herr Schmalz, old enough to be retired, had never heard that before. (Greiebenschmalz is lard with bits of bacon and sometimes also herbs like oregano and apple mixed in that Germans like to eat smeared on slices of sturdy bread.) But Mr Schmalz just laughed like he hadn’t ever heard this before and clapped Spouse’s business partner on the back.

By the time Spouse and I left at 9pm, it felt like midnight, it had been so dark and so cold for so long, and Mr Schmalz had been raiding the rum bottles, one after another, for a few hours. He was glowing (and swaying) but I, the dull and the designated) was sober and so frozen, my feet had gone from purple to white and I would have to take a long, hot shower when I got home to warm myself up again. While I’d been nodding and smiling encouragingly for half an hour at the handyman—introverted only when sober—who’d plastered and painted our living room and put down the floor tiles, as he earnestly explained his entire philosophy of life (and then nearly gotten into a disagreement with Spouse about the entitled laziness of people on welfare). Meanwhile, Mr Schmalz had wandered by a few times. I’d watched in terror as he headed down a slippery, steep slope, and been relieved when he reached the bottom with his brain case intact. But then he’d headed back up, on his way to the bathroom, perhaps, or perhaps to lie down and rest briefly in the middle of the road. He was well beyond the logic of the temperate at that point, and well beyond their ability to balance, too. Mr Schmalz misstepped and went flying forward and I braced myself for the whole huge 6’4″ mass of him going splat nose first on the ground.

But he managed to keep the bird in the air and stumbled onward into the darkness of the night.

Until next year, then, Mr Schmalz. Until next year!

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