As the years go by, I am coming round to the fact that Germans are pretty cool.
Growing up in England with its childish 'We Won the War' mentality, Germans were the people without a sense of humour who always won on penalties (oh, how I remember watching the 1990 penalty shoot-out in the canteen of Hotel VierJahreszeiten), but over the years I have come to appreciate German humour a lot more.
Although the English are still useless at penalties.
But it is certainly true that British humour is not always appreciated by Germans, a thought I mused with a smile yesterday as I walked past the Munich Sheraton yesterday afternoon for the first time since 1990. But this time there was no python.
After a fun Interrail around Europe, I decided to head back to Munich with my best friend Adrian in search of work. The Irish students at the campsite in Thalkirchen were full of stories of great jobs at BMW paying 30 marks an hour, and they were still hiring. Having hitch-hiked from London back to Munich, it was more than a little deflating to learn that BMW were not hiring.
We had no Plan B and very little money, some of which we spent on beer wondering what to do next.
We decided to try the British Consulate to see if they had any suggestions. To the Sheraton, they implored, they are crying out for chambermaids.
Chambermaids? We looked at each other over another cold one, but our choices were limited, and we soon found ourself in smart light brown uniforms being trained in the art of bed making and toilet cleaning. There were several other British and Irish Gastarbeiter, and while not as lucrative as fabled BMW wages, we at least were more or less sorted. Apart from the issue of accommodation.
The Sheraton did have a Personalhaus for its workers, but it was totally full. As a temporary solution, we were crammed into one of the hotel rooms with two hairy Italians. At least the commute to work was not too bad. All worked well for two days until we were informed while cleaning our rooms that the room was needed for guests and our belongings had been transferred to a conference room, and we should pick them up immediately.
"Where are my baseball boots?" asked Adrian. "They are not here. Someone has stolen them."
The indifferent housekeeper obviously had other more pressing concerns that the missing boots of a British chambermaid. Or at least she soon would.
"I see," continued Adrian, sensing the indifference. "And look - who left this box open?"
"Box?" replied the housekeeper, without the slightest interest. "What is the problem with an open box?"
"Nothing for me," replied my friend, "but it might be for you. My pet snake is no longer in the box. Maybe it is with the baseball boots." And with that, he left the room, leaving me facing a terrified housekeeper.
"Did he say 'snake'?"
"Yes. Pete the Python. Very friendly. Most of the time. If you like I will put a notice on the canteen door asking anyone who sees him to find us on the 14th floor." And with that I too was gone - there were some very stubborn toilet stains requiring my attention in room 1421.
And I thought no more of it until half an hour later I heard my name being called by Adrian.
"What are we going to do about our snake? They have already closed the kitchen and are about to call the zoo. If we confess, we will get fired. If the zoo comes, it could get serious."
"Our snake?" I replied supportively. "I think you mean your snake."
He went off to the floor above to confront the three housekeepers now taking an interest in his snake.
"About that snake," he began. "Well it was a joke. You know, British humour."
Three stoney-faced housekeepers promptly turned around in silence and went to the lift. As chance would have it, I had run out of pillow cases and need a fresh supply from the basement. The lift opened and three clearly furious, but silent, housekeepers were staring at me. The atmosphere could be described as frosty.
"There was no snake, was there?" Aha, Adrian had clearly chosen against the zoo option.
"No. Quite funny though? No? Not even remotely funny. Ah." I felt myself getting smaller with every syllable.
We were out of a job before the end of the shift, but not before the housekeepers took great pride in stripping our beds and making them do them again. And again. I must have made 40 beds that day.
And we never found the baseball boots...