Excerpt - Chapter 19

Green Gods

When I first came to live here, nothing gave me quite as many headaches as the simple question of garbage. This was a topic I had never wasted much thought on. In South Africa we had our garbage collected once a week, and one could put as many black bags next to the bin; no one complained. Here, to my horror, the garbage was only collected every two weeks and seeing the debate ranging in the UK now about fortnightly collections and the increased risk of flies and bugs, I have to rack my brain and think back to what it was like for me thirteen years ago.

There was the fortnightly garbage collection, and then there was the monthly recyclable garbage collection and the paper bin collection. And then there was glass. It was all enough to spin the head of any South African blonde. MM’s patience was tested to its limits. He explained that ONLY whatever did not fit into the recyclable bin, the glass containers, the paper bin or the biodegradable bin, only THAT was allowed to go into the garbage bin.

The topic of garbage became my main topic of conversation. New friends were invited for supper, and I would question the logic and complexities of their garbage system. For them it was the most normal thing in the world, for me, a labyrinth.

To this day I follow the rule, when in doubt, put it in the garbage.

In my first years here, there were stories circulating of garbage police in Bavaria, (where else?), checking whether the recyclable garbage had also been washed. So, although, we had a dishwasher, we spent a lot of time washing yoghurt plastic cups, rinsing plastic wraps from cheeses, or cleaning milk or juice cartons. As part of the cultural experience of visiting Germany, we normally gave these small tasks to our visitors from the English-speaking world. They all went back home relieved, thinking, “In Germany they even wash their bloody garbage!”

Being a litigious nation, people went to court and luckily this strict rule, requiring us to wash what was to be recycled, was lifted, so that we could from then on dump everything unceremoniously into the yellow bags. As the recyclable garbage is only collected once a month, we say a few prayers in the summer months that it should not get too smelly in the weeks it spends in the cellar.

But the garbage was a good example of how organised Germans are, and at times how frugal. Luckily, we do not get taxed on how many yellow bags with recycling waste we put out, nor do we pay for the yellow bags.

The neighbours put out an average of two yellow bags with all their recyclable packaging from the last month. And then we come and line the whole length of our extra-wide gate with bag after yellow bag of packaging. In winter it is fine because it is dark when we put out our bags, but in summer we try and sneak the bags out late at night, which means after ten in the evening. In the glaring daylight of the next morning, the neighbours, on their way to work, can drive past our garbage wonder, and I curse the garbage collectors for not collecting at six in the morning like they do with our normal garbage.

We’ve had twenty to twenty-five bags for many years. After a decade of intense practice, we have reduced our bags but are still well into the double digits. Still far too many in a country where it really counts what the neighbours do or think.

Living here can be a sheer nightmare, as I lie awake at night and fret about how they manage two bags with the same number of people and we don’t. Walking back from the bus at night, past the houses with two bags outside, I try to surreptitiously peek into theirs to get to their dark secrets. Yoghurt cups are stacked inside each other, wrapping papers folded together. This is time-consuming work and obviously I am lacking a central organising gene there. I thank the first wife—French—for desensitizing MM to such folly. At times like these, I thank God for the small mercy that my husband does not expect me to stash the garbage together. Life could be infinitely worse.

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