We have much to catch up on. I might as well start with the shocking story behind this long silence. (Is it long actually? I’m living another life from when I last wrote. Hopefully you all have fared better in the interim.)
Remember our solid hosts, Martina and Jürgen? It turns out we were not such solid guests, at least for Martina. One Saturday, we started to sense something amiss. Martina stopped answering our questions with more than the most minimal responses, she was no longer interested in our plans and needs, she didn’t join in the games and movies Jürgen organized with us. But, because it was the weekend and Jürgen was taking care of us, we thought maybe she was just having a break, or a bad day, or maybe we were just misreading the cross-cultural signals. But Sunday was no better, and Monday worse still. Finally on Tuesday over breakfast, Aaron asked in German, “Is everything all right with us, Martina?” She glared up from the newspaper she’d been pointedly reading and answered in a voice filled with hate, “Only you can know if everything is okay with you!”
So, okay, clearly the hostility had not been imagined. We were surprised at the spiteful passion of her outburst, but Aaron pressed on. “We’re sorry if we’ve done something wrong. How have we offended you?”
Again hatefully, Martina replied, “If you’re clever you can figure it out.”
This was getting nowhere. Aaron tried again. “Can we talk about this?”
“No, I am finished with you.”
Remarkable, Aaron was still outwardly calm. “Would you prefer if we left the homestay early?”
“I doesn’t matter to me. I don’t have anything to do with you.”
We had our answer. We left our toast uneaten, and called the homestay program to ask for a rescue. This was not what we signed up for. Whatever we did (which we still don’t know) was apparently beyond the pale and unredeemable. The program spoke with Martina at length to try to get her to tell them what had gone wrong, but she spoke only vaguely and presented no concrete complaints, nothing we could work on to salvage our situation. So, the program agreed we needed to leave. They found another family in the far northwest of Berlin willing to take us in, and we moved there that very evening. Poor Jürgen arrived home from work and found us with our bags packed and Martina shut up in her room waiting for us to leave. “What happened?” he asked, flabbergasted. He hadn’t a clue Martina was unhappy, not even having noticed the signs we picked up on. She hadn’t said anything to him, and refused to even at that final hour. We parted in tearful confusion, and I wish I knew what had gone wrong. I can’t imagine what we could have done that was so bad it wasn’t even worth talking about.
We have one theory, but it is not flattering to Martina. Clearly we’re not a reliable source in the telling of this sad tale. I only wish I could hear Martina’s side. But, because stories are more satisfying when they have a motive, however farfetched, here is our working hypothesis.
We can pinpoint the moment Martina stopped speaking to us. Friday night, we played the board game Rummicub. Aaron and I have this game at home and play it often, so we happily joined Jürgen and Martina. At one point, Aaron was one piece away from winning. He showed us his final piece, as we do at home. I saw how he could play it, and maneuvered the board for him so he could go out. Martina immediately dismantled her pieces, saying, “Everyone must play for himself.” She refused to participate in the subsequent rounds, and never spoke to us civilly again. Correlation is not necessarily causation, but I suppose if you suddenly found your house guests were vile cheaters, perhaps you would deem them unworthy of your efforts. The moral is: Games are serious matters and should be taken seriously. Or else: Do not play board games with Aaron and me or else you might hate us.