Something Smells

I have heard the stories. I’ve read about them on other ex-pat blogs. The shame. The ridicule. The stares. But I knew I was way too clever to commit these types of blunders. I would, of course, learn from the mistakes of others and make an effortless and easy transition into the customs of German and Swiss life.

Perhaps there have been a few minor pieces of evidence that I might be a little teeny bit too confident. Like the day I held up a line of five staring and frowning Swiss people in the grocery line because I didn’t weigh my fruit before getting into line, for example. The cashier had to leave the register, go to the produce department and do it for me, causing a five minute delay all the way down the line.

There have been others but by far the most amusing blunder so far was my unofficial garbage.

I moved into my new apartment and started to generate garbage immediately. Since I am only here part time it’s not really that much but I cooked one night and decided it was time to take the garbage out. Without much though (Warning! Warning!) I bundled up the sack, went down to the garbage room and tossed it in the dumpster full of blue garbage bags. Strange. I noticed that everyone in my apartment building buys the same kind of blue garbage bag. But whatever. I walked back upstairs and that was that.

Or so I thought.

A couple of days later I had to throw away the garbage again due to a tuna can. I opened the room and there! on the stark concrete floor! smack in the middle! was my garbage bag! I peeked into the dumpster, which was empty and realized someone had singled out my little garbage bag and rejected it as unfit garbage.

If they didn’t like that bag they certainly weren’t going to like the second one, which was only a paper sack that you can’t even close. However, no way was that tuna can going back up to my apartment to start stinking over the weekend. So I took the plastic bag, stuffed it in the paper bag and set them in the corner of the room until I could find the magic blue sacks the following week.

Very late on Monday night, I returned to the apartment after a long day at work during which I had no time to look for blue sacks. Something was blocking my way as I came into the apartment building lobby. Right in the middle of the floor, in front of the elevators that we all use, were my bags. Gulp. I didn’t need to come too close to the yellow post-it note to guess what it would say.

“Bitte nur officielle Bebbi saecke”.

I peeked around cautiously to see if anyone was looking, grabbed the bag and debated what to do. I couldn’t think of anything creative so I brought it up to my apartment, lovely tuna smell and all, and decided that my lunch break the next day would be Operation Blue Sack.

Off I went to Migros to buy the bags that would standardize and legalize my garbage in Basel and, most importantly, get it out of my house! After looking two or three times through a whole wall of bags, I couldn’t find them. In broken English and German I asked the lady working the aisles where could I get Basler Stadt blue bags. She pointed me to the Kundedienst counter and I asked for the bags. The “official” bags are kind of expensive but at last my anxiety was gone, if not the smell of tuna in my apartment.

Tonight Frau H., one of my neighbors, came by to arrange the start of my cleaning service. I was chatting with her for a little while and she said, “Do you know about the garbage bags?”

“Oh yes”, I said, “I know them very well”.

I’m not sure but I think there was a little gleam in her eye as I stood squirming and blushing in the doorway.

Posted from Basel


rebecca said...

LOL- we had quite a time finding the Beppe sagge, too... that, together with the vignets for everything (including bikes), are things that you just have to somehow know. Or you find out the hard way, as you did...

Dixie said...

Oh yikes! I thought we were bad for having different bins for everything. You have to have special bags! I'm getting away easy with my trash!

Haddock said...

I was confused when first coming to Germany with the garbage situation - I didn't know it had to be sorted. I guess we all find out the hard way :)

Dixie said...

Do you pay for your garbage collection? The only reason I could think of for these special expensive bags is that the cost of garbage collection is figured into the cost of the bags so that the more garbage you produce, the more you pay to get rid of it.

Expat Traveler said...

Yeah I guess that is something that if you aren't told, you have to learn quickly! Can you believe in some cantons, those bags are nearly free!

In French Caton Vaud, the garbage is much different actually. But I figured it out also from watching my friends and figuring it all out. Did you use the tap yet on the top of your bag?

verniciousknids said...

We have the same kind of garbage rules and rigmarole in Japan too!