The Mozart/Strauss concert was marvelous, held in a room of the Hofburg palace. To my relief, it wasn’t formal but was filled with commoners like us who hadn’t brought “dress-up” clothes with them. We sat right in the middle and the row ahead of us was all grade school children, wiggly and impatient, talking across each other and poking one another until the music started. Then one by one the piano and violins and singers drew them in–and me–until I wasn’t aware of them at all.
I had tried to get a program as we went in but it cost six Euros and we didn’t have even one Euro. Someone behind us had bought a copy and I noticed that, as with most programs, the majority of pages were commentary, pictures and descriptions of performers, and ads–all in German. The only part I cared about was the schedule of our concert. That was on a single page inserted loose into the middle of the booklet.
I was grateful for the international language of music and for the humor running through the performance which even non-German speakers could appreciate: the drummer was a comedian and ended up stealing the conductor’s baton and leading the orchestra himself. But there were no verbal introductions to any of the pieces we listened to. The list in the program became more important to me than a mere souvenir of the evening. Most of the pieces were operatic and I had no idea what we were hearing. I could only recognize a few of them.
When we leave, I thought, there will be copies of the program lying around that no one needs anymore, left on seats or at the table in the lobby. I’ll pick up one of the sheets then.
We filed out afterwards and I broke though the bottleneck and went directly to the table where the programs had been sold. I was surprised to see a woman still manning it–and I use the term advisedly. She looked like Brunnhilde, meaty, tough, intimidating.
“I’d like a program?” I said it as a question.
“I just need the insert.”
“SIX EUROS!” She had pulled herself up straight, pulled her nose up even further, and was glaring at me.
“I’m from America–”
Lady, I thought, I’ve come all the way from the other side of the world. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a whole evening of magnificent music I couldn’t understand and all I want is a single piece of paper for my journal, giving me the names of the pieces we heard.
Her eyes were blazing. What had I ever done to her? What had Americans ever done to her? It was as if she was taking out on me, a total stranger, some unforgivable offense I could not possibly have committed against her.
I had flashbacks of the kindness of other cultures where people consider themselves hosts to foreign visitors. A Japanese in her place would have offered us the whole program with both hands, a smile and a bow, waving aside the charge. At the very least, her counterpart in the States might have said, “I’m sorry. I really can’t.” What would it hurt to give out a single piece of paper that would seal the delight of the evening for a foreigner, a piece of paper that would have to be discarded and replaced anyway?
I didn’t suppose there was any chance she’d let me see a copy, much less jot down the names of a few of the works.
I came away disappointed and indignant. You’re the only German I have ever met. You may be the only one I ever meet. You’re it, right now you’re the representative, the PR person for your whole race. (Oh, I know, you’re probably Austrian, but still–.) You and Hitler are the only Germans I know and as far as I’m concerned, you’re just like him. You’re the stereotype of the bossy, arrogant, cold-hearted, downright mean Aryan. You’re why I don’t like Germans and never had any interest in my own German heritage.
Thanks for leaving me with a bad taste in my mouth when I think of this night. I don’t really want to dislike you, so by the grace of God I will let this go.