My mother-in-law appeared somewhat vexed:
"Frau Görtz came this morning at 9.30am to wish me happy birthday."
As she was clearly but inexplicably troubled by this, I did something out of character and took a moment to think before responding. I frantically tried to gather the snippets of information collated over the years about German traditions.
Try as I might and despite factoring in any possible past neighborly dust ups, I drew a blank as to which rule Frau Görtz had contravened. Why would my husband's mother be so offended at what appeared, on the face of it, to be a thoughtful act?
Noticing my struggle, she looked pityingly at her daughter-in-law, undoubtedly baffled at the level of feeble-mindedness required not to grasp the importance of German "Ordnung". And she would be right. Especially, it seems, when it comes to birthday felicitations. She put me out of my misery,
"Everybody knows, the correct time to congratulate a neighbour on their birthday is 11.00am"
And there you have it. Just as I thought I was getting to grips with the intricacies and complexities of German social rules and regulations, I was, yet again, thrown a curve ball.
"Ach so!" I said, tapping my head to indicate my own disbelief at not recognizing such a digression of the rules (questioning German etiquette is simply not done).
Finje, it became clear that evening, had overheard the whole confused conversation. Her little furrowed brow had me preparing for yet another question about our forthcoming trip to visit her uncle in Australia. The last one was expertly fielded by my brother, who convinced her all sharks will be taking their annual holiday when we are there. If I ever find out which kid told her she was likely to be munched by a Great White by the way, it won't end well!
But Finje was focusing on less deadly but apparently equally worrying issues. She's aware that it's bedtime for her cousin Down Under whilst we are sitting down for lunch. That's where her understanding of time zones ends. But her limited knowledge caused concern over her 5th birthday celebrations due to take place whilst we are there.
"Do I have to wait until it gets dark before I can open my present in Australia. You know, because I'm German."
Confused but satisfied with with the explanation that it's actually 11 O'clock in Australia before Germany, she dozed off.
It tough being nearly five.