I was in Cologne one Christmas and had just visited the Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum and the German Sports and Olympic Museum. Whilst walking down the Rhine River back to the cathedral, I was stopped by an elderly couple who were walking in the opposite direction.
“Excuse me” the gentleman asked, slowly, “do you speak English?”
“Perfectly!” I responded. The couple smiled and seemed to relax a bit.
“Do you know where the chocolate museum is, we’ve been told it’s on the river.”
Having just been there, I knew exactly where it was. “It’s just down there” and I pointed down the river. “Can you see the giant red ‘Lindt’ ball? It’s just underneath that”.
I’d been travelling around Europe for a week and had not spoken to anyone in English for a while, so I took the opportunity for a quick chat that didn’t require much brain power. “Are you having a good week?” I asked.
“Yes, thank you” the man replied, “we’re on a cruise going down the river”. He pointed to a boat behind him.
“A cruise? How nice” I said. Wanting to keep up the small talk, I added “has it been good so far?”
“Urgh. There was a party last night and people were running up and down the corridors until half eleven!” His wife nodded. “It kept us awake”.
‘Oh no’, I thought, ‘people on holiday having a party? Imagine that?’
“That’s no good” I responded.
“No, they were running up and down the corridors ‘til half eleven last night” his wife said, just in-case I hadn’t heard her husband properly.
After a few more minutes chatting about how inconvenient the party had been for them, we went our separate ways. As I started wandering back into the city, I thought to myself how typically British the couple had come across. Even though they were on their holidays in a beautiful city like Cologne, with quaint Christmas markets full of German, Christmassy delights to visit, the only thing they had to talk to me about was a party that had kept them up before the clock had even struck midnight. I wondered, is it a British thing to feel the need to complain about things to complete strangers or does every nation do it? Was there nothing good to talk about on the cruise so far? They’d even bypassed to comment on the weather (which was overcast and cold by the way, but thankfully not snowing), to moan about a party to me. Maybe they were the only Brits on the cruise and when they met me they thought ‘great, here’s our chance to complain about something!’
It’s funny how that brief interaction with two elderly strangers has stuck with me over the years. I hope they enjoyed the chocolate factory, it’s worth a visit if you’re in the area, but I have a feeling they will they tell tales to their friends and family about how long the queues were and how expensive the chocolate was.