Hubby Dines First, Wife Gets Crumbs!

Ernest Hemingway

Toronto Daily Star/September 30, 1922

Cologne.-Traveling in Germany now is as exactly as much fun as strap­hanging in an Avenue Road car during the crest of the rush hour.

The railways lose money with every train they run, and as a result the minimum of cars hold the maximum of passengers jammed in the corri­dors like nails in a keg. Yesterday in Frankfurt at six o’clock in the morning there was a crowd of people big enough to fill any ordinary train strung out along the track waiting for the Amsterdam express which was switching in the yards. When the express puJled in, the passengers de­barked, and the crowd was allowed to board the train, the corridors were stiJI packed and every seat taken.

But they all jammed in somehow or other.

No matter what your views on the reparations problem may be, nor how much you may see the necessity for allowing Germany to recover into a prosperous nation in order to secure the stability of Europe, you cannot admire the way German men treat their wives. In order not to indict a whole people for the acts of a few, that sentence is amended to read: “the German men I have seen i 11 the last four weeks in various parts of Germany.”
Here is an example. The kellner comes through the train announcing the third service in the dining car. A German gentleman in the compart­ment rises, hands the illustrated papers he has been reading to his wife and disappears toward the dining car. He returns an hour and a half later bearing a very beery breath and parts of rolls stuffed with bits of cheese. These he hands to his wife, who munches them avidly. German gentleman resumes the illustrated papers. The family has dined.

There was the other German gentleman who reached for his rucksack. The rucksack fell from the luggage rack striking his wife on the head. Tears came into the wife’s eyes. The German gentleman looked annoyed. “You’re not hurt,”‘ he said to the wife. Probably he was afraid that if he didn’t check that sort of thing right at the start the wife might get to feeling there was something the matter with her an<l be unable to carry the rucksack.

Then, of course, there was the other German gentleman who was determined to obtain a seat in a full equipped first-class compartment. There are three places on each side of a first-class compartment. This distinguishes it from the second-class, which has four, the third-class, with six, and the fourth-class which seats eight on a side.

In this particular case all the places were occupied, but an old lady who sat next to the window was standing up and looking out. We were stalled. Part of the train had run off the track. The German gentleman entered, followed by his wife, and sat down in the old lady’s place. The old lady next sat down and being very nearsighted and not knowing that someone had appropriated her place, sat clown on the German gentleman’s lap.
His face never moved. He just sat there. The old lady jumped up and looked at him in terror. The German gentleman’s wife blushed and went out of the compartment. He just sat there, his face as stolid as a ham, and the old lady looked out of the window, her lips trembling.

I thought of the Niagara of words a Frenchwoman would have turned loose, the way she would have torn into the big sulky-looking beast. But there was no outbreak. The old lady was simply frightened. She had evi­dently been through this sort of thing before.

In the present state of things in Germany foreigners do not start rows. They spend most of their time swallowing insults in order to avoid being mobbed. My own theory had been that if the Germans had no scruples about killing [WaltherJ Rathenau they would have no scruples about killing me-and I have trod very softly. But things in the compartment had reached the point where I was wondering what sort of weapon a tennis racket in its frame would really make and rehearsing the eleven variations of the one best way to cripple a man.

Of course the obvious way to bring on the trouble was to get up and give the old lady my seat. That is always regarded as a casus belli by every seated male in a German streetcar. Just then the wife opened the compart­ment door and said that she had found him a seat further up the train. The German gentleman remained seated a few minutes longer, just to show that he could if he wished, and then went out. The old lady sat down very thankfully.
German home life is supposed to be a very fine and perfect thing. It has such beautiful features as the mother and father and little children all gathering to drink beer together, and the little children are allowed such touching and rare intimacies as fetching father’s slippers, lighting father’s pipe, etc. But the part of it that appears in public conveyances has somehow lost its charm.

(Source: Dateline: Toronto. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985)

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