Let’s face it – maintenance is not my strongest talent. That’s probably because I come from a family that never owned a home (landlords took care of maintenance) and that was rather on the academic side of life. Also, there are quite a few regulations what you are permitted to maintain or repair where and when in Germany – which limits a lot of technical ambitions to simply knowing who delivers which service. I knew how to connect ceiling lamps and how to fix minor items at my sink. I knew how to repair or correct flaws in tiles and how to fill in drilling holes in a wall. As for anything more complex, I knew where to find maintenance and repair specialists via phone book and employ them for anything major.
Coming to the US, I realize how people take care of a lot of things themselves, even if they are only renting. Having a garden for the first time in my life has changed a lot for me. I have learned how to rake and discard 500 pounds of leaves every fall – oh my, it’s almost that time of the year again, right?! My German landlords hired a landscaper for things like that. And I hugely enjoy mowing our lawn – it’s meditative, and I see what I have worked on as in an instantaneous reward. My husband cleans our gutters – and every time he does so, I am half-dying with worry he might fall off the ladder as he wields a hose and broom, walking the ladder with his legs.
Only recently, I read that the daughter of friends of ours is really into her own car repairs. I never knew more than how to change a tire (theoretically) and exchange a bulb or a spark plug. That’s pretty much all people in Germany do unless they are real car geeks. Anything more complex is delivered to a body shop. I never had a clue to which degree anybody can take apart a car and repair it on your own grounds until I saw it done to my own. My husband is a whiz with mechanical and engineering problems, and he has taught me a lot by explaining things in a simplistic way. I still don’t dare do any more maintenance than help cleaning our cars. But I think I have gained a lot more knowledge about technical problem analysis when I hear a sound that shouldn’t be there. Or when a light goes off that should not be lit.
Neighbors of ours have built an entire beautiful shed from scratch in their backyard. Others added an awning over their porch. Some paint their house all by themselves. I am pruning my bushes in fall.
What is it that makes Germans go to specialists and pay them rather than tend to maintenance themselves as so many Americans do? Is it a sense of self-doubt in one’s ability to accomplish a hands-on task? The ambition to have everything done perfectly? Or simply that maintenance involves getting yourself dirty sometimes? A distinction between blue-collar and white-collar society even? The absence of fun in a task that prolongs the life of something you own or even just rent? I know some American guys who open up their car hoods just to look whether they can find anything that might need repair even if they have just overhauled the entire vehicle.
Admittedly, I am still too German to see the enjoyable side of maintenance work, but American enough to get myself dirty and feel pride once a maintenance project is done. I often feel I might not be up to the job because I was never taught how to. With my husband around I’m slowly getting better at simply trying. Also, I realize that I still dislike to get myself dirty – I was raised to be spic and span and speckless at all times. In my American life, I find myself immersing into all kinds of pastimes that leave me a load of dirty clothes by the washing machine. So, why not add maintenance?!
Well, fall house and yard maintenance is coming up. Time to roll up my sleeves and get prepared. Is there still enough gas in our lawn mower?