There is a woman who stands at the end of our block almost every day and sells newspapers. It’s something that homeless, or very poor, or otherwise unemployed people do in Vienna. (I don’t fully understand how it works, but it’s legitimate employment for people who otherwise probably wouldn’t have any income at all.) She’s young, and when we first moved here, she was very pregnant. Shortly after we arrived, she was gone for a few months, and then reappeared, no longer pregnant. At first, I was afraid to ask. I don’t know her, and I don’t know her situation (except that it probably isn’t very stable). Maybe she put the baby up for adoption? Maybe something tragic had happened in her pregnancy? I was sure she didn’t want to be asked about it by a non-German speaking complete stranger. So, I continued to smile and say hello, but I never asked. A few months later, she started holding a picture of a little boy while she stood there, and I stopped to ask her if it was her son. It was, and she was very happy to chat (as much as we could, with my horrible German) about him.
She still comes and stands on the corner, except for some days, when a young (although slightly older) man stands on the same corner and holds the same picture. I assume he’s the father, but I’ve never asked.
In going through our outgrown baby clothes, I once had the realization that her son would be just about 1 year younger than Liam, and that maybe she could use some of the clothes. But, I never got up the courage to ask. I’m just not sure if that kind of thing is done here. I’m always kind of awkward, but here, in this society that is alien to me, I truly have no idea of how a suggestion would be received. Maybe it’s offensive, or patronizing. Maybe I’ve misunderstood all along and this woman isn’t disadvantaged or homeless at all. Who knows? I miss a lot. Would she understand that I was trying to be kind, regardless of how weird of an offer it might be?
Yesterday, I was brave. I finally decided that I’d rather feel embarrassed for trying, failing and making a fool of myself than for never even making the offer. I had left to pick up Benjamin a few minutes early, and on the way, I stopped to ask her. I didn’t know how to say any of it, and it turns out that my troubles with communicating her before weren’t because my German is so poor — she doesn’t appear to speak any more German than I do (but no English). With a little German (the rough equivalent of, “I have. You want?”) and lots of gestures, we managed. I explained that I have a winter coat that I thought might fit her son, and some socks and other things. She understood, nodded enthusiastically and smiled. And then she explained that what they really need is pants. Pants would be better.
After collecting B and brining him home, I put everything we had in the right size into a bag. It wasn’t much — a winter coat, some shirts, some socks, a few pairs of jeans and pants. It all seemed really insufficient. So, I went into Liam’s drawers and pulled out a few more pairs of pants that are the size he’s wearing now — we have more than we need. I packed them all up and brought them to her. She smiled, nodded, and thanked me — it was the only really clear communication we had the entire time.
I still feel awkward. I still kind of suspect that this isn’t the way things are typically done here. But, that’s ok. I feel awkward most of the time. This still feels good.