Over dinner in an Islington gastropub, a long-buried memory resurfaces.

Picture this. Berlin, 1983. Aged 21, I’m living in a hippy “Wohngemeinschaft” flatshare with three nice lady schoolteachers in their thirties, who have a radically different concept of personal privacy from my own.

Give you an example. One evening, a couple of weeks earler, the lock broke on the bathroom/toilet door, leaving me trapped inside. Having rescued me, my flatmates treated me to a stern finger-wagging lecture about how I have obviously been living at home for too long, and hence am far too “repressed” about toilet issues. Since none of them ever lock the door when they’re on the bog, why should I be any different?

As a result, my morning dump is now regularly interrupted by Ele, Ulli or Gabi, who have a habit of walking in on me – invariably stark naked – and then lolling in the doorway while they pass the time of day. I’m not a great morning conversationalist at the best of times; still less so when I’m trapped mid-crap, being forced into small-talk in a foreign language.

My university friend J is staying in the flat for a couple of weeks, while she sorts out her own accommodation in the city. She has difficulties with the whole toilet-chat issue as well, her worst moment being when Gabi walked in and gave her a big hug, totally oblivious to her half-undressed defecatory state. It’s just not cricket, is it?

On this particular evening, we’re all sitting around in the small kitchen, nattering over cups of herbal tea. I’m not quite following the conversation, bluffing my way through with nods and smiles. As a result, I’ve not yet twigged what we’re talking about.

“Also, Mike – wieviel wiegst du?”

Ele, Ulli and Gabi are looking at me with polite curiosity.

The question translates as: So, Mike – how much do you weigh?

Except that, to my green ears, the word “wiegst” sounds remarkably similar to the word “wichst”. Which means something very different indeed.

Nervously, I stutter a bashful reply.

“Er, zwei oder drei mal pro Woche…?”

Translation: Er, two or three times a week?

J and the flatmates look baffled. I am forced to qualify my answer. Slowly, the awful truth emerges.

I thought they were asking me how often I masturbated.

Au weia. Thanks for reminding me, J!

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