Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bearing it all

Before I jump into this, I should point out that this post will probably appeal more to my female readers…unless of course, gentlemen, your lady friends have described to you the unpleasantness we call annuals. Oh, and there will be no pictures.

Earlier this week I had my yearly OB-GYN appointment for the first time since moving to Germany six months ago. It’s something I’ve been putting off for two reasons: my lack of dexterity with the German language and my lack of appreciation for those infamous, um, stirrups.

I finally decided to suck it up and get it over with. (What’s that phrase about just putting on your big girl panties…well, that sort of fits, in a reverse sort of way.)

So yeah, there I am in the waiting room, brushing up on my female anatomy vocabulary in German when the reception calls me into a small room to get my blood pressure, which turned out surprisingly normal despite my language-barrier-based anxiety.

“Whew, one thing down,” I thought.

Shortly after another short stint in the waiting room, I was called into see the doctor and entered a large half office, half exemption room. After the German formalities of proper greetings and hand shakes, she directed me to the chair opposite her at the desk. To lay out the scene properly in your imagination, the following dialog occurred solely in German. Any mistakes in translation are due to the fact that I had no idea what the f*** she was saying half of the time.

Doc: So, what is the reason for your visit?
Me: I need a quiz, errr, exam…the normal one…that one that happens once a year.
Awkward Pause
Me: (Wondering how this information didn’t seem to make it past the appointment desk) The, um, the just regular exam.
Doc: Ok then. Please go behind the curtain and undress waist down (pointing to a sheer circular drape extending slightly out from the wall between the undivided office and exam areas).

I get behind the curtain only to find no robe, no blanket (something I’m used to in the U.S.) And let me clarify, although I consider myself modest, I’m not bound to the typical American prudish stereotypes so often depicted in movies (except for, of course, those infamous Girls Gone Wild videos, of which have no doubt led to the disappointment of  many international students and tourists in the U.S.). But after undressing, I had no idea what to do. Should I should step out in my nakedness, or wait to be called out? What if I walked out too early and she was still doing paperwork for several minutes? Would I just stand there or scurry back awkwardly into the see-through curtain?

I decided to wait it out for an excruciating 42 seconds (yes, I counted). Then I slowly sauntered out, faking a been-there-done-that-but-it-just-took-me-a-really-long-time-to-undress attitude.

She was still seated at the desk, but pointed at the CHAIR, which was slightly different that what I was accustomed to. Not to go into too much detail, but for my American lady readers, the stirrups are not for your feet. And apparently asking what goes there warrants quite a quizzical look from the doctor.

After that was done, it was time for top half, which was done standing up…facing the doctor. Two thoughts were running laps through my mind during: do I look at her, or is that weird and (more sarcastically, since you can’t hear the voice (not plural) in my head) should I ask her for a coffee later…?


  1. Wow. This is just the motivation I need to make an appointment before I move. ;)

  2. @Jan - lol, maybe it's not as bad as I make it sound, but it was definitely a little different for me. I was also surprised (as was my German hubby) how little English most docs here seem to know (given their advanced educational level). Although I'm sure there are some, I'm trying really hard to I just haven't found them yet, ;)

  3. I don't believe it! I had my first ever one this week as well... I will try not to make all the same observations as you when I blog about it ;) But how comfy are those chairs and "stirrups"??!

  4. I too had a very similar experience ( and it was a bit of a shock to my system. My favourite line from the visit was "Take a look at the screen above your head, and we'll look and see if there are any tumours". I thought I was only going for a "meet and greet"!

  5. You make looking for tumors sound fun, Fiona! I think I may change my mind--I don't want to be left out of the group. I'll decide after I've read Frau Dietz's post. :-)

  6. Hello Munich Ami,
    My name is Charlotte and I am planning a trip to Germany-hopefully, the first week of July. I'm trolling around on the web, trying to find ways to meet up with people because I'd rather interact with others than see any number of tourist sites. Somehow, I came across your blog and you made me lol. :)It's good to see you survived your first visit. :) You also led to me a whole list of other bloggers living in and reporting from Germany. Thank you so much!

  7. I was soooo thankful to my frauenartzt here for explaining things the first time. I think he has a lot of American patients so was quick to point out how things differ here (especially in the "why don't you just go take those off" kinds of ways)

  8. I actually explained to my gyn why I was feeling so awkward (and I sat for the second part of that exam) and she made me feel more comfortable by telling me her inverted story: when she was in the US and was invited to a sauna and walked out of the dressing room quite naked. As is normal for Germany, but not for the US. She was deeply embarrassed.

  9. Hi, here a sympathetic and very interested German,
    sorry its probably not for me to be here,
    but one wonders how is it done in the US ??
    I think around the world all women feel the same,
    to learn it can be done more comfortable
    it would be interesting to know.

  10. @Frau Dietz – Too funny! I’m looking forward to hearing about it…wait, is that weird to say? O_o

    @fiona – Loved your post! Two hours?? Mine only lasted for about two minutes. Ok, I exaggerate, but I’ve stood in line at the Döner stand for longer my appt lasted (although in both cases, time seemed to pass painfully slow).

    @ msambassador – Thanks!  If you’re planning a long stay here, you might want to also check out You can find lots of personal and diverse insight about life in Germany there, as well as the blogosphere.

    @Anne – Sounds like you have an awesome doc! BTW…is s/he in Munich and accepting new patients? ;)

    @G in Berlin – Yikes, I can only imagine how she must have felt! My German husband always hated the saunas in our old gym in the U.S. for that same reason (although he knew in advance not to walk out naked). People would pop in fully clothed from time to time, making him feel a bit awkward in a swimsuit.

    @Anonymous – There are several differences, but here are the top three (in my experience):

    1. In the U.S., the exam takes place in a small room surrounded by medical equipment (no office area/quasi-living room).

    2. When it’s time to strip, the doc leaves the room. And you’re given a gown and blanket to cover yourself (I know how superfluous and prudish it sounds, but for Americans, standing stark naked in front of a total stranger is not something we’re usually accustomed to. And we have the blanket draped over our legs the whole time so we don’t have to watch (and sometimes there are even happy pictures attached to the ceiling so you can pretend you’re somewhere else whilst being poked and prodded…like in an aquarium. ;)

    3.You’re lying down during the full exam (pap and breast (although the latter differs from doc to doc and also when a mammography is involved)). So none of this face-to-face business. I guess you could say we try to avoid direct, prolonged eye contact at all costs during the nakedness, haha.

  11. Hey Munich mine is similar, but more extensive. I go for my yearly, had the same experience as you, but given the fact that I don't have a modest bone in my bod, I walked out of the curtain and up to the table. 2 weeks later found out I was preggers and now have to go every month. The good news is that the first 2 scans are with the "wand" the rest are with the typical ultrasound. Believe me when I tell you that you lose any inhibition you have when you are knocked up.
    Have your man go with you..he can help with the consultation part at least and then wait for you during the "exam".

  12. Oh no. This is hilarious, but I have to schedule an exam and this is a bit terrifying. Well, I guess I better get ready to delve even deeper into the "German experience".

  13. ha ha, well written! Reminds me of my first experience at the German Frauenartz! Very exposed.