Why I’d rather just be naked

Word to the wise: If you’re going to the doctor in Germany and you don’t speak any German, you might as well just take all of your clothes off.

It’s probably where things are headed, and you’ll save yourself the embarrassment of not knowing what you’re supposed to be doing. I can tell you that this feeling is infinitely worse than being naked in front of a stranger.

I was recently watching a German sitcom online with English subtitles. One of the characters drags another out from under the bed where she is hiding from her boyfriend, and tells her to stop being so “amerikanish” about sex. For full benefit, the English subtitles specified ‘American (puritanical)’. I find this both amusing and slightly unfair.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: if given a choice, I will always choose not being naked over being naked in front of other people. There is a small contingent of people that might feel the opposite way, but I’m pretty sure most of you are in agreement with me.

At the same time, I can tell you now that it’s always better to just know you’re supposed to be naked, and be naked, than have to wonder what the hell someone is saying to you at the doctor’s office. Once it starts off badly, it can only get worse.


“Alles? Alles?” I kept asking, and the radiologist responded, seemingly affirmatively, in a rush of German, each time as complicated and fast as the last. Feeling as though we had come to an agreement (or perhaps just sick of dealing with me) she left me in my little room with a curtain. I stood there, staring at the wall and listening – maybe someone she was doing on the other side of the curtain would give me a clue about how to proceed. I had already taken off my zippered sweatshirt, and I was left with my tank top and bra. She didn’t really want me to take it all off…right? I’d gotten my torso X-rayed years before and they didn’t make me take everything off. And why ask me to take everything off if it wasn’t necessary? Oh, right…Germany and rules…the last thing I wanted was to break those rules and come out topless when that wasn’t what she had said at all…but was it?

I made some obvious shuffling noises to try to convince her that I was doing what she wanted. I pulled my phone out of my bag, checked the time, stared at the screen for a while as though the answer to my troubles would lie therein. I’m not totally sure what was running through my head at this moment – most likely nothing. After so many months of not knowing what is going on, you don’t have the capacity to panic anymore. Moments like this turn into a blank waiting game. I guess I just stood there and waited for the next bit of awkwardness to begin.

She did return and, pulling the flimsy curtain back with a brisk motion, looked at me expectantly. We stared at each other for a moment. I looked at my phone. I looked back at her.

“Alles?” I tried again meekly, pulling at my bra strap and miming pulling my shirt over my head.


When I finally came out and was satisfactorily shirtless, after our third attempt to communicate, she seemed to think I was terrified of exposing myself to her. “Don’t be scared, there’s nothing to worry about,” she explained in German, moving my arms and hands to where they needed to be while I lay on the X-ray table like a corpse. She had given up expecting me to understand her instructions and was moving me around like a puppet, just trying to get her work done. I wanted desperately to tell her that I didn’t care about being shirtless. Maybe I even liked it a little bit. Sure! It was freeing, liberating. Hang on, let me take my pants off, too, while we’re at it. The fewer clothes, the better, amirite?

“Silly, puritanical American,” the radiologist probably though as she yanked my arms away from my breasts. “She thinks I am a grade-A moron,” I thought, arching my back away from the cold steel of the x-ray table. “A naked one.”

In the end, the X-rays were taken. I threw my clothes back on and slunk out into another waiting room so that the doctor could show them to me. I was both hoping that I wouldn’t and would see the radiologist again. My face was still burning with shame, but maybe I would be able to redeem myself to her when she brought in the X-rays. I hoped that she hadn’t already told the doctor about what had happened (she probably had, she probably told everyone in the waiting room, too…does this place have a back door?). It was okay, though – I could explain away my confusion in my adorably choppy Deutsch and we could all have a good laugh in the name of intercultural wackiness. We would all freeze-frame in our moment of hilarity, maybe after a high-five or two, and then we’d all go out for a Bier.

The radiologist didn’t come in, which was probably for the best. The iron-faced doctor and I chatted for a few minutes, I in my rudimentary German after he asked if German was okay (meaning: he was in a rush and didn’t feel like slogging through English with me). There was no high-fiving, even over the fact that the X-rays showed nothing wrong with my back.

I did walk out of there with another referral. So far, it’s just been gathering dust in the apartment. For now, I think I’ll keep my shirt on and take the occasional bout of back pain.

15 responses to “Why I’d rather just be naked

  1. This reminds me of a David Sedaris piece detailing a visit to the doctor’s in France, during which he responds to everything people say with “D’accord.” I think he ends up sitting out in the waiting room in his underwear. I’d say you got out OK here by comparison.

    • This is true. I’m consistently the youngest patient there by a decade or two…I can’t imagine what all the elderly German orthopedic patients in the waiting room would do if that happened…

  2. I had a very similar experience my first week in Korea! I had to get a medical examination as part of my visa requirements, and that included a chest x-ray to check for tuberculosis. Reading your story was like reliving the horror all over again!

  3. That is hilarious, yout totally cracked me up here! When I moved from Europe to the US I was also completely lost at the doc. It seemed like the only place where I didn’t have to undress completely was my dentist. Which was kind of a shame since he by far was the best looking of my doctors.
    In Mexico it is the opposite: Even your gyno won’t look at you, but you will be covered under very unfashionable and unflattering layers while he is trying to find all the necessary parts. I guess, for some women that creates a homely feeling.
    Great post! Thanks for sharing and viel Glueck in Deutschland! 🙂

  4. I found myself in the exact same position last week when I went for a lung x-ray. It ended up with me sticking my head out of the changing room into the waiting room and asking my boyfriend (stupidly in German – why????) ‘BH auch? ECHT?!’. I really didn’t want to be that crazy foreigner who didn’t understand and stood there naked when I was only meant to take my tshirt off!
    To make it worse, I mentioned this to a student of mine the next day to which she replied: ‘Did you go to the clinic in Blahblahstraße? My daughter is the radiologist there…’. Oh. Great.

    • Makes me feel so much better that I’m not the only one 🙂 That’s hilarious about your student – sounds like the town you live in might be too small for silly foreigner mistakes to not come back at you. Although, my English students already know that I’m a confused all the time, so it probably wouldn’t do any (more) harm if they heard this story.

  5. OMG! That’s WAY worse than the time when I was a student, forgot to do the laundry and had to go to the doc’s with no knickers on. How was i to know she’d ask me to remove my trousers just to look at my knee…

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