Stuttgart Stories and Tips

Renting a car with a navigation system

On a recent trip to Germany, I had the opportunity to rent an Audi with a navigation system in it. We had our difficulties with the system at first. It talked to us in German, and we made mistakes in English.

We could figure out what left and right were, but there were far too many other words that we did not understand. Finally, we sat at the side of the road for about an hour and found out how to have it talk to us in English.

It was wonderful. Helga was wonderful. We named the navigation system Helga, because it had a woman's voice, and we were, after all, in Germany, where Helga is a common name. We had some discussion about naming her after a restaurant employee named Olga. That was right after Olga said to my wife while looking at me, "He doesn't listen, does he?" but I decided we should stick with Helga.

We would enter in the name of the city that we wanted to go to and mostly just choose to navigate to the city center. We didn't know any of the streets anyway, so the city center worked fine. Helga would pause for a few seconds and say, "Calculating destination." She would then tell us something like to follow this road for 2 miles - really, it was in miles. Helga has this great ability to translate kilometers into miles and meters into yards, and she can do it in her head. When we approached the 2-mile mark, she would say something like, "Prepare to turn right in 400 yards." Then, when we were really close, she would say, "Make the next right turn." And then, "Make a right turn now."

All we had to do was follow Helga's directions, and she took us easily from Stuttgart to Oberamergau and back. We told her that we wanted to find a shopping center in Boblingen, and she took us right to the parking garage. We told her to take us to Strasbourg, France, and she didn't flinch. We asked her to take us via one- and two-lane roads to Freudenstadt, and she provided us one of the most beautiful drives I have ever been on, along a river with multiple waterfalls and through little villages out of a Hallmark card. It was wonderful.

Okay, so much for the background. This is about people skills, and Helga trained me quite well. She told me what to do and I did it. The real education came when I would make a mistake. For example, Helga would tell me to turn right, and I would miss the turn. I expected Helga to curse me out and tell me how ungrateful I was for all the work that she had done to get me this far. I expected her to keep count of the number of times that I screwed up and spit it out each time I made another mistake.

It didn't happen that way. After going past the intersection, Helga would say, "Please make a U-turn if possible." If I was unable to make a U-turn, Helga would recalculate where I was currently and start providing instructions on how to get to where I wanted to go. If I missed or ignored the next turn or basically failed to follow her guidance, she would recalculate where I was at that moment and continue to provide instructions on how to reach my destination.

Helga didn't criticize, condemn, or complain. Never once did she say, "That is the third right turn you have missed today. What kind of a driving school did you go to? How many times do I have to tell you to turn right before you get it?"

Never once did Helga jump out of the navigation system and clutch me by the throat and tell me how stupid I was for making the same mistake over and over. She just recalculated and provided new instructions on how to reach my destination.

It makes me think about the useless information we dispense when we find a mistake made by another. Helga never told me that I made a mistake. I knew that I had made a mistake. I didn't need to be reminded. Somehow, I think Helga sensed that.

How refreshing it is to not have to listen to the things that you cannot change, the mistakes that you made in the past, those things that only exist in our memory.

How refreshing it is just to recalculate where I am at this minute and where that is in relation to my destination or goal.

Helga was always positive in her dealings with me. She kept her eye on the goal and did not waver. There wasn't room in her heart for criticism. She had a wonderful, positive attitude about life.

I really miss her. She made my vacation and whole life more enjoyable.

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