Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Language Predicament

As we crossed the border into Germany about a week ago we realised we had not even glanced at the phrase book to learn any German. Thankfully Tim knew very basic words, but all I could do was count to 10 (thanks to my four sisters who I listened to practise their German while growing up)! Hmm, I don't think that skill was going to help me much. It was after 7pm as we drove through this tiny little village and we were hungry. We thought we were going to remain that way as we saw most shops closed, until we approached a sign that read ‘Schnitzel’. Sweet! We could understand that one! So in the middle of this tiny town that we didn’t even know the name of, we stopped into this restaurant. We sat in the car for about 5 minutes studying our phrasebook and realising just how difficult German is to pronounce. In that moment, we had a good laugh about how this dining experience was going to turn out.

Sure enough, as we walked in, we asked the bartender if he spoke English and we got a shake of the head accompanied by something spoken in German. We were a little bit flawed by some people sitting at a nearby table who began laughing out loud at what we had asked…or so we thought. We resorted to asking for a table using two fingers and pointing….success! Sitting down and looking at the menu, we became very aware that ordering just a schnitzel was not going to be that easy when there were at least 10 different types with very detailed descriptions, in German of course. We noticed that our phrasebook didn’t even list words like ‘chicken’, ‘beef’, ‘fish’ etc. which was slightly unhelpful. ‘Ok, maybe we could try asking the waiter which items on the menu were chicken’. As we were struggling in our communication with the waiter, we suddenly heard the words “Can I help you?” from a neighbouring table. Thank God! “Yes please!” A young guy (Henry) who just happened to speak very good English came to our rescue. With a menu a mile long and to refrain from having him interpret the whole thing, we had him point to whatever was chicken as well as the schnitzel he recommended and we ordered those. Although quite greasy, the meal turned out to be quite good.

I’m sure many of you are extremely familiar with the language predicament and have a few amusing stories of your own to share. Feel free to post them as a comment. At the restaurant, Henry told us a couple of stories from when he lived in Oz for 6 months….one where he went into a phone store and asked the girl behind the counter for a ‘handy’, which is what mobile phones are often called in Germany. He was quickly informed that asking any girl for a ‘handy’ is probably inappropriate. Hehe. This morning, Tim went to the shop and tried to ask for some pegs and had to resort to the action of pegging the clothes he was wearing to a clothes line. Ah well, at least we’ll be experts at charades when we get home!

In all seriousness though, it can be quite intimidating to try and communicate with someone when they don’t speak a word of English and you can’t string one sentence together in their language. We have just arrived in Poland and the language here is not latin based which means none of their words or pronunciations even come close to any form of English. The basic word of ‘thank you’ which is very much needed when you are travelling, is ‘dziekuje’. Go on, give it a go! At the very least it will make you laugh! We have felt utterly stupid having to use our body and hand actions to try and describe what we want, but I guess it’s all a part of the travel adventure and something we will get used to.

The reason we were in remote Germany….we decided to visit a good friend on the northern coast in a place called Cuxhaven. We met Martina almost a couple of years ago when she surfed our couch in Adelaide and being not so far away, we thought it would be good to pay her a visit. We stayed for 2 nights and had a great time catching up over a home cooked meal (which was extremely satisfying to say the least) and reminiscing over Martina’s photos from Oz. Although we didn’t see much of the town itself, we were so glad to be able to have some down time in a homely environment. Thanks Martina!


Anonymous said...

It has been a pleasure for me. Enjoy the rest of your trip around Europe.
Love, Martina

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