8 June 2006
When in Germany...

I know some German. It isn't very good, but it's good enough to order beer or to say "Hi" to some fine Ma"dchen. Not that I do either of those things regularly.

Anyway, using a foreign language for the first time when you enter a new country is always a little uncertain. Will the local accent be completely different from what you've learnt? Will you forget or confuse everyday terms and just get people annoyed?

Or - worse still - will they just give up talking German to you and switch to English. You know that when that happens, that's it. They have just taken pity on you and think, poor soul, he has absolutely no idea what he's doing. Having a foreigner speak English to you when you're trying to converse to him in his native tongue is equivalent of Brazil fielding a second eleven against Aldershot football club with Ronaldinho in goal wearing a blindfold. Good effort lads, but we'll make it easy for you, so you can save face.

The first opportunity I had was at passport control. I was thinking, should I start with a good morning, follwed by "I'm here for the World Cup Tournament, ain't life great, eh?".

But caution took hold of me, and I remembered you never mess with airport officials. I once joked that maybe they'll find a bomb on me or something, and the response was, "I hope that was a joke, sir".

That was before the attack on the WTC. Now they would probably poleaxe me into the ground and sit on me as a German Shepherd gently toys with my vulnerable parts. They have no sense of humour, these airport security men.

So I chickened out with the nice immigration lady, and just tried to look relaxed and non-terrorist like.

The next opportuity I had was at the train station. No nice lady now, but a grumpy bemoustached DetscheBahn officer who's probably sick and tired of those bloody foreign football fans who resort to communicating to him in bad English.

I try to keep it simple. "Good morning. I want to go to Berlin. Here is my...". At this, my voice trails off. What the hell is the word for German Monthly AllYouCanTravelForEightDays Pass? So instead I wave my ticket at him.

(The truth is, not really knowing the local language is not such a great impediment if you want something bad enough, they want to sell you somethng bad enough and you don't mind gesticulating like Taylor Hicks overdosing on Red Bull. I believe the entire Thai sex industry is based on this precept.)

The DB official listens to my accents, nods imperceptibly and thinks "Hah, here's some smartarsed foreigner who, worse than trying to talk to me in bad English, instead attempts to insult me with bad German."

He answers a slurred, rapid-fire answer. As far as I can make it, he says GoOutTurnRightTurnRightTurnRight, which makes me want to say "Why don't I just go straight on". He carries on to say "mumblemumblemumble and then somethingsomethingsomething Gleiss funf. Na"hmen blublublub gurglegurgle am Hannover umsteigen."

Now I knew he was trying to confuse me. All he had to say was which platform, but he was trying to outfox me with all the extra predicates, verbs and nouns.

I stiffened my resolve to not let him have the last word, so I repeated some of that back to him, so that he would know that I wasn't cowed. In German: "Platform 5, right? To Hannover, then change to Berlin?". I smiled at him truimphantly.

He cocked his head me. "Ja".

And then in English, "Platform Five".

Labels: ,

posted on Thursday, June 08, 2006 - permalink
Comments: Post a Comment