Monday, 4 August 2008

Auf Deutshe, bitte

I'm in Germany.
The past few days have been packed with linguistic confusion.
From the moment the Pani (Frau?) at the bus stop (wo ist die bushaltestelle bitte?) asked me something and I answered: 'nie wiem... uh... no... crap... ich weiss nicht', I knew it would be disastrous.

It started out well. I bought a beautiful Berlitz phrase book and CD from Borders in Stansted airport (at 6.45am there's not even too much of a queue) and hit the books straight away. With a large cup of coffee.
By the time we landed at Frankfurt-Hahn, I was at least able to ask for a ticket to Saarbruecken. Not bad for a Friday morning. The ticket guy answered by giving me directions, and that's no problem: apart from anything else, it usually consists largely of gesticulation, and how can you go wrong with that?

The bus terminal at Saarbruecken Hauptbahnhof is extremely complicated, with buses in two lanes and trams down the middle (four 'platforms' in all).

I was there for over an hour.

It wasn't even a linguistic problem: I simply couldn't spot my bus (being woken up at 4am doesn't do much for my powers of observation).

Twice I saw the vehicle in question drawing in to land over on the other side of the bus station. I picked up suitcase, computer bag, handbag, waterbottle and passport and legged it across the tram tracks, narrowly missing falling over the steps in the middle platform.

I reached the other side just as it was pulling away.

The second time I made it, presented myself - rather out of breath - at the drivers' doorway, and gasped 'Jugendherberge bitte!'
- You have to go back to the other side.
... said the bus driver, in English.

After another half hour, another six or seven buses which were manifestly not for me, and the company of several different bus stop drunks, I gave up and headed for the taxi rank.

Three days later, my German is only slightly improved: I now know the following:

Abendessen
Mittagessen
Fruhstuck
Wurst
Ein Weissbier bitte
and 'Ich mochte gern eine Flasche Wasser fur die Dolmetscherin'

The essentials, really.

12 comments:

Aidan said...

I went to Munich for two weeks as a teenager armed only with the phrase "Ich bin schwanger", which was all that had stuck from a phrasebook my parents had bought me. I was living with Katrin, my exchange partner, and her family, and one evening Katrin decided I had to perform my one phrase, which she explained to her family I'd learned from the phrasebook. I duly did my turn, which immediately sparked a 15 minute long discussion between the various family members. Afterwards Katrin explained to me that they all thought I said "Ich bin Schwein", and that the discussion had mostly consisted of expressions of concern about the contents of the German phrase-books available in Scotland...

Becca said...

Forget all the rest 'ein weissbier bitte' is all you need. Mmmm.

Aidan, a guy saying he was pregnant might have resulted in even more discussion than a guy saying he was a pig...

Aidan said...

That's true, but I think their thought was that while some people might need the former phrase (though obviously not me), nobody is going to need to thumb through a phrasebook looking for "I am pig". Though Germany is a strange (though wonderful) place, so you never know.

It all reminds me of the Hungarian phrasebook from Monty Python: "I will not buy this tobacconist - it is scratched".

pinolona said...

Aidan! You've come out as a pino reader!! I'd love to say I'm an avid reader of your blog, but you'd know I was fibbing due to my lack of even the most basic comprehension of philosophy. I did try...

Becca: you're so right. Yummy.

Actually the real reason for getting a phrase book is so you can giggle with your German friends over the 'Romance' section. ('Sie sind sehr attraktiv. Lassen Sie uns an einen ruhigeren Ort gehen...')
Otherwise, it's of very little use: everyone knows that backpackers and travellers in general communicate in the international burble of Engrish. I feel an awantura coming on...

Becca said...

The thing about weissbier is that you have to decide whether you want kristall, hefe (my fave) or dunkel. Or all three.

scatts said...

Pino, so, what are you doing in sunny Deutschland?

I "lived" in Germany for two years a while back. I use the term loosely because I was also "living" in the UK and France at the same time but Germany was the biggest concentration of time and effort. I had an apartment in Munich, Augustenstrasse if I remember correctly but also spent a fair bit of time in Berlin, which I preferred.

I found German a fair bit easier than Polish.

pinolona said...

Hi Scatts,

How's it going?
I was volunteering for anti-globalists in Germany (all in the name of work experience - I haven't suddenly decided to kick off the revolution). I'm back with Giles and Annabel and Co in Sevenoaks now. I suspect German is easier than Polish but I found it very hard not to use Polish phrases at the station etc. But I do like the accent. There's nothing quite so much fun as spouting a bit of pidgin Deutsche with a good fake-German accent, alles klar!!

I'm trying to work out how I can live in three countries at once too, basically cos I want to go back to Poland and not pay the ZUS (oops, no-one heard that...). What were you doing in Germany? Any tips on the lingo?

Becca: I think I had helle (light??) weissbier. I didn't realise there were so many types to try. Damn it, I'll have to go back...

Anonymous said...

Well, somehow I love to nitpick, so here I go: the title should be Auf Deutsch, bitte.

burntmaze.com said...

scatts is right: german is easier than polish. in my opinion, it's also a lot more fun. well, actually, it's fun and polish hurts me.
have fun! Viel Spaß!
tom

pinolona said...

Anonymous: all right all right (nobody likes a smartypants)...

Tom: Polish is a great language and it's much more fun than German! (although German has a certain comedy value). Plus you get to pronounce all the consonants. What other language gives you that, hmm? Polish: more consonants for your money!

Pogadajmy po polsku!

Anonymous said...

Skoro masz do czynienia zawodowo z językami, powinnaś przynajmniej tytuł posta napisać poprawnie. :)

pinolona said...

and don't think that just cos you write in Polish I don't know what you're saying... Deutsch is not one of my specialities... but I hear you...