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Thursday, 13 December 2012

#42: Breaking Ze Language Barrier

Breaking the language barrier when venturing abroad can be a challenging experience. But if you rely on your wits, common sense and ingenuity, you’ll have half a chance of communicating enough with your foreign hosts to find your way off the plane and into the destination airport’s Arrivals lounge.

From there, success may be based more on luck than judgement. However, if all else fails, resort to the back-up plan: "Do you speak English?"

Back in high school – around the 3rd Year (Grade 9), we had the option of studying Spanish or German. I opted for Spanish, figuring that would be of more use to me in the future. As I quite fancied the idea of moving there, becoming a Matador, and eating lots of paella.

Which meant that, 22 years later, navigating my way around Germany’s capital for the 2009 Berlin Marathon was going to be testing.

Especially when you only know six words of the language. And five of those are numbers (one-to-five). And the sixth is the Deutsche word for sh*t.

I knew I was going to have to choose my conversations carefully.

My first issues came at Berlin's Schoenefeld airport, where I'd flown into from Bristol (England). Following what seemed like a three-mile trek-through-the-wilderness to the airport's Arrivals area, I breezed through customs. However, getting advice re. onward travel options proved somewhat trickier.

I headed over to an information desk to be greeted by a woman (let’s call her Marita) whose welcoming expression was about as inviting as an over-grilled bratwurst.

“Speiken ze Englishe?” I inquired (mangling the language with my first attempt). To which she scowled: “A little.”

After explaining (in German-English; basically English with the word “Ze” thrown in a lot – and “en” added to every other word) I was tossing up between taking the train and getting a taxi to my hotel (for which I had the address and a surrounding street map).

Marita suggested I take the former – at a cost of 2.50 Euros, as opposed to the latter (30-40 Euros). I didn't need much arm-twisting...

To read the rest of this column, check out BC Johnny's upcoming book: Chilled Almonds. 

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