The missus and I are taking a momentous trip in a few months. We’re traveling to Munich, in Germany, for Oktoberfest.
I’m looking forward to the trip, of course — because, duh, OKTOBERFEST. My liver is already scouring the German real estate ads for a winter haus near a biergarten. But I’m also a little bit apprehensive, for two reasons.
One, we’re going in September. And while ‘Oktober‘ isn’t spelled quite the way I’m used to seeing, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean a whole different month in German. I’m trusting my wife that we’re going when there are really Oktoberfestivities happening — but if we get there while everything’s still fermenting and there’s nothing to drink but Reisling wine and Waterbrau, there could be a scene. My liver’s not afraid to smack a frau, is all I’m saying. I’ve seen it happen. It could get ugly.
“I couldn’t fight my way through the alphabet in German, and I can only count to four because my grandfather was a big fan of polka music.”
More troubling, though, is that I don’t know the first scrap of German. I’m told that we’ll be in some pretty touristy areas, and there’s a lot of English spoken, and that it’s not especially hard to get yourself a beer or six in Munich, even if you have to resort to charades.
(I suppose. But I’m only ordering drinks with hand signals as a very last resort. The last time I pointed at some ample-cleavaged foreign girl behind a bar and then down my throat, I got served with a restraining order.
To be fair, that was at a Hooters in Montreal, and the waitress was asking what we wanted for dessert. I’m just saying — misunderstandings happen. And innocent people get blamed.
Also, I never got that bartendress I was trying to order. I just hope they took it off the bill.)
The point is, this will be my third trip out of the country where I may need to rely on my barely-existent linguistic skills. And the first two didn’t go so well. Observe:
#1. France: Several years ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Paris. We jumped at the chance — despite her somewhat limited French and my… well. I’m good for the occasional ‘bonjour!‘ or ‘ooh la la!‘, but that’s about the extent of my conversational French. So unless I’m talking with a four-year-old child or a deaf mute burlesque dancer, I’m basically useless.
So I spent the whole trip standing behind my wife nodding in agreement with whatever it was she was telling the people around us, whether or not I understood it or was even paying attention.
In other words, the same thing I do here at home. Only in a beret, and with an ‘ooh la la!‘ thrown in every once in a while. To this day, I have no idea what I ate at any of the restaurants, the name or plot of that movie we saw, or why all the staff in that one cafe kept coming over to pat me on the back. Either they were congratulating me on successfully mastering ‘bonjour!‘, or my wife told our waiter I was choking to death.
(Whichever it was, they made me spit bordeaux all over the table. I just hope they took it off the bill.)
So that was France, where I knew I had no chance. As opposed to:
#2. Mexico: A few years later, we got away for a week on the coast south of Cancun. It was again a very touristy area, with little need or pressure to speak the native Espanol.
But I know a little Spanish. I took two years of classes and like to think I retained at least a little bit of what I learned. I’m limited to a handful of verbs, sure — and only in the present tense, like some South of the Border Rain Hombre — but I’m not completely at sea with Spanish. Not like French.
Actually, what I picked up most of all in Spanish class is the inflection. Basically, I can read Spanish — or speak in my limited broken vocabulary — and sound somewhat more authentic than a complete novice. At least, to other non-native speakers. If there’s a lot of ambient noise, especially. Like a rock concert, or a jet turbine. Or if the non-native speaker is a deaf mute burlesque dancer.
That doesn’t mean I know what the hell I’m saying. It just sounds a little ‘Espanoly-er‘ than if, say, Fran Drescher were reciting the same words.
(For that matter, I’d sound a little more ‘Englishy-er’ and ‘humany-er’, too. I’m convinced the woman can communicate with fruit bats and ambulance sirens. But that’s beside the current point.)
I didn’t have a chance to whip out my Spanish skills until our next-to-last day at the hotel. I must have been having a good r-rrrrrrolling day when ordering my first morning margarrrrrrita, because the server looked at me closely and said:
‘Bueno, bueno. Se habla Espanol?‘
And I replied, in Spanish, that I do indeed speak a bit of Spanish, and I apologize for not conversing with him in the native tongue earlier in our visit, but to feel free to talk in whichever language is more comfortable for him going forward.
At least, that’s what I thought I said. When he backed slowly away and said, in over-enunciated English: ‘Ooooo-kay, sir. I’ll go get that drink now,’ I thought maybe I’d accidentally used a phrase more common in European Spanish, or not held a tilde quite long enough.
I discovered later that I’d just said a bunch of complete gibberish. Basically, I told him that if he didn’t get his horse out of my bathtub, my airplane sweatsock constipated Skeletor wedgie.
(Luckily, he didn’t take it the wrong way. But lord only knows what was in that drink he brought me. And I seriously doubt he took it off the bill.)
That was my first — and last — attempt to ‘go native’ while in sunny Mehico.
So now it’s Germany, and I can’t imagine it will go any better. I couldn’t fight my way through the alphabet in German, and I can only count to four because my grandfather was a big fan of polka music. That’s all I’ve got.
My entire experience with the German language boils down to this — when in doubt, exclaim ‘I know NOSSING!‘, and if pressed, try stringing little words together into unwieldy long Frankenbeasts because that seems to be their ‘thing’ in this tongue.
So if I’m in an autoaccidenten, I’ll be sure to have kleenenundervearan, and I can tell the traffikkoppensergeant on the scene that it was the other dumbkopfendouchendrivver‘s fault. I’m sure that will clear the whole situation right up.
And if not, I’ll point to the cop, and then point down my throat. As long as Septemberfestendrinken is going on, maybe I’ll at least get a fresh stein out of the mess. That’s all a boy and his brauenchuggen liver can ask for, really.Permalink | No Comments