I know you all think I’m all sleek sophistication when I travel…who am I kidding, NONE of you think that. So it shall come as no surprise that quite often, in fact, I stuff things up. Particularly when communicating in another language. Yes, foreign culture and communication are tricky business. Have a read about how I managed to mangle both on my most recent German trip.
I am a lover, not a fighter, so imagine my utter delight to discover that when I’ve been sprouting the phrase “Deutschland Uber Alles!” on not only my social media sites, but to a few German friends, it has mysteriously fallen fatally flat. What I thought was akin to “Vive la France!” turns out to be a phrase favoured by the Nazis. I only discovered this on my last day, when my German friend and I were making a video message of us to send to her elderly parents. And at the end, in some kind of triumphant punctuation mark, I declared: “Deutschland Uber Alles!” The video captures her turning to me horrified and saying “Don’t say that, that’s a Nazi phrase” and the terrified look on my face at this realisation. Good times. I also currently now have several neo Nazis following me on Instagram who believe I am a sympathiser. Awesome.
2.Read the Signs
Following on from my previous point, sometimes I get things wrong. Seriously wrong. There I was, checking into the gorgeous NH Collection Berlin Fredrichstrasse Hotel. The Guest Relations Manager admitted that the hotel was full, so he had most kindly upgraded me to a king suite. And just as we arrived at the door, I waxed lyrical about what a wonderful name my suite had on the door, pausing for several moments to purr, out loud, the word “Haustechnik”. Turns out I was standing in front of the “housing technology” or utilities cupboard and my actual suite was two doors down.
3.You, you or you?
In some ways, the German language is relatively easy to master, as many of its words are similar to those in English (eg: Bus and…well, Bus). However, there are certain specific rules that make it a tricky language for native English speakers. One which has been tripping me up for nearly 30 years is the word “you”. You see, Germans don’t have just one word for this, but three, and it depends on with whom you are speaking as to which one you should use. In fact, your entire manners are judged on this. Unfortunately, for me, my brain switches continually to the “impolite” or “casual” form which is “du”, which in my head sounds most like “you” and I am constantly offending complete strangers in the street and during business transactions. Essentially I am declaring to all an sundry I am a Brisbane bogan who eats with my hands.
Don’t wet your pants over this headline, as they don’t really exist. Despite asking this question many times to both strangers and friends, no one can give me a definitive answer on what, exactly, Germans do, when they need to go to the toilet when they are out and about. Remember that scene from the movie Bridesmaids where they ate the dodgy food and were all struck by a sudden urge? This happened to me twice in two weeks. After indulging in a stodgy diet of meat, potatoes and beer, constipation became my constant travelling companion, until my bowels made the sudden, and urgent decision to empty. The first time, I was “lucky” enough to be in a shopping centre, but fumbled furiously with my wallet searching for a Euro coin to enable me to enter. The second time, I raced into a café (this is apparently what Germans do) only to find a long line of people with similar issues. On a cold day in Berlin I broke into a sweat and started hopping from foot to foot like those slap slap dancers at the Munich Oktoberfest. Unfortunately, for me, no one gave the proverbial.
5.Magnificent Merkel and Awesome Obama
Australians have a bit of a love affair with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Barack Obama, which, frankly, is pretty understandable when you see the successive idiots who have been in charge of our country. But apparently, not all Germans agree with our assessment of Merkel and Obama. In fact, both are a bit on the nose. So, if you’re thinking of befriending a few German strangers with a conversation along the lines of “how about that Angie?”, be aware she’s rapidly losing popularity among her own people for her lenient stance on refugees and for bailing out the Greeks. Obama was also in town when I was in Germany (coincidence? I think not), and his efforts to convince Germans to participate in a trade agreement was met with mass protests. On the plus side, if you’re looking for hordes of hot cops, head to any major train station during one of these protests.
It kills me to say this, but German humour kinda deserves its poor reputation, particularly the more you head towards the former east (where I’m also pleased to report that double denim is still all the rage). I was posing for a group photo in Magdeburg when one of the tourism representatives suggested a “funny phrase” to make us smile. “Say, double cream cheese,” she laughed outrageously. I told her I didn’t quite understand why that phrase was particularly funny. “It’s not just cream cheese, it’s DOUBLE cream cheese,” she said, slapping her thigh. Thus proving that some things have no translation.
Almost as flat as east German humour are German hotel pillows. They are like giant pieces of ravioli that someone has forgotten to fill. In order to have a decent sleep, you must first fold this pillow several times. The doonas are also a mystery. You don’t get one big doona on a double bed, but two separate doonas. In some hotels, they even remove one of the doonas if they know there’s just one guest in the room as if to sadistically point out that yes, you are single, and yes, you are all alone. Your empty life with your empty ravioli pillow.
8.We’re missing a Ms
So, I’ve spent the past two weeks getting all haughty with hoteliers who have insisted on calling me Frau Retschlag. I am not, nor have I ever been, Mrs Retschlag. It was only when I queried this phenomenon with my German friends that they explained there is no German equivalent of “Ms” and that any female over a certain age is automatically referred to as Mrs. Like a burqa in the Middle East, I guess I’ll just have to wear this one. Or find a husband…
The Global Goddess travelled on a first-class German Rail Pass (5 days within one month) as a guest Rail Europe – http://www.raileurope.com.au; NH Collection in Berlin – http://www.nh-collection.com/de/hotel/nh-collection-berlin-friedrichstrasse; and The German National Tourist Office – http://www.germany.travel