Saturday, June 04, 2005


Missing signs

It would be really neat if I could speak a little German

One of the charms of traveling abroad is the daily challenge of accomplishing mundane tasks in the face of a language barrier. When folks (or, I should say, "Völker") say things to me in German, sure it's embarrassing to stand there open mouthed and then (as I often do) cobble together some sort of reply consisting of a few words of broken English combined with any foreign words that come to mind. But often as not, these encounters lead to some sort of understanding. Gestures work quite well, particularly when the German person switches into English.

More difficulties arise when the German comes at me, not in spoken form, but in writing: signs, menus and multi-page legal documents.

Signs do not make helpful gestures. Sure, many signs have pictures, but what do you make of this one?

Translation: "Do not run over the Michelin Man."

Ordering off a menu in German is very difficult. It's hard enough in France, where I sort of know the language, because French menus never seem to identify menu items using food words. You translate your French menu and come up with things like "steaming pile" or "thinly sliced portion of St. Christopher." I think the Germans do similar things with menus, but I can't read the fine print of my dictionary in their dimly lit restaurants.

To be sure, some restaurants will give you a menu in English. Like this one from earlier tonight:

Sounds more like a googlation.

Appliances? I defy you to try to figure out how to wash you clothes in this machine.


I spent about 20 minutes in front of this thing with my German-English dictionary and still managed to shrink my underwear. And, for good measure, this washing machine ran for about 90 minutes. B and I kept running downstairs to check on it. "What's going on with the wash?" asked B. I replied, "It's finally speulen, but it still has to schleudern after that."

I always tell people, "never sign legal documents without reading them." How about this sample page from my rental agreement for the apartment I'm staying in through U of Boogie?


Translation: "If cleaning deposit is insufficient to pay for mess
left by tenant, tenant agrees to sign over deed to his house in United States."

This is even better: an inventory of all the items in the apartment!


If anything is broken or missing -- if, say, a "hackbrett" or a "wandwaage" winds up going back to the states in my luggage -- I'm subject to being detained at the airport by German authorities.

Simple groceries are also a challenge. This apple juice, although vacuum sealed, had gone bad -- turned to vinegar -- before we opened it. Yuck.

Translation: Apple vinegar.

And what is this -- cream for coffee? Or baby formula?


Advertizing is something a sophisticated person like me should be able to understand, because its images are Jungian symbols directed to the unconscious mind common across western culture. Here, I even understand the slogan -- "This original comes in Rubinesque" or something -- but what the hell are they getting at?


Okay, but some things are clear even to the simplest understanding. This sign appeared on a gate of a castle B and I toured today:

Translation: Entry permitted only with fuhrer!


Dare I ask what you ordered? Did you by any chance get the Home made Savage-stomach-rind? The Goulash of own hunting savage? Or the savage liver dumplings?
Savage stomach rind was certainly tempting -- for the story potential, were I to live to tell about it.

But I ordered from a different page. It was described as some sort of stew, but what I got was a patty of meat hash.
A riot! I especially like the Dan Quayle spelling of "potato" in the menu.
I think I'll use Savage Liver Dumpling for my pen name from now on.
Very much enjoying these posts! I would be absolutely lost and probably much less good-humored about it.
6 Cognakglaeser and 6 Liquoerglaser!

You could have quite a party, if only the rental agreement allowed that sort of thing.
I had trouble figuring out how to use a friend's washing machine while visiting him years ago in London -- but unfortunately I couldn't attribute my confusion to a language barrier! And recently I was baffled by the refridgerator at a colleague's house. It had a formidable electronic panel on the front with way more options than seemed necessary for a fridge, including an alarm and locking mechanism. What family needs an alarm and lock on their fridge?
savage liver dumplings? I think I'm feeling a little nostalgie de [pour] le boeuf.
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