Lost in Translation

I had the opportunity to go to Germany as an exchange student the summer before my senior year of high school. The teacher in charge of the program taught both German and French at my High School. I took French. At the last minute a German language student dropped out of the exchange program and the slot was opened up for me, even though I didn’t take German lessons.  Regardless of not knowing a lick of German, I was excited.  I didn’t worry very much because I figured I’d get by….I’d heard that most people in Europe spoke English anyway, so I took the time to learn a few words like,

“Danka”

and

“Gutten Tag”

Period.

I should tell you that the trip was a highlight of my life. I learned so much while I was there.  The language though, not so much.  I found that if I just said” Danka” with a smile and when appropriate and “Ich sprechen kein deutch”, I was home free.  I could get by with my English.  And I did.  Very well, thank you.  Except for once.

One time I had a little problem with communication.  At first I thought it was due to a little issue otherwise known as a language barrier.  However, as the situation played out I realized the issue wasn’t in the verbal language, but in the body language.

We spend a few weeks traveling through what was formerly known as Eastern Germany, sleeping in hostels at night and sight seeing during the day.  One particular hostel we stayed in was up this really steep, cobbled path, quite a ways from the nearest bus stop.  I remember lugging my over sized suitcase up that hill, beating myself up for being so vain and stupid  which resulted in enormous over packing.

When I was packing for the trip, you see, I didn’t factor in the part about being responsible for transporting my own luggage everywhere.  EVEN though I’d been warned.

Anyway, once we got to the hostel, we put our belongings in our shared room and then met in the lobby/common area.  It was in the common area that I noticed an old man (I’d guess in his 70’s) sitting there with his suitcase by his leg.  I remembered how long the walk was from the bus stop, how tired I was when I got there, and that the rooms were up additional flights of stairs.  An idea popped into my mind.  It told me that I should do the right thing and offer to help the old man to his room.  I felt pretty good about my intentions and went over to him to ask if I could help him.  I don’t remember everything that was said, but I do remember when the light came on.  Suddenly I realized that he didn’t think I was a young girl trying to be kind…..oh no.  He thought I was someone different.  Someone who asked for money for “favors”.

I wanted to die.

I guess there is an international body language and the conversation we had was seriously MIXED up in translation.

I learned something though.

Don’t ask men if they need help when traveling in Europe and staying in hostels.

I’m thanking Mama Kat for reminding me of this incident as it’s one of her writing prompts this week.

Comments

  1. 1

    says

    ROFL! That reminds me of a time back when I used to smoke – it was really windy out so I ducked into the doorway of a building to light a cigarette. All these men passing by kept looking at me funny. I was wearing a miniskirt (not only did I smoke but I was thin back then too) but nothing terribly provocative.

    It was only after I stepped out of the doorway and looked up that I realized I’d been standing in the doorway of a brothel.

    Excuse me, an adult “massage parlor”.

    Yeah, a brothel.

    Yikes.

    —————–
    I’ve entered a major international photo competition (details are on my blog) and would be most grateful if you’d click through and rate my portfolio (just click on the stars at the bottom (preferably the 5th star – “fantastic” – LOL), easy peasy, no registration or personal details needed). Thanks so much!
    .-= Robin from Israel´s last blog ..Metal Gate, Old Jaffa =-.

  2. 2

    says

    Ahhhhhh, I know a few things about being lost in translation. I lived in Germany after college and now bounce back and forth between Sweden and the States. SO…here’s mine. (yours was funny, btw). I got a spider bite in Thailand. Came back to Sweden only to develop an all over body rash and major swelling at the site. Yeah. A little wiggy. So I called the nurse here and told her in my best Swedish that I needed to have an appt because my arm had a bit of a spider in it. (Instead of a bite) She spent 10 min trying to get me to tell her how I got that bit in there. LOL
    .-= lisa´s last blog ..Little Guy, Big Man =-.

  3. 3

    laurie Johnson says

    you have lead such an interesting life! just be carfeful it doesn’t get too “interesting”:) watch out for those old europeans!

  4. 5

    says

    Excellent. Think of it this way, you probably made his year, heck, life.

    Reminds me of when I was traveling with my parents in France – my father had jumped off a wall the wrong way and totally messed up his back. He was looking for a chiropractor – the helpful Frenchman gave him directions to a camping store, for a backpack 🙂

    Could have used your French skills!
    .-= Ash´s last blog ..W.W. – Bottle of white, bottle of red? =-.

  5. 7

    says

    I came here via Mama Kat and Fluffy Bunnies.

    Great story – I love reading about these kinds of “lost translations.” I was overseas in Japan for many years. The funny thing is that once you get over the initial hump and live somewhere else long enough, you start to unconsciously adopt the host culture’s ways…and occasionally confusing the natives back home 😉

    Glad you had a wonderful time in Germany. 🙂
    .-= Only You´s last blog ..Writer’s Workshop: If you get hungry, steam the dung until it’s hot and soft and ready to eat…an essay on cross-cultural miscommunication =-.

  6. 9

    Janet says

    Angie,

    I actually did take German in high school as independent study (and 2 years in college. Not that I remember much of it.). But the “proctor” for my independent study had himself been to Germany a few times. He liked to share his own “lost in translation” incident. He was talking to a native one day, and they got to discussing lunch. When asked what he wanted, he replied that he wanted a hot dog, using the German words for “hot” and “dog” – “Heisse Hund”.

    The native started snickering, which was his first clue. Eventually he told him that what he really wanted was a “Frankfurter”. As opposed to what he had actually asked for… A dog in heat. 😀

  7. 10

    says

    Hee Hee! Too funny! I wish some days my English would get me farther but it usually doesn’t ! The part I live in very little English or they admit to knowing very little.

  8. 12

    says

    I can relate to being lost in translation. I took French in high school and as a part of the French club, we went to France my junior year. I could read and write the language, but speaking it was not always easy. One day we walked to a little store to buy stamps. It was not pretty!
    .-= Evonne´s last blog ..A Look into My Life =-.

  9. 18

    says

    bawhahahwahah…thats funny. when i was in rome, i tried to ask a guy for a cigarette (i didn’t smoke, but was pretty sure i was cool). and the dudes ended up being tour guides in our general group. i avoided them at breakfast.
    .-= Leah´s last blog ..lifebettermentbullsht =-.

  10. 20

    says

    I’d love to travel through Europe, sight seeing by day and staying at hostels at night. The whole being mistaken for a female companion thing, not so much. lol I’m sorry, but that’s hilarious. 🙂
    Come on over and see who’s in timeout thanks to Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop. I’ll give you a hint… He’s a little too “curious” for his own good. Have a great day Angie.

    Kristi, Live and Love…Out Loud
    @TweetingMama
    .-= Kristi {at} Live and Love…Out Loud´s last blog ..Curious George Deserves a Time Out! =-.

  11. 21

    amy says

    that is an amazing trip..

    I went to an did this same type of thing when I was 15…

    Great fun for me..

  12. 23

    Kirsten says

    ha ha ha ha! That is a good one, I would’ve died!!!!

    Ummm….I remember going to Austria and Germany my senior year and my friend and I ended up locked in the bathroom because some rollicking German boys in lederhosen were trying to come in through our window….I guess we seemed to like their dance performance so much they wanted to tell us thank you in a personal way…. oh, my.

  13. 24

    says

    that is very funny. i think it is so easy to get lines crossed with men and young girls in foreign countries. young girls rarely realize what their body language says in english- let alone in another language. glad you were safe and that all ended well.

  14. 25

    says

    Very funny. It’s amazing how powerful body language is and how different people read it in different cultures. I also would love to hear the old gentleman’s side of the story. 🙂
    .-= Write Chick´s last blog ..Linky Issues =-.

  15. 29

    Jennifer B says

    hahaha! Your story made me laugh! You always have the coolest, or funny stories to write about.

  16. 32

    says

    That’s so funny! Why is it that things like that seem to happen just when you’re trying to do something good? Great story. 🙂

  17. 33

    says

    Oh, geez. Soooo embarrassing!
    In my travels the only place I had trouble with locals was France–because they are rude and hate Americans. Haha! Well, not all of them… but you know. When I lived in London I just felt like I belonged there. It was awesome.
    .-= Jo´s last blog ..My Life in books! =-.

  18. 34

    says

    Oh boy…I’m dying here, picturing the entire exchange! How embarrassing when you’re just a teenager, but how hysterically funny now, looking back!

    I was able to take part in an exchange program in Germany when I was 15 — it was one of the most amazing, life-changing experiences, and I’d give anything to be able to go back someday.
    .-= Crystal @ Semi-Crunchy Mama´s last blog ..The One In Which I Play Blogging Catch-Up =-.

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