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,
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.