[At home, one week before the trip, my German Phrase Book and Dictionary arrives…]
Me: (Reading aloud) “The letter ß is not a letter ß at all—it’s interchangeable with “ss”.The ö has a sound uncommon in English. To make the ö sound, round your lips to say “o,” but say, “ee.The German ch has a clearning-your-throat sound.”
Super Husband: Do you need to take some medicine?
Me: No, I’m trying to say my ch’s in German.
SH: Good luck with that.
[Waiting to check in to our hotel room on our arrival in Munich, we order sausage and sauerkraut at the Augustiner in the town square. The waiter returns with our credit card after we finish our meal…]
Waiter: Here you are. Danke schon. (Looks at us expectantly for a reply)
Me: (Thinking– What do I say now? I thought I was the one who was supposed to say Danke. And what does “schon” mean? That wasn’t in the guidebook. Oh, no, he’s waiting. He’ll think we’re rude! Say something. Now! ) You’re welcome. (Waiter acknowledges me and turns to leave. I speak to his back.) and Danke. (softer) Danke.
[The next day, we eat lunch with our new friends David and Vi, who are from Texas, and Aga, who is from Poland. As we make the steep walk to Neuschwanstein Castle…]
Aga: I find that German is easier to learn than French. Even though there are three tenses, and the words are long, they are put together in a way that makes sense.
Me: Yeah, I did notice that the words can be very long. I couldn’t even attempt to put a sentence together. Aga, your English is impeccable. Is that why you came on the English tour bus?
Aga: All school children study English in my country. Besides, I need it for my job.
Me: So you speak Polish, English, and German?
Aga: I’m learning German since I also have business here in Munich sometimes.
Me: I admire you for speaking so many different languages. Now I need to stop and look at the view. I also need to hug this tree for a minute. Not that I’m out of breath.
[Super Husband leaves the hotel room to spend the afternoon at the University for his business meeting. I decide to stay in and rest. The housekeeper arrives to clean the room.]
Me: You don’t have to clean today. We just need new towels and coffee service for the morning.
Me: (Thinking—Bitte? Bitte means please. Does he want me to say something else? Does he not understand me? How do I say I can’t speak German? Think!) Sprechen zie English?
Housekeeper: (Looks at me, dumbfounded) Bitte?
Me: (Thinking—I said it right. I’m speaking German and he still can’t understand me. Even my German has a Texan accent!) Okay, let’s try something else. (I go into the bathroom and point to the towels) Clean towels? (I move to the coffee service and pick up the dirty coffee cup) New cup?
Housekeeper: Ah! Okay!
Me: (Thinking—I’ll tell him I’m sorry.) Entschuldigung.
Me: Sorry. Danke. Danke schon.
Housekeeper: (Leaving the room with the dirty towels and coffee cups) Bitte schon. (Looks back over his shoulder at me and rolls his eyes at his co-worker in the hallway.) Auslanders!
[In the square near the Alte Pinakotek,which is the city’s classical art museum, we find a used book store. When we enter the store, it is piled to the ceiling with books. Some of them are quite old and falling apart. There is a narrow stairway in the back of the room. Old newspapers lay stacked in the stairway. The owner follows us in from the sidewalk…]
Owner: Guten Tag! Hallo!
Owner: (Switches to broken English) We have no English books here.
Me: I know. (Smiling) Is it okay if we look around anyway?
Owner: Ya, Ya. I give you discount. You buy 100 euros worth, I give you 1 book for free!
(SH and I laugh)
Owner: I leave you. You look.
[SH leaves me in the store to look around. I find two books that I want, because I can always find a book I want. I go out to the sidewalk…]
Me: (Showing the books to the owner) How much are these?
Owner: (Examines the two books) This one 10 euros, this one free. How is this?
Me: Yes. That is fine. Pay the man, SH.
(SH pays the owner and we start to leave.)
Owner: Wait! You take one of these! (Hands me a box full of old postcards) Free!
Me: Oh, Thank you. Danke schon. (I pick a postcard and shake his hand.) Good-bye!
Owner: Auf Wiedersehen. Come back soon!
Me: (Linking arms with Super Husband) I could have stayed in that store for a long time.
SH: I know you could have.
Me: He was cool, wasn’t he?
SH: He spoke your language.
Me: He sure did.