Once in a gas station store in south Georgia a young French couple stood ahead of us in the checkout line. As they left, the cashier set one fist on the counter and stared after them.
“If I was going to visit some other country,” she said, “I think I’d at least learn the language first.”
Well, I disagree. Why limit yourself? Just go.
Life’s too short to learn everything. This Delta Moon tour is mostly in German, but by the time we’re done we’ll have heard some Czech, Danish, French and I don’t know what else. We’re meeting people from all over the world.
When we first came here four years ago I understood no German at all. Now I make it through several simple exchanges every day, though after a few sentences I tend to fall back on hand gestures and sound effects.
We can follow some of what’s spoken around us. The other day in Weimar we watched from a sidewalk cafe as a group of spike-haired yoots marched singing into the square, disrobed and dived into a public fountain. When one stood up, shook his head and shouted, “Scheiss! Es kalt!” he might as well have been speaking English.
The worst mistake we’ve made was in Hamburg, where we ordered a round of Alsterwassers. We toasted and sipped and immediately everyone made faces. What we had taken for a local brew was actually a mix of beer and Sprite. The locals defend Alsterwasser as a refreshing summer drink, but ours went into the potted plants.
In west Germany many people speak English. But in the east they studied Russian in school. In one venue no one spoke English except a pretty waitress named Ramona. When it came time to get paid the owner had Ramona serve as our interpreter. We filled out tax forms, signed the papers and counted the money. Then the owner looked me in the eye and began talking earnestly in a low voice.
“He has had many beers tonight,” Ramona said. “Now he is talking about women’s underwear.”