While no one would call me well traveled, my degree in International Relations coupled with an overwhelming enthusiasm and crushing desire to be liked by other people have turned me into a particular type of person abroad. I like to think of it as the “well meaning cultural kiss ass”. This means that I make an effort to learn a little bit of the local language and customs before going to a new place. And then I proceed to enthusiastically and cheerfully butcher said language and customs all over the place.
When I first met my boyfriend, I had absolutely no idea he was German. With the relative anonymity of dating apps, I had gotten pretty used to people either lying about themselves or just strategically saving information for later. Alex, being sweet and earnest, did neither of those things. He told me all about himself, his interests, his hobbies, his favorite foods, and of course his German birthplace. I could blame my ignorance on confusion, since I find many Americans like to identify with their European heritage and describe themselves as “Italian” or “English” etc, etc.
But I think we all know that’s not the case…I’m just not a great listener.
Here was an attractive, intelligent man who responded to my text messages promptly and with evident enthusiasm, what else did I need to know? It didn’t matter that he was constantly dropping thinly veiled references to being German. Such as “When I was growing up in Germany” and “I went to university in Germany first” and the ever so vague “I’m German”. My excitement over getting to know a guy who wasn’t hiding a gambling addiction or trying to get me to attend swinger parties (Note: yes, online dating is that bad) easily overpowered everything. Add all that to my generation’s absolute adversity to picking up the phone to speak to someone and you’ve got the perfect combo. So, despite his many attempts to inform me in advance, I showed up to our first date. He gave me a polite hug, officially introduced himself, and walked me into the bar. And with these three actions, he taught me something about myself. Apparently, I need to be hit over the head with a frying pan to get the point or, in this case, directly presented with an accent.
All of which leads up to the point. See? I did have one, promise. When I decided to move to Germany, despite a healthy interest and ability in other foreign languages, the only German I knew was the small amount of Yiddish that’s basically required for all nice Jewish girls. Oy vey! On all my previous trips to Germany I’ve only been visiting and since I have a personal translator, it’s never seemed necessary for me to learn. Once the decision to move had been made, I immediately went out and bought every book n German I could find. Then promptly proceeded to ignore them for months, minus the few times I opened them and slogged through the collections of letters that make up German words. Of course, on my official arrival, I immediately adopted my abroad persona and tried to learn the entire German language in a day. Or rather, I tried to pretend I had.
Not wanting to seem like the most American in the room, I grilled Alex on every single German phrase we heard. He indulged me and I figured I could get by just fine in this manner forever. I had planned to register for a German school at some point and had even found one online. However, since I had Alex to guide me through everything, I clearly didn’t need to rush it. Right? Unfortunately, real life called. Alex had to go to work and not just work, but a Brazilian week-long business trip. Cue panicking. Before leaving, he tried his hardest to prepare me by giving me some every day phrases. Being me, I locked on to one I recognized from our trips to the store, believing it to be my most necessary:
Wollen Sie einen Kassenbeleg? Do you want a receipt.
Timeless, classic, and practically guaranteed to get me through my fabulous new European life. Here in Stuttgart, many sales people like to give you the benefit of the doubt and will continue to speak German to you if you greet them in German, changing it from hello to hallo (HEY that’s the name of the blog). Plus, the price is always written on the cash register’s screen. So, it takes very little to get through a sales interaction and keep convincing yourself you’re passing as a local. Hence why “Wollen Sie einen Kassenbeleg” really was a practical sentence to commit to memory. Every transaction Alex and I had together thus far had ended with that exact question.
So, armed with my phrase and the response, an assertive but polite “Nein, danke” (no, thanks), I ventured out for my first solo grocery store trip. I was psyched, I was ready.
Wollen Sie einen Kassenbeleg? Nein, danke. Wollen Sie einen Kassenbeleg? Nein, danke. Wollen Sie einen Kassenbeleg? Nein, danke. Wollen Sie einen Kassenbeleg? Nein, danke. WOLLEN SIE EINEN KASSENBELEG? NEIN, DANKE.
I approached the register, my basket of groceries hanging confidently from my arm.
Me: Hallo! I am crushing this.
Her: Hallo! *she rings up my items* Zweiundzwanzig Euro, bitte. Yep, absolutely nailing this.
Me: *quick glance at the register’s screen because I heard the word Euro and know it means a number was just said. Sees 22, hands over 25 Euro just in case*
Her: *counts out change* I know what’s coming, we’re in the homestretch. Wollen Sie einen Kassenbeleg? Nein, danke. Mike drop, leave the store.
Her: Oh entshuldingung, motchen Sie eine Tute?
EXCUSE ME WHAT.
Me: *panics* OMGIMSOSORRYIDONTSPEAKANYGERMANIMAMERICANWHATDOESTHATMEAN
Her: *smiles* Would you like a plastic bag?
Me: Oh, no thank you. *hastily grabs all items and runs out of the store*
What was the name of that German school again?
Pictured: All of my grocery store purchases. Because, America, clearly.