So a Glaswegian Talks German to a Dutchwoman
France, Belgium, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Liechenstein
Touring Europe in the summer of 2001 was an experience that I will never forget for all sorts of reasons. There’s the “been there, done that” factor for one, but sticking in my mind most was our endless line of situations involving the locals in whatever city we visited.
Leaving Glasgow Prestwick for Paris one Monday morning with three friends, I could not have realised what the next four weeks had in store. I should have guessed as within minutes of arriving at our hostel in Paris, one of my compatriots plucked up “alright doll where’s the dancin'” to the attractive desk receptionist. Her blank looks would be mirrored in Amsterdam when a “gonnae gies the bill mate” was spouted at a waiter by the same individual.
The first three cities – Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam – passed off without any major problems. The most amusing incident happened when arriving in Brussels Gare de Suid.
My friend, the educated one who can speak French and German, decided to ask the tourist guide how to get to our hostel. As I was standing reasonably far back it took me a moment to notice he was talking to the guide in French. “They don’t speak French in Brussels,” I murmured to one of our party.
“No, they speak Flemish.”
“Oh, do you think he knows that?”
“Probably, he’s just trying to be clever.”
He didn’t know that, which soon became obvious as he tried to get a metro ticket and order a meal in French. I eventually decided to tell him of his misunderstanding – but he refused to believe me. He still doesn’t.
“However”, he said “that may have been why the tourist guy asked me if I could speak English.”
We puzzled over who else we could insult by talking in a foreign language too. Maybe Spanish to the Germans, Italian to the French or German to the Czechs? The latter would later be most useful.
On the train from Amsterdam to Berlin the natives again put us in our place. My friend who, despite his previous language fiasco, speaks reasonable German, asked a women on the train to move so he could get his bag (in German obviously). She reacted very angrily shouting “I’m not a German, I am Dutch”. The Dutch of course being so fond of the Germans (not) this was not a mistake that should have been made.
Shocked at the outburst my friend and I headed along to the train bar to spend our last Dutch Gilders on some very small but very needed glasses of water. The total bill came to 8 1/2, which was exactly what we had left. The German bar tender did not appear keen to accept our Dutch money, but since it was an international train he had to.
I soon realised that he was claiming that we had not paid him enough. Despite my knowledge of the German language being very poor, I discovered he was claiming we had only paid 7 1/2 Gilders – not a big difference, but the extra we did not have. An outburst from each side began, each of us counting the money several times and every time he would count to seven and a half and we reached eight and a half. Eventually, as a form of punishment he removed the glasses he was going to give us and replaced them with paper cups.
Very surprisingly Berlin did not cause any major problems or embarassments. The temptation to burst into a rendition of “Hang out the Washing” or the “Dads Army” them tune were probably wisely ignored. Berlin was actually a fascinating city, the only real disappointment being that the Brandenburg Gate was not visible due to a large cover featuring advertising. The contrast of rich and poor between East and West Berlin was something that you have to see to believe. The city is steeped in history from many different eras, and with the continual rebuilding work on both historical, political and residential buildings, Berlin will continue to grow as a tourist mecca.
So to our most anticipated destination: Prague. A city that I was really looking forward to for its culture, history and the fact it would be the cheapest city we would visit. Our first evening in the city began in our hotel, yes hotel, not hostel; we could afford a hotel at Czech prices, keeping in touch with the football scores via BBC online. Rangers were away to Maribor of Slovenia in Europe, and once the madcap notion to travel to the game had passed the best option was to ‘watch’ the game on the internet.The match finished in a 3-0 victory, so I headed out to toast the success and begin another false European Champions League dream. The rest of the night was spent in a bar/nightclub north of the main railway station, enjoying our first real drink since our money began to shrink in Brussels.
The intention was to go back to the same place the following evening, after having spent the day doing the tourist bit. Out came the guidebooks and maps as we trekked around in the seething heat of a beautiful city. As we headed home for a shower and a change of clothes we rather unfortunately decided to go for dinner first. This would cost us greatly, as my bag was initially left and subsequently taken from our chosen reastuarice.
Although I lost a camera and a tape walkman I was reasonably lucky because my friend had left HIS PASSPORT and HIS TRAVELLERS CHEQUES and HIS RAILPASS in MY BAG. Mine were in MY POCKET. When we returned to the restuarice to ask the staff for help, their seemingly flawless command of the English language had somehow deserted them.
Once the situation and panic had calmed down we managed to work out a plan of action. We worked out where the British Embassy was, got our friend some spare cash for the time-being and went off to report the incident to the police.
The first policeman we spoke to was very helpful. His English was not strong, but he spoke fluent German which allowed us to communicate with him. I did mention earlier about languages. Obviously talking German to the Czechs is more useful than speaking French to the Belgians. This policeman directed towards a police station near Wenselas Square. Unfortunately we couldn’t find the station at first, so we asked a group of officers hanging about doing not a lot in the Square itself. “I don’t speak English, I’m afraid” was their reply in fluent English. “Nien” was their response the “Sprecken Se Deutche”.
I think we interrupted their cigarette smoking competition. Eventually, no thanks to them we found the station and somehow, despite communication problems (we had to reenact the scene of a bag being stolen to make them understand), managed to report the crime.