The first time I went to Germany in 2001, I figured it’s a civilized country, nothing bad will happen. They probably speak English anyway. I was partly right.
I knew basically no German at all at the time, nor did my brother. But being the fearless souls we are, we went to hunt down breakfast in Berlin. Spotting a cafe/bakery we went in and started ordering with the best hand gestures we could muster. 1 of these, 2 of those. Then we’d pause and browse the selection of baked goods a little more.
The woman serving us, a no-nonsense lady in her 50s seemed to understand what we were gesturing at, saying things in German as we pointed at them, and then putting it into the cash register.
The problem was that after several minutes of us picking random foods and pausing she must have asked us if that was all we wanted. I suspect we had nodded absent-mindedly, which she took as assent, and tallied up our total.
When we then asked for something more, she rapidly became furious with us, screeching at us in German and pointing at the cash register.
German is officially one of the scariest languages to have someone yell at you in. I swear her eyes were on fire and there was smoke coming out of her nostrils. And it’s enough to make even the boldest backpacker shrink off into a corner.
She added our final items to the bill (with some effort) and allowed us to pay sheepishly.
Since then, I try to always learn a few of the basics of the local language when I go to a country. Phrasebooks are very useful for this, I like the Lonely Planet ones because they give you phonetic pronunciation. Also, the Pimsleur language learning CDs are brilliant.
Try to learn some of the local language before arriving.
Most useful phrases to learn:
- Hello, Goodbye
- Thank you
- Excuse me!
- Do you speak English?
- I don’t speak [insert local language here]
- Yes, No, I don’t know
- How much does it cost? (Useful to learn numbers, too.)
- Too expensive.
- No, I don’t want it. (Especially useful in Asian countries where you get approached by people all the time wanting to sell you things or services.)
- One beer, please.
- That’s all/ Enough.
- Where is the bathroom?