No Comprendo German

We just returned from a fun filled 2.5 weeks mainly in Austria, with some time in Germany and Italy on the side. After I get back from Canada this coming week (more on that later), I’ll post some of the most powerful, lasting and even offbeat impressions of west-central Europe. With some discretion, I’ll also link to some imagery from this BLOG (only as relevant to the discussions).

I’ll also build a bunch of thumbnails and photo links on a P-Base style page elsewhere on this server (not on the BLOG), for masochistic folks who really like looking at others’ piles of vacation photos.

Until then, it only skims the surface to say it was a vacation of a lifetime, images and memories of scenes never before witnessed, a green and pleasant land, some very kind and generous people, my wolfing down enough great food to more than offset a considerable amount of exercise, and yet, far, far more.

But before I get to any of the serious stuff, naturally, I must admit the ludicrous.

One damp and drizzly day near the end of the trip — the only persistently wet day of the entire vacation — we were headed from Trento (Italy) toward Salzburg on the west Austrian Autobahn, somewhere not far east of Innsbruck. We whipped into an American-style roadside rest area for a bathroom/snack/stretch break. The kids and I then wandered down to the adjacent banks of the Inn River, an impressively deep and turbulent torrent made muddy by glacial and snow melt, and had fun tossing assorted sticks and logs out into the powerful currents.

After I got back into the car, with Elke driving, I noticed a familiar and most unwelcome smell, soon discovered to be wafting from the bottoms of my shoes. Dog crap! It was raining outside, and leaving the car windows down wasn’t much better of an option than keeping them rolled up and fumigating ourselves with the noxious aroma. We had to pull off soon so I could clean this up.

At an Agip gas station, I did everything to remedy this asphyxiating and unsanitary situation — walking through dumped-over windshield soap, scraping shoes on gravel, grass and pavement, and finally, going into the station’s rear restroom to wipe them clean with soapy paper towels.

An early-50ish woman walked right into the men’s lavatory and said something to me in German. My wife is quite fluent in German, but I certainly am not. Obviously distracted by my cleaning job, I responded without even thinking or pausing, “No comprendo German.” Yes, in 2/3 Spanish, 1/3 English.

The woman clearly had no idea what in the world I was saying, or in what language. She gave me a thoroughly confused look, then strolled right out of there.

OK, OK, go ahead and bash the ignorant American or laugh at my expense. I probably deserve it for such thoughtless linguistic buffoonery. But at least I responded to her in a “diverse and multicultural” way! Too bad neither of the languages I thought to try was hers.

My kids, Elke and a few of her relatives later had some really hard but good-natured laughs at my expense. [Hey, I have to be useful for something.]

I also found out what the deal was. How was I supposed to know the lady walking into the men’s restroom to pester me was soliciting tips for her cleaning services? I do recall, at a hurried glance, seeing her just outside the door; she had been standing next to a peculiar, oversized ashtray that was sitting on a barstool and containing some coins. Understandably I paid little attention to analyzing the meaning of that bizarre arrangement, because of the higher priority mess with which I was preoccupied.

No remorse, though…I flatly refuse to pay somebody to use the freakin’ restroom, or to give tips to people who demand them. That personal policy crosses all borders. Maybe, however, I should learn how to run off panhandling restroom-invaders in the correct tongue next time. 🙂


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