Where have I had my worst experiences as a monolingual person while traveling? This is an easy question to answer for me: German Bakeries. Now if you haven’t been to a German bakery or seen a German bakery you should visit one, but let me warn you right now that you better know exactly what you want and how to order because if you hesitate or do something wrong you will be in trouble. What kind of trouble? I’m not really sure because most of my German was learned by watching Hogan’s Heroes, but I will describe for you, dear reader, several of my experiences.
Hamburg Hauptbahnhof: The main train station in Hamburg. My family was grabbing a quick breakfast before hopping on a train to Berlin. It was earlyish and there was a German Bakery in the train station that we thought we would hit before jumping on board the ICE train and heading to Berlin. Now in the US (I realize we were in Germany, but in order to explain my plight I thought I would explain the cultural differences in ordering food in Germany verses the United States) in the US a family orders one at a time. I might say what I want, then my wife and so on, but I don’t think that is the routine in German. I say I don’t think that is the routine because I am not sure about the routine. I just know that every time we ordered like this we got a scolding.
Another mistake I believe we made was not knowing exactly what we wanted before we stepped into the little shop. It seems to be the cultural norm in Germany that you must know what you are going to eat for breakfast a solid hour before you step into the bakery. This might be a bit of an exaggeration, but if you go into a German bakery know what you want before stepping into line and don’t start looking at the baked goods before you get in line or they will think you are an Italian trying to cut.
So, back to the train station, I step up to the counter and begin my ordering routine which has all kinds of problems: 1. I speak zero German and even a “Guten Morgen” doesn’t buy you too much sympathy. 2. Pointing at food in German has all kinds of problems. They really do use their thumbs like in Inglorious Bastards. 3. I am American. The bakery guy gave me about five seconds before he started scolding me. Believe it or not, I was scolded many times in Germany, most frequently in bakeries. I don’t blame the German bakers, it was my fault for not being fully prepared. After the scolding the bakery guy just walked away with his tongs. My family was confused. We really didn’t know what had happened, but the lady in line behind us apologized to us in English as if she were somehow responsible for the angry baker. She then stepped in and helped us get our order taken care of. Once we had our delicious baked goods my son conjectured that the reason the baker was mad was because he had to wear his sister’s pants to work. (The baker was wearing those Capri pants that German men wear.)
Tomorrow: The Lunch Bakery