I took my car in to the shop today for some suspension work and left with a feeling of language acquisition accomplishment. When I walked in, I remembered to say “Guten Morgen,” or, “Good morning.” An employee came out of the office and returned my greeting. I asked, “Wie geht es Ihnen?” or “How are you doing?” He answerd, “Gute,” and then asked, in German, if I was dropping off the Volvo. I said yes as I attempted to separate my car keys from my house keys. He said, “Schwer” which means “hard.” I grinned and said, “sehr,” very. I handed him my keys and he handed me a form and asked for my phone number. I didn’t catch what he said the first time so I asked “Wie bitte?” “Pardon me?” He repeated it and I caught “Telefonnummer.” After writing down my number, I asked, this time in English how much it would be. He said, in German, that he didn’t speak English. As I fished in my brain for the German question, the customer who had come in behind me asked for me. As the employee was figuring it up, I said, “Ich habe VAT form,” letting him know I had a VAT form. (As service members we don’t have to pay some of the German taxes and the VAT form is what gets us out of them.) As I walked out, I realized that I’d asked him in English without really realizing it because we had been communicating. It just seemed natural that we would be able to continue to communicate if I switched a little bit to English. It was kind of weird but fun, too. I left feeling really good. I would have been able to do the entire conversation in German if I’d needed to. It took me a couple of minutes while driving home to remember how to ask “how much” in German but I did finally remember. “Wieviel costet das?” “How much does that cost?” Not perfect but good enough for communication, which is what I aim for.
Car Repairs and Communication July 15, 2009