Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Be Careful What You Ask For

I've been taking German classes for just over a week now and am really enjoying it. It's a tough course but it's sooooo much easier than when I learned Japanese in Spanish and Catalan! But anyway, I've been building up my speaking confidence here and there but something happened today to make sure that I stay humble. Believe it or not, this same exact thing happened when I first moved to Mexico many, many years ago...

Back before the days of whereisdarrennow, I still did a fair amount of travel including living just short of two years in Mexico for work. When I first moved down to Merida in southern Mexico, I had no practical knowledge of Spanish but my job required me to interact starting on day one with employees who only spoke Spanish. Fortunately, I was with a small team that was assigned to the project and at least some of the group spoke the language. Let's put it this way, the project would have never been a success if they weren't there...

Even back then I was interested in learning about the culture and language and tried as much as I could to learn the Spanish. Over the two years I ended up learning a lot, which enabled me to later move to Barcelona with only a few hiccups. But, I remember one night during my first week in Mexico in particular when the group went out to dinner. I always liked horchata, which is a rice-based drink popular in Mexico, so I asked my one of my coworkers how to request an horchata. He told me "me gustaria una horchata, por favor" (I would like an horchata, please) so I repeated to the waiter what I had heard.

About five minutes later, the waiter comes back to the table with drinks for everyone and what looks like a bowl of bean soup for me. Everyone in our group laughed out loud because they knew what I had asked for but what I ended up getting was something called arrachera, which, by the way, was really good. I can understand how horchata and arrachera can be confused -- it makes some sense. Afterwards, my friends were nice enough to order an horchata for me and life went on in Mexico.

Flash forward to today some 15 years later and, during my break from class, I'm in a restaurant in Stuttgart, Germany, trying to buy a sandwich and a pretzel to take back to class with me. My German is probably equally as good as my Spanish was back then but I was on my own and had to try so I said to the woman "eine sandwich und eine bretzel, bitte" (a sandwich and a pretzel, please). I was pointing to the sandwich that I wanted, which, in retrospect, I'm guessing helped me to get the right one. She then proceeds to turn around (I was getting my money ready at this point so I didn't notice) and started making an espresso, which she then handed me. Obviously my German is nowhere near good enough to resolve this one so I took my sandwich and espresso, paid the bill, and headed back to school. Unlike the time in Mexico, I'm not sure I'll ever understand how I messed up "bretzel" enough to get an espresso.

So, what have we learned? First, some mistakes end up being very yummy and good while others leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth. Second, be careful what you ask for. You might just get it!

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