Do You Speak German?

German? Why would I speak German? I never had that kind of time.

I lived in Vienna for ten years; when I left, I spoke the same German as I arrived: zero, nada, niet!

Vienna was never Austria to me. Vienna was the world, which was way more significant than the 8 million people strip of land between Italy and the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Slovakia, and Hungary.

For my first 18 months in Vienna, I worked in English for a French company. My boss was Austrian, but he had chased life worldwide enough not to feel like one.

I played in a band every Tuesday, but it sounded like a joke: “There’s an Italian bass, an Argentinian drummer, and a Dutch singer…” – Yeah, that’s for sure!

“That’s for sure” was the name of the band. And yes, we sounded like a joke.

My favorite food in Vienna was sushi. The most authentic sushi was served by Japanese masters who took the order in German. I took a few classes, and I knew enough to order food. But in Japanese, not German. Long story short, I always made sure to get my sushi order right

In ten years, I only met one person who did not speak any English at all. He was a Polish plumber I had to call urgently on a Sunday morning because the inlet of the washing machine was shut, and I needed my clothes done for the following day.

He arrived 20 minutes after my call. We communicated with hand signs. I pointed at the inlet. He grabbed the wrench and fixed it right away. So I shouted: “Super!” And he smiled, offering his business card and an invoice.

The invoice’s header had his name printed: “Mario.”

So my eyes opened up wide, and I said, “Dude! You are a plumber, and you are super! And your name is Mario! How amazing is that?”

He did not understand a word, looking at me puzzled.

Another moment of greatness, entirely lost in translation.

I lived in Vienna for ten years, but life is too short to learn German.

This essay is an assignment for Write of Passage #10, a cohort-based online writing course I’m attending.

I want to thank a few people who helped me edit my initial draft and provided valuable feedback during the creative process: Christin Chong, Chinwe Uzegbu, Yannick Hallas, Ed J, Mayuran Sabesan, Ishan Shanavas.





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