Let me begin this post by stating that after 4 years living and working in Frankfurt, I still don’t speak German. I speak a bit more than I give myself credit for, and I understand an awful lot, but I don’t speak enough. Something I want to rectify, but things keep getting in my way….excuses mainly, but I digress. So you can probably imagine how much German I realistically spoke at age 18 and living in Newark.
It was a nice sunny day in Newark On Trent, birds were singing and my heart was joyful as I left work early to go and visit my parents who were living in Wales at the time. A relatively straightforward journey, truth be told, that began with a quick trip to the bank before I headed off.
Pretty easy right? I mean, people make quick visits to the bank every day. Depending on where you are, you drive to the bank, find a parking space and go into the bank…go back to the car and you are on your way. It gets simpler every time I read that sentence.
So, I am driving through Newark on the way to the bank and following traffic through to where the bank is. I remember thinking that it was pretty busy, but parked my car outside the bank and went in. As it was impossible to start my car without knowing how, I actually left the keys in and the windows down and ran into the bank. When I was stood in the queue, a noise filtered through to me..the noise of someone (not knowing how) trying to start my car. I grab my money from the cashier and bomb outside to see what all the hubbub is about. It is at this moment, as I leave the bank that the dim light of realisation slowly descends upon me and I take in my surroundings for the first time.
Probably the biggest thing that I had failed to notice in my leaving work early euphoria, was that it was Market Day. Not only was it market day…the market was pretty much over. Not only was the market pretty much over, the “traffic” that I had followed into the Market Square, where I had ultimately parked outside of the bank…was all market trader vans that were driving in to take down their stalls and pack them away. Also..as I had parked (quite neatly I might add) on the side of the road…there wasn’t enough room for people to drive their (substantially larger than my car) vans, which had in turn created a giant traffic congestion of vans trying to get out of the market place, vans trying to get into the market place and vans, already in the market place, that were trying to manoeuver into position.
In short, absolute frickin chaos.
The reason for the sound of my car trying to start is now abundantly clear to me…they just want it out of the way. Fair point, thinks I, but how in the hell am I going to get away with this. At precisely the moment that I realise I have made somewhat of a booboo, the trader attempting to start my car clocks me..and starts heading towards me very angrily.
Quick as a flash, I remove my work pass from around my neck. There were two reasons for this…#1 I had come up with a plan and most importantly, #2 I didn’t want this monster to strangle me with it. Onto the plan…
I am not sure why this popped into my head, having left Germany about 2 years previous and having literally no contact with anyone in Germany or the German language during that time, but I decided that I would break into my least stereotypical, English speaking German accent.
Of course, by least stereotypical, I mean quite possibly the most stereotypical, and quite possibly racist, accent I could have come up with. Lots of “Vot iss ze problem mit my car and vy are you startink it?” type stuff with added “I don’t unterstantink yew” thrown in for good measure. I swear, if the producers of Allo Allo had have been anywhere near me, I could quite easily have been the next cast member searching for “Ze fallen Madonna viz ze big boobies”. Alas, they were not around, my chance at stardom passed in a fleeting instant and I was left panicking and sweating that this monster of a market trader was a) buying it and b) not a German speaker….
Fortunately, upon the realisation that I was a foreigner…he proceeded to follow the tried and tested method of speaking slowly, loudly and gesticulating towards my car in an “away from here” motion. It drew quite the crowd, with other people trying to help the guy to explain to me what was happening. We had shouters, we had people making brum brum noises and also the Mime artists…I continued to look suitably confused until I finally jumped in the car. At which point, they were all very kindly guiding me out from where I was parked and away from the Market place.
To this day I still don’t know why none of them thought it strange that a visiting German, with little or no English speaking ability, would be driving a beaten up old Morris Marina…with English license plates.
Ah well…raise your glass to the kindly hearted market traders of Newark