Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Language barriers..

My friend Xu Xiaoying visited us the week before last and we had a nice.time She hails from Shanghai; we met in Berlin, Germany, and had really bonded well, in the lab and outside it. The experiments would last until late in the night and we would intersperse it with good talk, and good hot chocolate. Great times together. The common part for us was the fact that neither spoke German. But we were enthusiastic about picking up as much as we could. This ofcourse brought a lot of laughter to our colleagues. It was a fun group of physicists. We would work together and play together. Every few weeks we would all go to a nice pub and have a nice meal, drinks and laughter. The one that we all went to just before Xiaoying left for Shanghai was the most memorable.

Everyone was seated, and the hostess ambled by to take our orders. She had one look at the two of us and decided she was going to deal with us the last. I guess our Asian features, gave us away. Everyone ordered in German. Ofcourse.
And then it happened. She looked at us and raised her eyebrows. "Beer" said Xiaoying, pointing at the specific type of beer on the menu card.
The hostess switched politely to English "Small or large?" she asked, to complete the order.
This threw Xiaoying off completely. Her jaw fell. "Huh?"
I am usually the translator for Xiaoying, not at all because my German was any good but because I was quicker at reading people. I was used to a multicultural environment and could understand faster.
I looked at Xiaoying and translated "klein oder grosse?"
The table fell silent with shock. There was something wrong here, but no one could quite put a finger on it yet.
Xiaoying's face lit up as she understood what the hostess wanted. "Glosse! Glosse!" She almost shouted. So much was her relief that her adorable Chinese confusion between the 'r' and the 'l' spilled out.
It took everyone about 30 seconds to realize what just took place. It was a case of X-files, black holes and space warp all at the same time. Xiaoying and I had high expectations from the hostess to stick to German and to put it all into perspective we had to translate the English into German! No one was more surprised than Xiaoying and I!
Needless to say it was a wonderful start to a long evening with everyone having to pick themselves up off the floor, laughing all the way.

1 comment:

  1. This is so funny. Something similar
    happened when Brenna and I were in Sweden. My sister asked Brenna
    something in English. Because there was a brief delay in Brenna's
    response, my brain immediately felt that a translation was in order...
    So I translated to Brenna, speaking Swedish. Brenna just looked at me
    in confusion. :-)


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