Language is one of the hazards touring foreign countries – like in the Balkans where English is ethnically cleansed. Communicating is about frenetic hand signals and mumbling words, hoping to find some purchase. Only a rude, “sorry, no Ingleesh”.
And as for signage, like street names, most without vowels, makes getting to places stressful.
In Vienna, we are told by the hotel receptionist we need to get to Kaerntner Strasse, the main drag for “vonderfool” shopping. How do we get there? Easy, she says, take the train. Where’s the station? Two blocks away.
So off we go, and board the first train pulling in. We study the diagrammatic map to spot the name of the street, assuming it’s the name of the station. Wrong. Panic sets in, so we jump off at the next station, presupposing we can get directions. Wrong again.
We approach a smartly dressed gentleman, a German with a strong accent. He asks the right questions. Only problem, our answers are wrong. Like, “What station are you heading to?” Dunno,” I answer. “From what station do you come from?” Drat. We realise we hadn’t taken note of the starting station. Dunno, I answer. “What place are you on your way to?” Our collective brains suffer rigor mortis. We’re unable to recall the name of the shopping street. Dunno, I answer.
Still remaining cool he says: “Let me understand. You don’t know where you come from?” Ja, I mean, no. “And you don’t know the station you are going to?” I nod slowly. “And you don’t know the place where you are on the way to?” Ja, I whisper.
He looks us up and down, vigorously shakes his head, mutters “dummkopf” and disappears among the other passengers boarding the train, leaving two lonely souls stranded.
But, thankfully, not for long. A lady train conductor appears on the platform and my Heidi flies into her face. “You must help us. We’re lost. My hubby is old and I’m blonde.”
It does the trick. With a giggle she asks, “What’s the name of your hotel?” Voila! We chorus, “Donauwalzer!” She gets into her cellphone, Googles the name of the hotel, its address and nearest station.
Home and dry. “How was your shopping?” asks the receptionist. “Vunder, fool!” I bark.