How To Understand & Be Understood

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In Germany, I came face to face with the power of communication. For the first time, I recognised the privilege of understanding and of being understood.

I had to go and get some money from the bank. Unfortunately, the bank in the little outer suburb where we were staying, couldn’t accept our credit card. Apparently in downtown Munich there was another bank that could assist me. To get there I had to catch a train.

Finding the station was easy, but then I had to read the signs. All of them were in German. Apart from me, there were only two young boys waiting for a train. Neither of them could speak English. It must have been a funny sight to any observer as we made a feeble attempt at trying to communicate. Eventhough none of us understood each other, I hopped on the right train, headed in the right direction and landed at the right bank.

Handing my credit card to the teller, she went away to make a phone call to verify the availability of funds. She returned with a stern look on her face and in a very German-English tone she said, ‘You have no funds available.’ I felt as though every eye in the bank was peering at me, while screaming ‘Imposter, thief, cheat…’

To add to the tension, she began to pull out a large pair of sharp scissors while in the other hand she held my card.

She was threatening the only lifeline that would enable us to continue our travels. I pleaded with her and somehow convinced her to wait until the next day, when she could check our balance again. I didn’t get much sleep that night, but sure enough when I returned, the computer had rectified itself and the monies that should have been in the account were there after all.

After the stress of the day, we decided to go into a little restaurant to get something to eat.

Once again, no one spoke English as we were handed a German menu. If it had been handed to us upside down, it would not have made any difference. So we did what any intelligent person would do. We looked for any word that vaguely resembled something in English. I found a word that looked like spaghetti. Yes, spaghetti was our favourite dish. As I ordered, I imagined a beautiful, hot plate of delicious spaghetti, with mince and tomatoes steaming before me. It had been a big day and we were very hungry.

Finally, the waitress came out with a big smile on her face as she placed before us…spaghetti icecream.

I think the next time I go to Germany I’m going to brush up on my German.

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