Another Language Moment

I experienced many language moments in Germany, but i’ll limit myself to two favorites.  The first happened just a couple of weeks after my arrival in Frankfurt in August 1964.  I’d started learning some German on the boat over and immediately enrolled in beginning classes when i arrived, so i was eager to start using my newfound language capabilities.  It was a gorgeous day, hot and sunny, and i’d gone for a walk in the Palmengarten, which backed up against the IG Farben building where i worked.

After a full circuit of the garden, i was a bit sweaty and spotted a park bench on which two German women were sitting, clearly a middle-aged mother and her daughter of approximately my age.  Using my newly acquired understanding of social mores as well as language, i inquired, “Haben Sie Platz frei?  And when they said yes, i joined them.

And then to be pleasant, i leaned forward with a smile on my face and with my politest intonation asked, “Sind Sie heiß?”  The mother recoiled in shock and horror and leaped to her feet.  The daughter burst into laughter, grabbed her mother’s arm before she could run, and jabbered something rapidly.

Then she explained to me in perfect English that in German one must ask whether someone else feels hot or it will mean that i am asking whether she is sexually aroused.   In the politest possible manner.

Meanwhile, here in San Francisco, the birds and the bees are pollinating away with wild abandon.


And here’s the money shot


The other memorable language moment occurred near the end of my stay in Germany when one of the sergeants in my unit mentioned that his girlfriend’s father had told him he approved of the relationship because the sergeant was Irish, and when he told the father that actually his ancestors were all from England, the father insisted that it was the same thing.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the father, not knowing the English word “Aryan”, was saying “Arisch”. Too many implications.

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