It may sound a little cheesy but we really couldn’t have done the road trip in Bavaria without the German that I learnt. There were the obvious benefits of being able to understand people when they spoke German (at least a portion of it anyway) and to order a coffee in a cafe, but there were many things that wouldn’t have been possible with my basic German mumblings.
Most major European cities, like London, Paris or Rome, will have a majority of people that can speak English due to the sheer volume of English speaking tourists that visit. It also seems to be the common travelling language, like in business, for people who speak a less commonly spoken language like Icelandic or Japanese. This means if you go to Rome the vast majority of menus will be in English, it’s likely that all staff will speak English too and so you won’t have massive difficulty getting around or doing everything you want. Small villages in Bavaria, on the other hand, are a different kettle of fish.
The Romantische Strasse is a tourist pull in the area but there are many of the little villages on the route that don’t get a large number of English speakers as they aren’t next to the main attractions. This meant that if you didn’t know German then you might be able to point at something at a cafe and they would understand you wanted a coffee and strudel, but other than this you would be out of luck.
One of my favourite holiday activities is to ask for recommendations in restaurants and cafes or to find out what certain food is called so I can research it later or order it again. Once I had learnt a few simple phrases like Können Sie mir etwas empfehlen? (Can you recommend me something?) or Wie sagt mann das? (What’s that called?) I was able to do this with little trouble. Obviously, I didn’t always understand the response but it was fun to try. In one particular cafe I ended up getting a conversation with the two servers about what was in a particular strudel, half apple and half raspberry if you were interested, and how strudel is the same in English because it came from Germany. This is something that would have been completely missed if I hadn’t tried my hand at their language. It reminds me of this famous quote:
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela
We also found that there were many restaurants and Gasthaus that didn’t have an English menu or they did but it was restricted to a small portion of the menu. As the way to my heart is through my stomach this was a loss I wasn’t willing to accept. Even when they gave me an English menu I would always spend time, much to the dismay of my long suffering Fiancée, checking both menus together than nothing was missing before I made a decision. At one Gasthaus in Lindau, a small town next to Lake Konstanz, they had a foreign language menu that had most of the English missing so I ended up having to translate from the Italian to figure out what everything was. After 5 hours of driving I was clearly too tired to think German but Italian was still hanging in there. I’m not suggesting you have to learn two languages to understand a menu but without both, or either, I wouldn’t have had the best meal of the holiday; a massive Bavarian mixed grill. Yum!
Next up in the series will be my advice for getting around the issue of someone switching to English whenever you speak. Spoiler Alert! The answer isn’t to use English.
Ciao for now.