Tuesday, August 14, 2007

What we think we know...

Today as I drove to the gym, I was reminded of something funny that happened while we were in Germany.

I have said it before, I consider myself to be functionally fluent. By that I mean, I can speak German reasonably well. I understand almost every word people say - or can make a really good guess - and I can read just about anything, with no problems. Sometimes it takes me hours to read an entire magazine, which if it were in English I would breeze through in no time, but I can read it and more importantly - understand it.

While in Muenster I had decided to rent a car to travel around and visit with friends. It was going to be easier than trying to go by train. That said, H and P made the arrangements online and then P took me to the rental agency to pick it up. He said he would wait outside, while I did the paperwork.

We had gotten there, just as it was opening. I walked in and the agent looked to be in his early forties. I greeted him using my best formal German. He gave me the brightest smile and said, "Oh, you can bloody well speak the Queen's English with me."

I was a bit taken aback, he was a Scotsman to be sure. Now in Muenster there are a number of English soldiers, as there is a large British military base in Muenster. But it had never occurred to me that other Brits would be in the area, working in nonmilitary jobs.

So I gave him a coy smiles and said, "Well, ok, but she is not my Queen."

He was shocked. I think not by what I had said, but by my noticeably non-British accent.

"Oh, so you are Canadian now are you. All independent like."

I smiled again and shock my head. "No, I am, as I believe you say - A Yank."

Now his eyes had gotten big as saucers.

"Let me get this straight, luv. You are a Yank, an American. Here in Germany. You have nothing to do whatsoever with the Forces."

"Right. I am here to visit friends."

I could tell he still did not believe me. It is so strange to me, but most Europeans, well especially Germans, find it hard to believe that Americans would select Germany as a vacation destination, which I cannot understand, but this type of response and conversation has occurred to me over the years that I believe it to be true.

So we start verifying my reservation and so forth and he stops dead in his tracks - mid sentence- shakes his head and says rather sadly, "Oh, well here is a problem."

I figured there must be something wrong with the reservation or something and wait to hear the bomb shell, seemingly hanging between us.

Him looking a bit sheepish, he says, "Well, luv, I haven't an American car for you."

I am thinking to myself, why would I care where the car was made. If it drives, has fuel in it and I can get the little people an all our crap in it, who cares where it was manufactured.

I offer, "Well that is ok, a German car will do."

"No, luv, you know an American car. With an American transmission - you know automatic."

I giggle and say, "Well that is just fine. As it happens, I do not have an 'American' transmission at home in the States either." Which is partly true. We have one standard and one automatic. I much prefer the standard.

He is shocked again. But covers it well, goes on with the paperwork - then stops saying, "You mean to tell me you are a Yank, you drive a standard and you are here in Germany, speaking German and visiting friends. Is that about right."

"Yes. I am here for almost a month on holiday. I studied German at the University and have friends and family in Germany."

"You are an unusual one, Miss." and returned to the task at hand. We made bits of small talk, but nothing really memorable.

I thought of this today, because I find it funny, the things we think we know, the blanket knowledge that we just accept to be true, without much of a thought. Kind of a cultural consciousness, that comes from somewhere. The truths that in our experience are perhaps true, and yet not wholly so.

Sure, many Americans cannot drive a car with a standard transmission - but that does not mean that all Americans can not.

Sure, most Americans cannot speak a foreign language, but that does not mean that all American can not.

But in his experience, that seemed to be the case.

Isn't it funny what we think we know....

1 comment:

IHateToast said...

i get stereotyped daily. it's great fun. my personal favourite is when people heavier then i talk about yanks being fat. okay, sure, but the aussies are catching up fast, so don't talk to me about it.

that was a funny story.