As you may or may not remember, my host dad works at a bed and breakfast style hotel that has been in his family for generations. This quaint restaurant is just across the German border in Austria, and is set in a breathtakingly beautiful field surrounded by mountains. This is the place where you may have seen my dinner pictures. You know, the future-eating-for-dinner-cows-in-the-field pictures.
What I haven’t talked much about is that they’ve been going through some turnover is staff lately and unfortunately as the busy Holiday season begins they’ve found themselves extremely low staffed. As you may or may not know, I worked for several years as a waitress, 2 of those at an Austrian restaurant in Minnesota. While my work history actually has nothing whatsoever to do with this story, it was brought up several times to calm my nerves about the inevitable.
For the past 2 months there’s been talk about me helping out at the restaurant. The previous (American) Au-Pairs had done this and been fine, and my host mom sees it as a way for me to both help them out and make a little money on the side. I actually enjoy waitressing, but I’ve been quite adamant about the fact that everything changes when you don’t speak the language. They didn’t seem to think that was an issue. I don’t know how you can not see that as an issue.
The day finally came. Things have been getting so busy and some of the workers just need a bit of help. I’m not expected to actually talk to any customers, just help make drinks and clear tables. So at 5:30 this afternoon, after a couple glasses of prosecco, I found myself behind the bar at an Austrian hotel. Learning the layout from a woman who doesn’t speak English. And praying that at no point during this night will anyone try to speak to me.
Funny thing happened. People spoke to me.
They spoke with such confidence in my knowing exactly what they were saying! Really what I heard was slnlwelkfd vljaoiawejl klafdlkjaejn fjlfdlj kjhdafsjlasf djfljalkjdf. Or something like that.
Ok so I do know some German by now. What I heard was more like; “Excuse me, shbsh shbsh shbsh another shbsh please?” Or “Good afternoon, can I please shbsh shbsh?” It’s almost more terrifying half-understanding a language because you kinda get what they’re saying, but you miss the important parts. I’m also just slow to understand, which is totally normal for someone who’s been in the country for 2 months; a lady asked me for sugar with her coffee, which I actually understood. As I was walking away from the table. ‘Delayed translation brain syndrome’ I call it. So there was this awkward: stop-while-I’m-walking, realize-she-asked-me for-something-and-I-didn’t-respond, backtrack, say yes, then leave again for the bar. **deep breath** How in the WORLD did I end up here?!
One man asked me for what I thought was another fish. Problem is I: a) wasn’t sure that is what he asked me for and b) wasn’t sure if what he was eating was even fish. I went back to the waitress who was training me (the one who doesn’t speak English) and in my broken German tried to explain that I thought he had ordered another fish… but in the end just jumbled out “I think he wants a fish. but I don’t know. I have no idea what he said to me.” Maybe it also had something to do with the fact that I can’t hardly pronounce some of these dishes, much less remember what it’s called.
Simple instructions are sooo much harder- simply telling me that the beer I’m looking for is in the cooler under not over the counter took about three tries before I tuned in enough to hear the word “under” and translate it to help me out. If nothing else I have a greater appreciation for any and every person trying to find work when they don’t speak the language. I felt so helpless and slow and even though the people I worked with were super nice about everything, it’s only natural that you would laugh at someone who doesn’t understand you when you ask them to grab the ketchup from the fridge.
All in all it was fine. They had picked a really slow night to train me in on and there were very few customers. I spent a lot of time doing nothing. The night was not nearly as horrible as I could have dreamed it up to be, and honestly I trusted them enough to believe them when they said I could easily make it work. Still. What an experience. They’re eager to have some extra help behind the scenes so I’ll probably be back. My host mom has been trying to get me excited about working there this summer during beerfests etc., since last month. So it’s very possible there’s more stories to come from this venue.
My time in Germany has already had me crossing items off a bucket list I never made. Usually I end up in my room afterwards saying; “wait… what?” The 4-year old likes taking pictures with my phone and the other day she captured this one: it’s not an interesting shot or anything but I think it captures my attitude towards these scenarios. Caught in mid-motion, with my attention pulled away from what I was focused on. Willing to try something new but per usual don’t really know what’s going on. The “wait, what?” face.
Nevertheless, I can now say that I bar tended in Germany. Austria to be exact. It wasn’t too bad. I guess pouring beer and schnapps is kinda a universal thing.