Friday, August 25, 2017

Pesky Language Barrier or Panic at the Grocery Store

http://www.ineichen-ag.ch/uploads/images/Gallery/Coop-City/fro_20150423_6604-Bearbeitet.jpg
This is where I shop, Coop City Zug: 1st floor is a clothing department store with shampoo and make-up, 2nd floor is the grocery store with a Bed Bath and Beyond type section, and the 3rd floor is a huge toy store, appliances (big and small) and bathroom remodeling stuff!


No matter what language you speak or what country you live in, you gotta eat. And unless you have a limitless supply of money to go to restaurants, you are going to have to go grocery shopping.


During our first few weeks here in Zug, Maureen and I would go grocery shopping together. We had our system: we each carried a hand basket filling it with items from our list, then I would smile and nod while handling the payment with the cashier and she would bag the groceries - no baggers here! Then we juggled the bags between us to walk home. But now Maureen is back in school and I am flying solo at the grocery store. Actually, going to the grocery store alone has been fine except when that pesky language barrier comes into play. 

Generally, when interacting with a stranger in Switzerland, you have a 50/50 chance that they will speak English. If they do speak English, they will usually default to English if they know you don't speak German. Most of the time this is very helpful, but sometimes it can be frustrating because we want to practice our German (though we are infants in our language acquisition). On the other hand, if a Swiss stranger doesn't speak English, gesticulation and context can go a long way...until anxiety enters the picture. That's what happened the other day. My poem below shows where my mind went when I panicked at the grocery store.
Panic at the Grocery Store

The cashier's insistent jabs 
in the air in front of me
feel like needles under my skin.

With increasing irritation
(and possible rage?)
she repeats the same German phrase.

Each air poke and intonation
makes my brain constrict and
go into lock down.

Entschuldigung, ich spreche kein Deutsch.*
Ich verstehe nicht.*
None of the phrases I learned 
from our German tutor or
practiced  on Duolingo
enter my mind or travel 
down to my lips.

Eventually the annoyed woman
behind me removes the rolling 
hand basket from my trembling hands
and puts it where the cashier 
is pointing.

I find my voice,
"Lo siento, gracias."**

My high school Spanish
teacher would be
proud. 

©2017, Bridget Magee. All Rights Reserved.

*German translation:  
Pardon me, I don't speak German. 
I don't understand.

**Spanish translation:
I'm sorry, thank you.

10 comments:

  1. Yes! You describe the experience perfectly. I love the ending. It appears second and third languages get stored in the same place in the brain. When we lived abroad I also had a hard time with metric amounts. How many grams of ham does a person need? Remind me to tell you about the time I went out to buy our kids some hermit crabs in Hong Kong. You seem to be having a wonderful adventure!

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    1. Thank you, Liz! I appreciate a fellow expat affirming my experiences. Hong Kong would be amazing (and daunting) place to be an expat. Yes, I'd love to hear the hermit crab story! =)

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  2. Bridget,I enjoy the content and the way you tell the story. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

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    1. Thanks, Jeanette! I'm glad you are sharing our adventure with us here. There are more stories to come... =)

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  3. Must be a Magee thing. So far Anna has has used French-Spanish, Danish- Spanish, Croatian-Spanish, Italian-Spanish and Slovenian-Spanish. Clearly Espanol is really the worlds language!!

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    1. Yay, Anna, great minds think alike - en Espanol! Next month she will be able to practice her German-Spanish. =)

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  4. Never mind my dear
    foreign language fear.
    If you have the time
    you could try a mime.
    If it fails to take
    the old Magee fake
    is simply to cry "lo siento"

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    1. Nice, Dave! Your use of mime in your rhyme is divine! =)

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  5. Oh my, I've had my fears & problems when staying on the French side of St. Martin, & I was a French major. The kindness of that person behind you is good to hear. Keep at it, Bridget! Your poem showed the tension beautifully - argh!

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    1. Thank you, Linda! Yes, fear gets my tongue at times - like this time! We hear French on the street here as well - that's a whole other language barrier. =)

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