The kindness of the multilingual stranger

Sometimes not knowing a language can lead to funny stories or good reasons to blog (see: Learning German through Google translate?). Other times, it can make you feel horribly uneasy.

I think back to all of the nice people who have helped me when I traveled. For instance, in Brazil, a couple of times, young strangers sensing we were having food ordering dilemmas, stepped in to translate for us.

This month, it’s a receptionist at the doctor’s office.

I was referred to a doctor, and because it was when I didn’t have a phone yet, I walked to the office to make an appointment. There was a young receptionist at the front, and when it was my turn, I asked her if she spoke English. “Yes,” she said, to which I internally said, “Phew.” She was so nice and made the appointment for me. She said, though, that I needed to call on the morning of the appointment, because there is a slim chance that the doctor wouldn’t be in that day.

When the appointment day came, I still didn’t have a phone. I was a block away from the office, so I decided I would just stop in this morning to check. The office was very busy, and there were three ladies in the front. One of the women approached me, and it just didn’t seem like she spoke English. So, I tried (in German), “I have one appointment with Dr. X.” Then, my German ran out, so I tried in English. “It’s at 4:00 (showing her my slip).” In Germanglish, “Ist OK?” (The embarrassing part here is that I even did an A-OK signal with my fingers to signal, “Is my appointment still on?”)

A-OK? So embarrassing…

Needless to say, the lady did not understand what I was saying.

Finally, the English-speaking woman came to my rescue and assured me the doctor was in, and my appointment was still on.

Later, when I had to fill out a simple piece of paperwork with my name and contact info, I looked down and really felt like an idiot. I had no idea what any of the boxes meant. She sensed my stress and translated it all for me. Luckily, I haven’t been handed any mountains of paperwork to fill out like I always did in the U.S.

I can now fully understand the gratitude that English-speaking students gave me at my job in the U.S. when I helped them register for courses in either my not-so-perfect Spanish or slow, repetitive English. I feel extremely gracious to the kind people who help me in my life now in English.

My German course started, but it will take me a while to get enough vocabulary to be able to go places and communicate the way I would like to. In my free time, I’m also going to continue with my mp3 German lessons so I can stop using outdated, embarrassing hand gestures and Germanglish that does not make sense to anyone, even myself.

I also am determined not to miss out on any bakery specials as a result of my language ability.

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3 responses to “The kindness of the multilingual stranger

  1. Great post and the frosting on the cake (figured I would stay with your bakery love theme) was your last sentence. Thanks for sharing your time in Germany with us. I’ve read all your posts just thought I would comment here.

  2. Pingback: German mishaps of the day, May 14th | The Traveling Times·

  3. Pingback: The German dentist’s waiting room and Tara | The Traveling Times·

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