I really wish I knew some.  Having just come back from holiday in France, Germany and Holland, amongst others, I realise just how poor at them I am.

The asking of questions is ok, I could do that bit, ish.  It’s the responses I can’t deal with.  Luckily, I worked out on my second foray into Holland during the trip that if a Dutch person replies incomprehensibly to you when you’ve just asked them for something, they are probably just wondering whether you want cream with it.

The real trouble starts when you’re driving perilously close to the three way border between France, Germany and Luxembourg.  Just as you’ve retrieved the dregs of the German you learnt at school from the depths of your brain, you’re not in Germany any more, and what you desperately need to do is put all your doppelzimmers and zahlens away, and bring out your chambres, and l’additions etc… it’s all very confusing.  And then woe betide if you actually wanted to string a sentence together, because you’ve got to stop bunging a load of verbs at the end of your sentence in the hope that they will make it intelligible to your bewildered waitress.  Doesn’t go down at all well in France.

One particularly confusing place to be is a border town.  About half way into the trip we stopped to find a postbox in a lovely little town called Ehnen on the Moselle river.  I spotted one on the wall of a shop.  It was inscribed with the words ‘Briefkasten’ and also ‘Boite Aux Lettres’.  In fact, everything in Ehnen was labelled in German and French.  I wandered into the shop, in the hope of finding somebody who could tell me whether my German stamps would work in this crazy box of theirs.  Unsure what language to attempt my opening line in, I opted for English.  This didn’t work particularly well as the two men in the shop spoke only German, and only French respectively.  This is what they told me, although they were engaged in animated conversation when I rudely interrupted them, so who knows.  I eventually managed to ascertain that my postcards would probably reach their destinations, and I believe they have, so all is well.

The annoying thing is that learning a language properly seems the natural number one priority when you are up to your neck in maps, desperately trying to work out what language you need to ask directions in for this five minute period of your life, but having returned to British soil, and not being able to speak to the waitress in the local caff because she only speaks Polish; everything is nicely back to normal, and the urgency ebbs away.

No doubt next time I go abroad all of this will come flooding back to me, and I’ll wonder why I never did anything about it.

Author: Rachel Wheeley

Comedian, podcaster, full time Mum, based in London, UK

3 thoughts on “Languages”

  1. I am dreadful at languages; I can scrape by in French and that’s about it , although Cantonese learned as child seems to flood back when in the right company.

    You have done much better than I ever would!


  2. all i need is the courage to use the languages i know! so long as no one i know is anywhere nearby i can manage perfectly well but as soon as i have an audience i start doubting and umming and blushing and then just give up. in fact although i’m fairly fluent i don’t think tom has ever heard me speak french…. his accent is appalling but his language is fine so i just let him get on with it.

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