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Missing the exit towards the Munich airport on highway no. 9, in between the Crossing Newdriving (Kreuz Neufahrn) and Allhousing (Allershausen), you will find the river "Amper". It had been laughingly explained to me that the river's name was Afrikaans for "Almost". Years later, tired after work once more I got lost and used this opportunity to take a picture of the infamous river sign.
The Peaceful Tooth...
As another toothache hit a colleague the day before driving up to Vienna, we would reminiscent old times, when I had taken him to the Vienna Tooth Clinic. Attached to the University, it was the surest way to get an immediate emergency appointment. In return, you might encounter a bunch of students peeking into your open jaws. But we like "Jaws," don't we? At that time my colleague vanished for an hour or so. I started checking for back doors, when he came out of the examination room, screaming: "Butchers!" They finally agreed on a provisionary arrangement, as he refused to have the tooth pulled - ne hvala, mesarji!
Sometime later, when I got a new tooth crown myself, I would fondly remember the newspaper advertisement: "Every Austrian his crown - Jedem Österreicher seine Krone." When I almost closed my jaw too early, after a short yawp, my dentist would joke about the own fingers: "And then there were only nine - Da waren's nur mehr neun." A dental variation of the nursery rhyme "Zehn kleine Negerlein - Then little Indians".
Experiences with occasional visits by another colleague were even more drastic. We would mostly work together remotely, for every time he travelled to Vienna no less was at stake than world peace - paz mundial, por favor. First he visited us on 9/11 and the next time he came by when war was declared to Iraq. Recently, I asked him, whether he was behind the volcano eruption in Iceland, but he denied. Anyway, the peaceful truth is that I was planning to invite him over for 2012. But that is another movie... Ay, caramba!
Almost made it...
Almost, not quite, soon, later... they all share one thing: They are words used in excuses. Sometimes "almost" and "nearly" are not good enough though. In our case they are part of one of those little stories, which after a while become anecdotes. Some people fondly remember those dull moments that mean so little and yet so much. A small step for mankind, to wrongly quote the first man walking the moon, a big step for oneself, as far as human interactions are valued.
There had been such a good and healthy laugh, when driving a colleague from South Africa to the Munich airport after a training session. While talking too much in the middle of a construction set, I had of course missed the right lane over to highway 92. Then taking the next exit in order to go back, there was this winding road uphill. But instead of leading to the bridge over the highway it was just going downhill again, and so we found ourselves back on the same side of the road. In the next second we were crossing a river and a sign gave its name as "Amper". Learning that this is also the word for "almost" in Afrikaans, we laughed together all the rest of the way.
Over years, one may find that he or she has lived a life full of anecdotes. Let me encourage you not to lose these valuable memories, but continuously share them to prevent these memorable moments from fading into fruitless obscurity. Finally, one advice how to start up a rich conversation. Just ask: "What's new in the neighbourhood!" The reply may leave you behind, totally bewildered and amazed.
Almost home... A Late Night Story
It had been another long and tiring working day in Germany. Driving back after hours, as I had skipped lunch break earlier that day and with two small traffic jams behind me, I was the more looking forward to a small meal in the evening. Stopping about halfway at the first "good" motorway restaurant across the Austrian border, I was also going to do something good for the car and invited it for a round of the better quality gasoline at the petrol station. I went to the gas pump with the green "Ultimate" sign and started filling up the car.
About three hours later I said good-bye to the friendly service man from the emergency roadside assistance, who had helped me to pump out the already half full car tank. I also shook the hand of the nice gas station attendant, who had helped me to push my car to the side after I had learned the hard way that lately Super gasoline was also labeled "Ultimate", just like Diesel. He dismissed me with the words: "Musst Du kucken - You need to look." As my late English teacher at school would have put it: "You worked with your fingers, not with your head." I made it home long after midnight after that exciting late night story, very late actually.
Tick without Tack
It all started with an e-mail, informing me that I had missed my tick vaccination appointment with the local works doctor during a business trip to Germany. The American colleagues next to me met my remark with initial incomprehension followed by increasing interest. Explaining that the danger of being bit by a contaminated tick was non-existent in urban areas and rather happened in the woods or in parks, it turned out that she had been jogging in a park in the morning.
Although I made clear that the shot was really optional and got advertised in huge billboards only to be on the safe side, there were follow up questions: "Why don't we get that shot when we travel overseas?" The disease the little bloodsuckers could transmit was quickly explained as FSME and slowly translated to tick-borne encephalitis. And no, it wouldn't affect the liver but the brain. A local's clarification that just South-West-Bavaria and Austria were contaminated was met by general relief. Another colleague would teach us that ticks are called "garrapata" in Spanish - not to be confused with the song of cockroach "la cucaracha", by the way.
Waiting for a lift to a nearby restaurant, the American guest pointed at a car's license plate. It read: FSME. Conversation over dinner circled around this and that, decreasing national debt, avoiding military draft and visiting local sights, such as the "Disney castle" Neuschwanstein in the south-west of Munich. King Louis of Bavaria only had little time left to enjoy his miraculous palace, or as we put it: "It was a big project and shortly after deployment he passed away." One colleague asked what he had died of, another knew that he went mad in the end. The table suddenly went quiet, you could hear a pin drop or a clock tick, as the American colleague loudly repeated my vague speculation: "Probably he got bitten by something!"
That attractive, winning and brightly shining smile is one thing everyone likes to be known for. But just remember... who laughs last laughs the best. And this may include your dentist!
During a week of software application training in Munich, one evening was declared ladies' night out. Going shopping in Olympic park while the guys typically assembled at a beer garden watching a soccer broadcast, after either the shops had closed for the night or their credit card limit was exceeded, the girls decided to drive up to a nearby restaurant. It took them some time to find a parking spot, but finally they were all at a table, selecting yummies for their tummies from the menu. Getting ready for ordering the dinner, they were addressed by someone else than the expected waiter. They found themselves escorted out by no less than four policemen. Next thing they knew was that they were being searched and questioned for driving suspiciously slowly with a fishy black car in the wicked black night.
Coming from Germany, Spain, Poland and the UK, the ladies were confused with an international gang of con men, actually con women so to speak, who had been seen in the neighbourhood picking pockets while asking people for change. It is an old trick to distract people, while snatching their wallet. Kind of like the comedians Laurel & Hardy as gypsies in "The Bohemian Girl", plucking their fingers into a passerby’s eyes to tell one's fortune, while secretly reaching for their wallet with the other hand. Luckily, our suspicious colleagues could prove their innocence and were not taken into custody at the next police station - we would have bailed them out for sure after some time. When they joined up with us later on, we were still laughing and joking that one of the ladies felt attracted enough to one of the fancy, uniformed gentlemen to take down his phone number... 911.
A group picture of the training participants showed the broadly smiling ladies sitting up front. When we passed the photographs out, the comment was heard: "We really look like a gang of pick pockets!" Discussing the importance of hands-on/on-the-job training, an illustrative example would come up: It's a bit like training pickpockets in a classroom - they'll think they know what they need to do, but once they get out on the street..." What shall we say, if this story wasn't true, but it is, we couldn't have made it up better.
Listening to the Phil Collins classic "In the air tonight" nowadays makes me think of an unusually light parcel, containing an unreachable advertisement. The picture was taken two days later.
Up in the Air
One morning I received a package. "It was very light", the receptionist told me after carrying it to my table. Turned out to be VERY lightweight. When I opened it, there was a balloon in it, an advertisement. On my way back to the reception desk, I showed it to the cleaning ladies, who take care of empty boxes. One opened it, and was surprised. The balloon floated into the air. But the room - a part of the former warehouse - was so high that I couldn't get it down even standing on a ladder. "I don't need it," I told them, and "it will come down again, eventually." There had been a training voucher in the package, and the activation code... attached to the balloon right under the ceiling! My witnessing colleague found it a good example, how life's promotion code can get out of reach.
Focus on: Waiting for Waiters
After work we went to an American bar called Louis. We had a quite funny waiter, actually you could call him funky. Probably he though the same about us. As he kept forgetting things, he told us a story from his school days, when his teacher made him write the word "Focus!" on his hand to help him concentrate. Misunderstanding my foreign accented order of a "root beer with ice", he started offering me various whiskeys and scotches. But all I wanted was that American "Almdudler" so to speak. Next time he came by, he had forgotten the root beer, so I asked him for a pen and for his hand. Writing "Focus" and "root beer" on it was a most unusual way to place an order. It helped and shortly after the waiter brought my drink... but without ice. Our table's reply was obvious: "Focus!"
The next day a colleague advised me never to teaser people who bring you food, as you just don't know what they do behind the kitchen walls. Not my cup of tea, I thought, until another broadly smiling waitress took my order of cappuccino coffee and a glass of water along with it. A few minutes later, she served me a light brown brew. We could actually see through the full glass. It turned out that she wanted to do me a favour and watered down my coffee for me. Anyway, I got it exchanged against regular American coffee, which isn't much stronger either. I guess, I am still waiting for that waiter to understand me.
Welcome to Yurp...
Flying back from the UK, when I tried to read the Guardian paper, I stumbled over this cartoon about George W. Bush's first overseas trip in 2001. The drawing as such wasn't especially funny, but I will definitely remember the famous first word of the most powerful world leader, the U.S. President himself on the gateway out of Air Force One. Before for the first time in his life setting foot on European soil, he would assure himself by asking his senior staff in typical American slur: "Is this Yurp? Are those people Yurpeans???" Stories about stereotypes can be quite amusing, if not taken too seriously. What I will always remember is a colleague's remarkable quote: "In Argentina we eat cows and smoke Camels." So much for today on tasty beef steak and smelly cigarettes, I guess. Thanks go again to the kids for colouring my referring sketch. To the girl for the clueless camel and to the boy for the green-eyed cow? So much for "Eating Cows & Smoking Camels..."
The Me Too-Story...
Have you ever struggled with a foreign language? I certainly have, as did some quite prominent people. The other day I received a story from the Far East, joking about former Japanese Prime Minister Mori. Before visiting Washington, he was supposedly given some basic English conversation training. His instructor told him to shake hand with the US President, back then Bill Clinton, and say 'How are you." Upon Mr Clinton's reply 'I am fine, and you?' he should answer 'Me too.' When Mori actually met Clinton he mistakenly said: 'Who are you' (instead of 'How are you'). Mr Clinton, a bit shocked, still managed to react with humour: 'Well, I'm Hillary's husband, ha-ha..' After Mori's reply 'Me too, ha-ha" there was a long silence in the meeting room... A feigned phone call between US President George W Bush and his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice comes to mind, where she tried to explain: "Hu is the new leader of China." While the US President kept insisting: "That's what I want to know! Who is leading China?" The situation escalated as they mixed up everything from "Yes, sir" and "Yassir (Arafat)" to "Coffee" and "Kofi (Annan)."
Following new trends...
Saying good-bye can be sad but also hopeful, in case there is a chance to meet again. As part of an overseas assignment, we would establish the tradition of having a Last Supper. A nice dinner together with a tragic touch before someone would leave, typically accompanied by the song "Mama, I'm coming home". And there was last Bowling one day, which also turned out very well (not the score, just for the fun of it). Until one American colleague yelled "Tequila frame" and the other still cleaned the alley with a spare. Preparing to throw down the then ordered Tequila shots, one colleague mistook the Parmesan cheese from the Pizza for the salt shaker and put it on his Lemon. Notified by the others, he immediately brushed the cheese off. A Korean colleague was still giggling the next day, when reminiscenting the comment: "A new trend?" And so we may have a lot of work to do, but sometimes get a little fun out of it as well. Always hoping that one day we will meet again, maybe.
Using antique language...
Talking to Swiss colleagues can be an adventure. Probably more for them than for me, being somewhat used to their pronunciation from old times with relatives. When colleagues laugh after you used the Austrian expression "Strohroehrl (straw pipey)" for straw, it can help the positive dinner atmosphere (and I think somewhere north I had heard "Strohhalm - straw blade" already). Anyway, in Swiss German it is usually referred to as "Roehrli - little pipe." But then again it may hit you hard, when asking a colleague - of the same mother tongue (in theory) - to urge for something and get a response like: "What do you want me to do?" Looking up the just used German word "urgieren" in the dictionary may reveal it as old fashioned, only used in Austria any more. This is when you definitively do not feel "hip". But then again as the old saying goes - at the end of the world everyone wants to come to Austria, for here certain things happen ten years later (and then more moderate).
Available-to-promise calculation during order fulfillment usually struggles with one thing: Running out of stock and resulting TNA's, short for temporarily not available items. Walking through the San Diego Zoo, we found out that the same can happen to... animals?
The old FF-word...
It had been quite natural to me to point people to text passages by saying "refer to page 5 ff." Only later I found out that ff was only used in German to indicate following pages. At the same time, knowing something "from the FF (aus dem Effeff)" would mean to know it very well. The term is said to originate from 17th Century merchants, describing groceries as "finissimo - very fine." Among kids, "FF" is short for the local cartoon characters "Fix & Foxi," two red foxes, which are still remembered in common vocabulary. Even during military service, some corporals wanted to wear us out at the basic training until we were "fix and foxi (like the foxes)" instead of "fix und fertig (completely done)." Among jokesters, "FF" is the misspelled abbreviation for "Viel Vergnuegen - Have (much) fun!" In English though it can stand for "Friends Forever!" When people with varying cultural background communicate, there are many assumptions and sometime you get that funny look in return. So much for experience with "the abroad." Sounds like a horror movie, doesn't it?
Bloopers cannot just be found in school essays or other funny stuff kids say or write. Occasionally, also adults contribute to the long list of unplanned situation comedy. At times when the protection of nonsmokers was not heard of yet, especially when they formed the minority, coming home in the evening it was necessary to explain that one had only attended a monthly management meeting and not paid an extended visit to a nearby pub, even if the smell of the clothes would suggest otherwise. Despite one being regularly assured at these events: "Anyway, I only smoke every second cigarette!" Lively discussions about very innovative and costly proposals, among others led to a very original statement, summing up a possible reaction: "That'll kick the doctor out of his boots!"
Plans for the release of a business partner's "Success Stories of the Year" would lead to a biting remark about nominating the "Employee of the Century" as well. Gaining more attention than planned, it was quickly transformed into an internal competition for electing the "Friendliest Employee," another contribution towards positive working atmosphere. Luckily, the initiator only reached second place in the ballot count. The winner was awarded at the following Christmas dinner with a bottle of champaign. Receiving a shiny golden coin on the occasion of an anniversary is also great. I was still shaking hands, when the lid of the box with the coin in my left hand would slowly close from the tremble. Interrupting the handshake for "one moment, please", it was quickly reopened under the astonished eyes of the counterpart. Later on, my courteous offer to snap a picture of a colleague with her own camera led to a friendly twinkle with her eye, coupled with the question: "How do I look?" My surprised answer "Same as ever" was followed by a fireworks of collegial advice, convincing me that one always have to respond to a lady that she looks dazzling.
Powerful Austrian caramel candy with milk tooth: The little one is just grabbing the pieces of evidence, as we capture them for the eyes of posterity. And so let me close with one more advice: Keep an eye on those fangs!
Candy: Good for Teeth?
Speaking of dental difficulties, the Austrian "tootsie roll" - a caramel drop commonly known as "Stollwerk" comes to mind. It used to be so popular among the young folk that it served as "kids' currency" for trade-off of any kind. And it would be so sticky that it has been known to pull out teeth, as happening the other day with my daughter's loose milk tooth, which just came out by sticking to the powerful caramel glue made by the Manner candy company. And so we have encountered one rare occasion, where candy is actually good for teeth... at least for pulling them out.
Going in circles...
One night we attended a company dinner near a romantic Bavarian lake (apparently rubbing off to the restaurant's name "Villa Romantica"). Celebrating a Spanish colleague's birthday with a Tiramisu and a candle, we learned that the dessert's name means "pull me up" in Italian, as opposed to "tirami giu - pull me down". Heading back to the hotel, international colleagues from the Netherlands, Italy, Turkey and the Ukraine would depend on my non-existent navigation skills. Quite unexpectedly, a German colleague, who was driving the rest of the best, opened my car door and said: "I have absolutely no clue where we are going." Thinking by myself "That makes two of us", I was surprised when he concluded: "I will follow you!" Quickly getting lost, reportedly the "local" driver behind us commented: "Why is a German following an Austrian in Germany?" Luckily, many turns and laughs later, we found our way, riding some 20 km instead of 5. Everyone seemed to enjoy the late night sightseeing tour... when it was over! Talking about restaurants with fancy names, another time we reserved a table at one called "Vielharmonie". The German name was quickly translated for the international participants: Muchaarmonia, Muchharmony, Velikaharmonija, Moltaarmonia.
In conversations people make a connection by mirroring the behaviour of the counterpart, adapting to similar body language, speed and vocabulary. From a peoples' point of view they replay, even for the sake of taking over common mistakes or sounding Denglish, a popular mix between German (Deutsch) and English. There are those languages with a more sophisticated grammar and it is hard to perfectly master them. In German there are 1000 ways to say "the", as an English colleague put it. However, already in the interwar years, a classmate of my grandfather would discover the strange similarities between English and German. In broad Austrian dialect he would advise the selection of English as a foreign language in High School for it was
almost the same! As he explained, the German sentence "i lern Englisch" is in English: "I learn English!"
It is time to admit that some of these anecdotes had been originally recorded in German language. You may want to check them out to assess the quality of above translation into English, or was it Denglish again? And don't forget to submit a vote for your favourite anecdote, if any. We'll be seeing you then... in the funny papers.
Stilblüten finden sich nicht nur in Schulaufsätzen oder gelegentlich von Erwachsenen fingierten Sammlungen von Kindesworten. Sie bleiben insbesondere dann in Erinnerung, wenn man sie selbst erlebt hat, ungewollte Situationskomik eingeschlossen, und hernach gemeinsam herzlich darüber gelacht. Zu Zeiten als der Schutz von Nichtrauchern noch in den Kinderschuhen steckte, insbesondere wenn sie sich in der Minderzahl befanden, war es abends zu Hause angebracht, zu erklären, dass man nicht im Wirtshaus sondern im Monatsmeeting gewesen sei. Und das, obwohl einem regelmäßig versichert worden war: "Ich rauche eh nur jede zweite!" Angeregte Diskussionen sehr innovativer wie auch kostspieliger Vorschläge führten mitunter zur originellen Feststellung einer möglichen Reaktion: "Da haut's den Doktor aus die Bock!"
Zur Veröffentlichung von "Erfolgsstories des Jahres" durfte schon einmal der "Mitarbeiter des Jahrhunderts" einfallen, wobei es nach Argumentationsschwenk in Richtung positives Betriebsklima tatsächlich zu einer Wahl des "freundlichsten Mitarbeiters" kam. Die Ehrung erfolgte auf der darauffolgenden Weihnachtsfeier, der Ideenspender und Mit-Auszähler wurde zum Glück nur zweiter. Bei einer anderen Weihnachtsfeier führte ein zuvorkommendes Angebot, von einer Kollegin ein Bild mit ihrem eigenen Photoapparat zu knipsen, zu einem freundlichen Blinzeln, gepaart mit der Frage: "Wie schaue ich aus?" Die überraschte Antwort "So wie immer" sollte ein Feuerwerk an kollegialen Ratschlägen auslösen nach dem Muster: "Da musst Du sagen: Blendend!"
Überhaupt muss heutzutage alles so frisch und positiv sein wie nur möglich, was bei Trainings schon einmal zur Erweiterung des Sprachschatzes führen kann. Wenn einem etwa nähergebracht wird, man solle hinterfragen, ja bis zu "jemanden auseinandernehmen - im positiven Sinn!" Und so würde ich mich auch nach und nach verabschieden von einer eher unsicher abwartend-pessimistischen Grundhaltung (um danach positiv überrascht zu werden). Angebracht ist vielmehr eine freundliche, offen-analytische Betrachtung zu spannenden, neuen Anforderungen mit dem Ziel, sie nicht nur zu ertragen sondern mitzugestalten.
Die deutsche Sprache hat es in sich, keine Frage! Eine nette, chinesischstämmige Kellnerin des Lokals mit dem bezeichnenden Namen "Die deutsche Eiche" ist mir mit ihrer Aufzählung weihnachtlicher Nachspeisen in Erinnerung geblieben. Nach dem freundlichen Hinweis, dass es nicht "Leberkuchen" sondern "Lebkuchen" heiße, meinte sie verschmilzt, jetzt wisse sie, warum ihre Kollegen dabei immer lächeln. Zu guter Letzt verabschiedete sie sich mit einem herzlichen: "Guten Rutsch zu Weihnachten!" Die englische Sprache mag mitunter leichter zu erlernen sein als das Deutsche, was schon der Freund meines Großvaters bei der zwischenkrieglichen Entscheidung für eine lebende Fremdsprache im Gymnasium wusste: "Du, nimm Englisch! Des ist fast gleich!" Um in Mundart weiter überzeugend auszuführen: "Weu, i lern Englisch haast auf Englisch: I learn English!"
Fast daheim... Eine Gute-Nacht-Geschichte
Es war ein langer, ermüdender Arbeitstag in Deutschland gewesen. Als ich abends zurück Richtung Heimat fuhr, freute ich mich nach einer gestrichenen Mittagspause und zwei kurzen Staus umso mehr auf eine abendliche Gulaschsuppe. Auf halbem Weg legte ich bei der ersten "guten" Raststation jenseits der österreichischen Grenze eine Pause ein und lud zur Feier des Abends auch mein Auto auf eine Runde besseren Treibstoff ein. Müde erreichte ich die Zapfsäule mit dem grünen "Ultimate"-Zeichen und begann, den Tank zu befüllen.
Knapp drei Stunden später verabschiedete ich mich von dem freundlichen ÖAMTC-Pannendienst-Mitarbeiter, der mir geholfen hatte, den bereits halbvollen Tank auszupumpen. Ich gab auch dem netten Tankwart nochmals die Hand, der mir geholfen hatte, den Wagen zur Seite zu schieben, nachdem ich schmerzlich erfahren hatte, dass neuerdings sowohl Super Benzin als auch Dieseltreibstoff mit demselben "Ultimate"-Zeichen versehen sind. Er sagte noch "Musst Du kucken" zu mir, bevor ich von dannen düste, um nach dieser aufregenden Gute-Nacht-Geschichte gegen zwei Uhr frühmorgens daheim einzutreffen.
Es war am Ende eines ereignisvollen Wochenendes zwischen Familien-, Freunde- und Konzertbesuch, als ein spanischer Kollege nach einiger Zeit wieder kurzfristig vorbeikommen sollte. Das erste Mal war er in einem unüblich kalter und regnerischer September in Wien gewesen, eine regelrechte Überraschung für den in Sandalen aus dem warmen Süden Anreisenden. Er flog gerade noch zurück, bevor die Flughäfen an 9/11 gesperrt wurden. Dann war er nochmals da, als die USA dem Irak den Krieg erklärt hatten. Eigentlich sollte er erst wieder am 21.12.2012 nach Österreich kommen - in Abstimmung mit dem Maya-Kalender, aber aufgrund eines kurzfristigen Assignments hatte es sich anders ergeben. Was blieb, war unsere Besorgnis um den Weltfrieden.
Alle Jahre wieder
Über die Jahre haben sich unzählige Anekdoten angesammelt. Und so erinnern wir uns noch gerne an Missverständnisse, wie die polizeiliche Verwechslung einiger Kolleginnen mit einer internationalen Bande von Trickbetrügerinnen. Oder auch an die überfreundliche amerikanische Restaurantbedienstete, die das Glas Wasser zum Kaffee gleich in denselben leerte, um dem Gast Arbeit zu ersparen und sich selbst etwas mehr Trinkgeld. Wobei sie nicht davor zurückschreckte, den ohnehin bereits wässrigen amerikanischen Kaffee weiter zu strecken, bis man sich durch das Glas, in dem er serviert wurde, regelrecht ansehen konnte. Manche Momente wirkten regelrecht befreiend nach einem langen Arbeitstag auf Reisen, zu Hause oder sonst woanders. Zumeist war es eine Freude, sich nach längerer Zeit wiederzusehen, wenn auch nur kurz... und bündig.
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