Enough German to Get Into Trouble, Enough Spanish to Get Out of Trouble
It was dinner time on a beautiful Monday night in mid-November. My friend, Shawn Michele, and I were sitting on a bench in the surprisingly quiet lower level of the train station in Lucerne, Switzerland. Some of you may have met Shawn Michele at my wedding or at OC, so you know that a) she's awesome and is/would be super-fun to travel with, and b) she has that gorgeous dark-eyed, dark-haired, golden-skinned coloring that often goes with the last name Sanchez. Well, Shawn Michele and I had just spent a delightful day exploring the lovely town nestled beside a picturesque lake in the heart of the Alps. More importantly, we'd just had the best showers anyone has ever paid $8 for, and we were happily eating the first honest-to-goodness chips and salsa we'd been able to get our hands on since leaving the states nearly three months earlier. Waiting for a train to Vienna had never been so pleasant.
So there we were, cramming our mouths full of chips and salsa at an alarming rate, when a shifty, greasy, seriously yucky guy began walking our way. He stopped beside our bench and asked "Sprechen Sie Deutsches oder English?" (Do you speak German or English?)
Now, the truth is, I could have answered yes to both. My German may have been the one-semester-in-class-and-three-months-as-a-tourist variety, but I could adequately shop and travel with my mad Deutsch skilz. But there's something you may not know about me: I have creative hearing. I often hear things that I know (logically) I could not have heard. Words sometimes jumble themselves up on the trip between my ears and my brain. Hilarity and humiliation often ensue.
Now, back to the train station: When the creepy guy asked me, "Sprechen Sie Deutsches oder English?" two things happened simultaneously: My creative hearing had caused me to hear "English" as "Yiddish." So my brain thought, "Why in the world would this creepy dude ask if I could speak Yiddish? Does ANYONE speak Yiddish anymore? Oh! Wait! He probably said English." At the same time, my brain thought, "I don't want to talk to this creepy dude, I've gotta think of something to make him go away."
So I looked up at the creepy dude with my big, innocent hazel eyes and asked him, "Hables espanol?" He just grunted and walked away. Which was a good thing, because if the creepy dude HAD spoken Spanish, I couldn't have kept him convinced I was a native speaker for more than thirty seconds or three phrases, whichever came first. And my lovely travel partner, despite her Spanish heritage, could barely say "Hola." Some help she was! Two seconds after the creepy dude wandered off, Shawn Michele collapsed in a spectacular giggle fit--she thought I was a hilarious genius for coming up with my little Spanish fake-out off the cuff like that. It's a good thing she didn't choke on her tortilla chips, because I may be good at faking out vagrants in Swiss train stations, but I don't know the Heimlech manouver.