Lost in Translation

Early in our marriage, Scott became an Air Force officer and was assigned to navigation school near Sacramento. Mather AFB was the only nav school for the US and its allies, so the base had officers from several other countries. Scott and I became acquainted with some of the German officers and their wives. Since Scott had lived in Germany during high school, and I had minored in German in college, we sometimes tried to communicate in German. The German couples tolerated our trying to communicate. Most of them could speak English much better than we could speak German so most conversations were in English. Although we met several couples, Günther and Sophie B. were the couple that we spent the most time with.

The wives for the most part did not get jobs for the year they were in America. I wasn’t working either, so we wives would occasionally hang out together. We learned from each other. I explained how to use vanilla extract because they used vanilla infused sugar which was not readily available. They showed me how to make rouladen which I enjoyed eating, but never attempted to cook on my own.

When I think about our time in Sacramento and our interaction with the families from Germany I have many pleasant memories, but three things especially make me smile.

First, in March and April that year, Sophie and her friends started sun tanning beside the pool of their apartment complex. The pool wasn’t even open yet. The temperatures were only in the 50s and low 60s. I thought they were crazy, but they assured me, “This is summer.” We left California in early June of that year, but I often wondered what they thought about summer when Sacramento’s June and July temperatures went over 100° F.

Second, my attempts at speaking German provided amusement to the women from Germany. By the time Scott and I were in California, it had been two or three years since my last college German class. I found myself speaking slowly because I had to think about what I was saying and how I pronounced it. Once I started to say something to Sophie, but as soon as I started everyone started laughing. I was bewildered. I knew I hadn’t said anything that funny. Finally they explained to me that because I was talking slowly, my pronunciation of Sophie sounded the way their dialect said “as a pig.”

Finally, our attempt to introduce them to root beer was a huge flop. Scott and I had invited Günther and Sophie to dinner one evening. I don’t remember the menu, but I can’t forget that Günther was willing to try root beer. Because Scott loves root beer, he assumed that Günther would love it too, so Scott just handed him the can rather than pouring out a sample for Günther to taste. Throughout the evening, Günther sipped on the can of root beer. When Scott asked Günther about the root beer, he made polite responses. Finally near the end of the evening, Sophie asked about it. Günther offered to let her taste it. She took one small sip and blurted out, “Zahnpasta.” I immediately understood why Günther had not enjoyed the root beer. Embarrassed, I offered him something else to drink. I thought he was extraordinarily polite. Apparently the toothpaste they used had the same flavor. Can you imagine drinking carbonated minty fresh toothpaste without asking your host for a different beverage?

 

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