I knew, of course, that there would be a language barrier when I moved here. (The fact that the only thing I knew how to say in German was “Gesundheit” before getting on the plane was a small clue.) I’m really very fortunate: as far as I can tell, most people here study at least some English at school. Under the age of about 40, the vast majority of people I encounter do speak at least a little English. But, I didn’t know that there would be an additional barrier — the fact that I speak American English and not British English, which is what they study.
Whenever I am fortunate enough to come upon someone who does speak English, I still have to remember that an elevator is a lift, a diaper is a nappy, an apartment is a flat, a binky/paci is a dummy, a boo-boo is an owie, a bathroom is a wc . . . I know there are more that I’m not thinking of. (There are many, many, many of these . . . ) It may not seem like a lot, but it adds to the language gymnastics I have to do in my head.
Recently, at a restaurant, I was looking for a place to change Benjamin’s diaper. I tried, unsuccessfully, to ask in German, and resorted to English. I asked three people where I could find a bathroom, and did it have a place to change a diaper. I got blank stares. So, I tried asking if I needed to take the elevator down a floor to get there. More blank stares. They called someone over to help this poor, confused, English speaking crazy woman and I repeated my question to the new arrival. He understood, and upon hearing his explanation (in English) all three of the original guys said, “Oh!” in unison. It wasn’t the English that was the problem, it was the American-ish.