Most of the time, I conduct my retail transactions here in German. It’s something I do a lot, and the variations are relatively minimal, so I’ve gotten a lot of practice. You walk up, present your item for purchase, you’re given a price, sometimes they ask if you want a bag, I ask if they take bank card (if that’s how I’m paying), I present my payment, receive my change (if applicable), they ask if I want a receipt, they thank me, I say goodbye. I can do that, MOST of the time, without resorting to English.
Every so often I get a curve ball. The other day, I was paying for the alterations to my dress for the ball, and in between telling them I wanted to pay with my bank card and the part where they give me my receipt, they asked me a question. Not a typical question for that scenario, and I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. It turns out that they were taking a survey and asking for everyone’s home town. It wasn’t the usual “Woher kommen Sie?” (“Where do you come from?”) that I know how to answer, so I asked them to repeat it, twice, until they resorted to the standard question, which I knew how to answer. But, most of the time, I do ok.
But every time we’ve been over to the Rathaus to go ice skating, we’ve failed at renting skates. We do fine with purchasing our tickets and getting a locker key, but we’ve failed each time when we’ve tried to rent skates. Several times, we had to resort to English, and the one time we thought we’d managed in German it turned out we had accidentally purchased a pass to have our (non-existent) skates sharpened. We had to go back and fix it, in English.
I couldn’t understand it. I was reading the German right off of the sign! Why wasn’t it working? Why, in this one instance, were we having so much trouble?
So, I asked my German teacher last night, and now I know. I assumed that what I was reading off of the sign translated to “skate rental” . . . because the sign *has* an English translation, and that’s what it said underneath. So I was saying, “We would like skate rental”, which, although maybe not perfect, was close enough. Or so I thought. A more accurate translation of what I was saying was, “We would like to rent you skates.” And, because my German pronunciation is pretty good, I was very confusing. If I’d been butchering the pronunciation, they probably would have huffed at me and rolled their eyes and figured it out. But I was very confidently and correctly saying, “I’d like to rent you some skates, please!”, and then, I would repeat it when asked.
It turns out, “I would like to rent some skates” is a whole different sentence with a whole different verb. I think next time will go a lot better.