While in Berlin I found it incredibly difficult to know which language to speak. German is the obvious answer of course (the clue is in the title of the country) but since I don’t actually know any German my options were limited to either English or (questionable) Dutch.
Both of these languages have their own merits of course. Out of the two Dutch is the closest to German both linguistically and geographically which should make communication easier. On the other hand; English is the most widely understood language in the world (or at the very least the most widely shouted at people) which should increase the percentage chance of being understood.
Because of this conundrum I often found myself unintentionally switching between the two languages during our visit. Several of my conversations with locals started with a mumbled greeting in Dutch followed by the realization that I might have made the wrong choice, a collection of nods and nervous laughs in case I had, and finally a mumbled English goodbye just to be safe. It’s questionable which one of us walked away from the conversation more confused.
One evening I even had what I can only describe as a moment of panic when an Italian waiter suddenly greeted us in Italian. The addition of another language proved to be too much for my easily confused brain and I suddenly blurted out something that sounded distinctly French in reply (I don’t know any French).
After the French mix up I decided it was best to let my wife do all the talking. This seemed like a very good idea since she actually knows some German… In hindsight I probably should have actually told her this was my plan rather than simply assuming that she would now know that all foreign relations and communications were suddenly her responsibility. My ‘plan’ resulted in quite a few awkward silences because whenever someone tried to talk with me in German I would simply stare back blankly at them, thinking my wife would know she was supposed to heroically save me. Of course, since I had not filled her in on the details of the plan she probably wondered what the hell I was doing.
Either way it turns out there was an even bigger hole in my plan. After my wife had had what seemed like a very long and complex conversation with our hotel manager (with which I had been very impressed) my wife later confessed that she had not understood a word that he had said. In other words it turns out she knows German just as well as I know Dutch.
I should have realized something was up when she accidentally referred to Check Point Charlie as Check Point Charlie Chaplin.