Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Ich habe diarrhoea" and other useful German phrases

For as long as I've been traveling on my own, the first I thing I do when planning a trip abroad is go out and buy the applicable Fodor's travel guidebook. I probably picked this habit up from my mom, which I finally realized (it only took me 15 years) means that Fodor's is a bit boring. You know, it's your mom's travel guide.

I was über-excited about the Berlin piece of our trip, since it's a really edgy, transitional place with a strong counter-culture; we definitely wanted to explore outside the bounds of the traditional Fodor's territory. A friend recommended I use the Lonely Planet guidebook for Berlin, which turned out to be great advice, since it led us to the funky, young-people stuff we were craving there. I'd never used Lonely Planet before, but it seemed to be aimed at younger travelers, backpackers, and more adventurous and open-minded people who want to explore beyond the traditional tourist fare.

A great book until, that is, I tried to use the mini-language guide in the back. That is where I realized that the target Lonely Planet audience and the target Fodor's audience apparently have little in common. Aye, aye, aye!

My Fodor's French mini-language guide filled about 10 pages, divided into predictable subsections like "Numbers," "Colors," "Dining Out" and "Useful Phrases."

John had done so well polishing off his rusty French and getting us through some key situations in Paris, I felt compelled to at least try and pretend I had some German skills. I mean, I look German, right? And I'm pretty good at faking accents, so I figured I might be able to conjure up something from those 6 weeks of "Intro to Foreign Language" German I took in 8th grade. Plus, I could refer to the handy mini-language guide that was certain to be at the back of my guidebook, nein?

The Lonely Planet language guide is a whopping 3 1/2 pages. It includes NONE of the above-referenced handy subsections found in Fodor's. It literally does not include basics like "Where is the bathroom?" or even "Excuse me." Was? Instead, I felt my "Those crazy kids today!" generation-gap grow by leaps when I read the following phrases from these random categories:

Phones & Mobiles:
"Ich hätte gern ein Ladegerät für mein Handy."
I'd like a cell phone for hire.

"Ich möchte meine E-Mails checken."
I'd like to check my email.

Symptoms (huh??):
"Ich habe diarrhoea."
[You guessed it . . . ]

But the best phrase, the one that Lonely Planet apparently feels is more important to its readers than "Where is the bathroom?" is this one, from the Going Out category:
"Wo sind die Schwulen und Lesbenkneipen?"
Where are the gay venues?

FABULOUS. Very useful for me, thank you. Hopefully the gays in the clubs speak English, because I ain't gonna be able to ask them where the bathroom is!!

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