Missing the point
We are living in a small village, and the nearest train station is so small, it has a ticket machine rather than an office with humans. The presence of a train conductor on the regional trains is far more regular than in the UK, however, and on my route into Munich, it is normally one of two conductors. Both are very pleasant, amidst their efficiency, but the male conductor is always in conversation with regulars (whenever his job allows).
Nothing fills me with more dread than someone engaging me in conversation in a situation such as this: it will be a throwaway comment to kick things off and I will undoubtedly require a repetition before understanding unless the context is neon bright in its obviousness. Add a strong Bavarian accent and only glimpses of hoch-deutsch (high-german) into the mix and I quite literally shrink into a shadow of my former self.
A rule I have had to work very hard to stick to is not using my phone in such situations, as I refuse to completely bow out of social interaction but the fear is so very real!
A few journeys in, and I’m recognisable to both conductors (darn my innate British willingness to engage); cue slightly more eye contact, smiles and the dreaded small talk. Now, weather and delays have proven to be topics I can keep up with but the stress of ruining someone’s conversation ‘flow’ due to my incomprehension can sometimes override any chance I have of listening.
The conductor had been chatting with an older passenger and made his way to me after the train left my stop. I hadn’t had time to buy a ticket at the machine due to a punctured bike tyre on my way to the station (and the next train was an hour and a half later – ah country living).
Anywho, I hope to regale the conductor with my story (half prepared already) and settle into it all until he throws me a one-liner and a gesture to the old passenger he was just with. What did he say?! Gaaaaaaargh! Calm down, he’s still expecting a response..”wie bitte?” He repeats and exaggerates the jovial quality. Oh crap. Still no idea.
I make it clear that I still need to buy a ticket and he informs me that I could be fined for no ticket. How did I jump the barriers? I explain there are no barriers and he proceeded to sell me my ticket. All ends well, but I’m left reeling as to what I missed.
At home that evening, I share the adventure with R and he asks me what exactly I had said. It turns out that I had used the wrong word for not wanting to ‘miss’ the train and had used the verb that is used when you yearn for something that no longer exists.
Days later, I came across the conductor and attempted to ask him about that day. Luckily he remembered it well, and was happy to explain (multiple times, and in his best hoch-deutsch) that the older passenger had been a train conductor and was now a train-spotter so when I said that I didn’t want to miss my train (with the non-deliberate yearning of a train obsessed person) he made a joke that he was surrounded by such people.
Needless to say, I’m grateful to him for breaking down my wall on that occasion, even though I spent that 45 minute journey in a state of confusion and embarrassment. No pain, no gain, right?!