Luckily THAT didn’t last. Sure, I was surprised to find out there are still seashells from a long-ago ocean to be found in the Bavarian Forest. And yes, I was interested to hear that the old city of Vienna is home to one of the world’s first Ferris wheels. But if you’re a true provincial like I am, your surprise would soon give way to the smugness we Americans tend to bring everywhere with us.
I mean, it didn‘t take me more than an hour to be smiling indulgently at the inscriptions outside many of the shops and eateries, all gamely aiming at a jaunty, American-style English. “Nonstop buffet!” read the sign outside one such place. “American Rump!” it said outside another. “How quaintly earnest,” I smiled in my smugness. And only after some days did I realize that of all the signs in languages other than my own I could read….…Exactly none. I have no German. I have no Hungarian. I have no Italian. And I’ll admit this fact almost made me feel slightly inferior.
I say ‘almost’ because any trace of inferiority disappeared for me when I traveled on a smaller craft up a narrower section of the Danube where the guide began speaking not only in Hungarian, Italian and German, but also in French.
“French!” I crowed inwardly, because didn’t I just study French in high school? I figured all I needed now was confidence. I envisioned myself with a Parisian waiter’s tiny mustache and in my mind touched its tapering tips.
Then, with an elegant flourish, I began translating for my American friends every French sentence the guide was speaking. And here, without further ado, is what he said:
“Ladies and gentlemen, commence to please yourselves! The suitcase sits upon the cat!”
He pointed to a castle we were just sailing past. “Fix the eyes: on this place are fixed 65 anniversaries, which George dragged under his bottom.” It’s true I didn’t know who George was, but I was getting the gist for sure. I was ON this.
“Eh Bien!” he went on, a common French phrase meaning ‘oh beans.’ “Inform yourselves! In Roman Times George found himself hung from this bridge, a deviant.” Poor George, I might have mused. But I was too busy translating for actual thought.
“Imaginez! To your right, it is seen, a great bubbling from the nose,” he said. Surreptitiously, I checked my own nose. Then he waggled his eyebrows in meaningful fashion. “To your left is found the green plaque in the mouth of the king.“
I nodded knowingly. ‘Those lazy royals,’ I muttered. I’ll confess I wanted him to like me. I wanted him to see that I got it all. I gave him my biggest American smile.
He didn’t smile back.
Expert as I am in translating French words, I couldn’t read his mind of course. Yet in my own mind suddenly flashed the phrase “American Rump!” It was as if we had some kind of mental telepathy. And that was kind of funny, you know, because… well, because who would have thought that here on the river, the guy would be thinking of steak? 😉