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Interkulturelle Fachkommunikation December 12, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
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…or how not to hit it off with your mother-in-law-to-be.

Darlings, apologies in advance. This is going to be yet another of those wot-I-done posts, which I know are of no interest or good to man or beast, and I promise I’ll start posting about global warming any second now, but just quickly let me get this one out of my system first.

The Russian had a birthday, which was metronomically predictable, and we celebrated as metronomically predictably as possible and decided to abuse our bodies with booze, nosh and fags. “Darlink, vee khere 5 year now. Vot our favourite restaurant?” Which should have been an easy enough question to answer, but it wasn’t, and we realised we don’t have one, and thought that going to Berlin, which I’ve mentioned before, wouldn’t quite hit the spot on the festivity stakes.

“Darling, shall we go to that really horribly touristy (probably) arch-German one, called Lederhosen Pumpernickel or something, on that touristy street behind the monastery?” It was a deal, and off we set to Zur letzten Instanz (last resort) without so much as a reservation between us.

According to its website, it’s, “…a place full of history and poetry, of worldly charm and Berlin wit”. ‘Berlin wit’ means rudeness, incidentally. But the interior was just as we’d expected. Lots of dark wood. Waitresses carrying beer. And thankfully, considering we’d entered from utterly deserted streets, it was packed to the rafters. And it wasn’t that touristy after all. The clients were overwhelmingly German (both numerically and on the collective hysterical laughter front). And old. Which was lovely as I can’t bear anyone under the age of 80.

I explained to the boss, a great exponent of Berlin wit in its native environment, that we didn’t have a reservation but could he do his darnedest to find us a comfy spot? He hollered something back in Berlinese, which I didn’t understand, naturally, but we went in the direction that his flailing arm instructed. There didn’t appear to be a free table in the house but further helpful hollering made it clear that we were to take the free corner of the table that the group of four tourists – the only ones in the place, as far as I could tell – had just taken up.

The four tourists were three women and a man. I made some grammatically criminal attempt at politeness and asked if they wouldn’t mind awfully us perching at the unoccupied corner. The buxom matriarch looked at me with disdain and disgust out of overly made-up eyes and answered, in Esperanto, to my surprise, “Sin problemo”.

We made ourselves uncomfortable – I must start taking my own cushion with me to places – and got down to some serious eavesdropping and neighbour-watching. The younger two of the foursome were patently a couple. The older ladies were obviously family of some sort, but the relationships were unclear. And, as it turned out, the young gentleman was German and his girlfriend and her two older companions were Italian.

Which just made for such fucking brilliant eavesdropping, you can’t believe.

Now the youngsters were in love, which was lovely to see, even to my jaded and wizened old eyes. The young Italian lady was wearing a huge, fuck-off ring, so I think marriage was on the cards. And here was the German, doing his filial-in-law duty and taking the in-laws-to-be out, for what appeared to be their first meeting, and show those Italians what Germany was really like. Lederhosen, pumpernickel and all.

As we waded through our kilos of Rotkohl with a ps of main course – all very lovely, actually. Goose me, duck the Russian. And tonnes of it – the Russian and I were still unsure if the bossy matriarch was the mother or not. And who was the second older woman? But eventually the word ‘mama’ was to be heard emanating from the fiancée’s lips and we decided that the second woman was mama’s spinster sister who had only had a few dodgy boyfriends and had come to no good but was taken along to Germany to give a second opinion on this Teutonic interloper in the absence of a father who had, no doubt, been gunned down by the mob in the Sardinian – I heard Olbia mentioned – oregano wars.

The older ladies looked horrified when their Eisbeins (knuckle of pork) arrived. And not surprisingly, perhaps, as the Eisbein comes in one size only: absolutely fucking huge. Desperate Dan would baulk. The spinster aunt picked away moaningly and asked her niece to ask hubby-to-be if he and his friends – a clear dig at him living in shared accommodation and was that all her niece could expect? To live in not much better than a bedsit when didn’t he know who her father had been (before he was gunned down in the Sardinian oregano wars)? – had a dog to take the 99% leftovers home to. Fluttering her eyelashes lovingly, the niece translated this into passable English only for the very unlatin German to answer teutonically literally, and in much better English, that dogs were not allowed where he lives.

Mama would occasionally get bored of not being matriarch and would deem that she needed to take proceedings in hand. She decided she spoke English. “Allora… quando (aside to daughter, “Come si dice quando?” Souffleuse daughter, “a-when-a”) … a-when-a I was-a in Africa…,” “a-when-a I was-a in India…,” “a-when-a my a-daughter a-was-a three-a years-a old, I (aside to daughter, “Come si dice mandare?” Souffleuse daughter, “a-send-a”) … I a-send ‘er to English-a lesson.” “Shoulda fuckin’ sent yourself, luv,” I had an insatiable urge to cry out, in a Cockney accent, but I DID sate the urge, heroically.

And so their (and our) evening continued, with them struggling to overcome the language barrier and us suppressing bitchy giggles hardly a foot away. It all somehow reminded me of meeting my Croatian penpal when I was 14, me wearing a Smiths tie and struggling for words… They decided food was safe territory. Matriarch explained that bananas tasted different in Italy and Africa. Know-all son-in-law-to-be (though not if mama and aunt get their way, I shouldn’t wonder) explained without hesitation that this was down to freshness factors. He explained the difference between the store set by pasta and pesto in the German and Italian psyches. When the couple would drift off lovingly into each other’s eyes, mama and spinster aunt would shake their heads – their decision made – shrug their shoulders, raise their hands and begin utterances with an undisagreeable-with, “Ma!”

The ladies decided to drink the pain away. The bill was ordered. They both lit up elegant, slender, postprandial fags. And do you know what he did? He reached across the table and, without so much as a word, nudged the ashtray as far away from himself as was geometrically possible. The ladies gave each a very knowing look.

Come si dice ‘burn’ e ‘bridges’ in italiano?

Comments»

1. leon - December 12, 2006

It’s always enjoyable to have the linguistic edge on your dining neighbours. Was once in a restaurant with a part of people including a Syrian girl, who was able to listen in on the discussion of the men speaking Arabic on the next table (from the dialect, she reckoned they were Jordanian). When asked what they were talking about, she grimaced and said “the women on this table”

2. pleite - December 12, 2006

A cracker. Brilliant. Am I to assume it wasn’t all complimentary? An Irish friend once told me she and a friend of hers were on the metro in Paris and two Irish men sat opposite them and started talking about them in Irish. The ladies remained silent until they got off and then did their best to drudge up the Irish they’d learnt in school to tell the gents they’d understood every word. Actually, I know my sister’s bollocked Spaniards before too when they unwisely talked about what they’d like to do/have done to the English ladies at the next table.

The Russian and I muttered away in Russian, of course, so they probably thought their secrets were safe in English. Suckers!

3. bowleserised - December 12, 2006

The sentence, “Goose me and duck the Russian” really confused me, but the mental image was pretty priceless.

4. BiB - December 12, 2006

B., I hadn’t even seen the double meaning, which is much more interesting than the original. But I promise it wasn’t an exhortation.

5. Marsha Klein - December 12, 2006

Very funny post, BiB and very funny comment, bowleserised. See, this is my problem with blogging – nothing funny ever seems to happen to me, although I am considering blogging about some “funny” things I’ve heard/ read lately. Bet you can’t wait, eh?

*Sulks*

6. BiB - December 13, 2006

Marsha, post away. You can blog ANYTHING. I WAS saying to Bowleserised earlier, actually, that I worried I was getting to the stage where I might blog, “I had a cigarette,” as I appear to have decided every bloody breath I take needs to be put online, but, as long as you don’t just blog, “I washed my hair,” or, “I had breakfast,” although you COULD blog that, of course, then it’s up to you, and you have a way with words, and use singular nouns after none, which is one of my favourite things in the world, so go for it, and don’t worry if it hits the right spot. Personally, I loved your gloom-post which you took down. But, anyway, it’s all up to you. Blogging is free, free, free.

7. Marsha Klein - December 13, 2006

Aw, shucks, you say the nicest things! My exciting new post is up now and don’t worry, with my track record, another gloom-post is bound to follow sooner or later!

8. BiB - December 13, 2006

Excellent. I think gloom is a greatly underrated emotion. Give it the coverage it deserves when it annoyingly decides to strike.

9. A Blogger - December 13, 2006

I’m agreed with Broke. Gloom is a fabulous thing to find on a blog. A great word, too.

10. Blonde at Heart - December 13, 2006

Loved the story very much. It reminds me of a restaurant in the Jerusalem market where you are usually seated with complete strangers, as there are not enough tables. It is quite an experience, I can tell you.

11. Mangonel - December 13, 2006

Or those skiing holidays – the ones where the staff are GMs and GOs – bugger I’ve forgotten.

But then the Germans really do do food. Goose and red cabbage – yum.

12. Christina - December 13, 2006

Yeah, I don’t think I’d suggest Eisbein if I were attempting to impress inlaws, but that’s the great thing about Germans, they could care less about impressing anyone. (Except hubby who brought a top notch Riesling along when he met my parents, but he was already somewhat Americanized by then).

13. Beaman - December 13, 2006

Gloom is so 70s. Or was that Glam? Gloom can be this decades fashion. Hoorah!

14. Beaman - December 13, 2006

P.S. My last comment was using my now non-existent WordPress account, which lasted all of 24 hours, a few weeks back. I joined, I compared and I deleted. “Joini Compari Deletee” as some historical figure once said.

15. pleite - December 13, 2006

O Beamane, joinisti, comparisti, deletisti. And now I will worry again that I have made the wrong move by abandoning blogger and coming over to wordpress. But, I must say, I haven’t heard many people singing blogger’s praises, but now that it’s going all beta, maybe it’ll be better. One painy thing re. wordpress is that some blogger blogs insist you have a blogger account to comment, so I find myself commenting from a now non-existent blog (though the ID still exists). Also, if you’re a stats addict, wordpress is no good.

ANYWAY, I’m sure gloom and glam are both in.

Christina, this gent’s only excuse, perhaps, was that he was very young. He didn’t get the bill either.

Mango, GMs and GOs? Genetically modified and… No. I don’t know. Please enlighten. I like German food in winter. Russian food is brilliant in winter too. Just what you want. Gloopy, creamy, heavy. Miam!

BaH, there was (or is still, maybe) a well-known (and absolutely crap) Chinese restaurant in Chinatown in London where the staff were famed for their rudeness and you might, as a twosome, get put on a table with a group of fourteen. Mind you, at least it meant you normally discussed your food with your neighbours.

A Blogger, I’m always happy to spread a little bit of gloom, in the nicest possible way, of course.

16. Daggi - December 14, 2006

BaH, there was (or is still, maybe) a well-known (and absolutely crap) Chinese restaurant in Chinatown in London where the staff were famed for their rudeness and you might, as a twosome, get put on a table with a group of fourteen

That’ll be “Wong Kei”, 41 Wardour Street…

17. Lukeski - December 14, 2006

Wong Kei is still very much around. The staff are far less rude than they used to be, but the food is still the best Chinese to be had in London.

18. pleite - December 14, 2006

Daggi, Lukeski, thanks for that. But, Liukchik, is the food brilliant? I’d remembered it as crap, but that might be just bitterness about something or other. Being seated on the other side of the restaurant from whomever it was I was with, say.

Still, if it’s still going strong after all these years, that says a lot more for it than I can.

19. Daggi - December 14, 2006

I remember – I’m sorry to say – that the food was crap, too. It was a long while ago, mind you.

20. AGF - December 15, 2006

Coming back to Berlin on January 3rd!

I wanted to let you know.

-AGF

21. Ed Ward - December 15, 2006

Incidentally, Zur letzten Instanz means “the last appeal,” and is a reference to the courts all around the area, which have apparently been there for a long time. The restaurant allegedly was a favorite of Napoleon’s and a bit of the medieval Berlin city wall forms its back wall. I also hear the Eisbein there sucks.

22. pleite - December 15, 2006

Daggi, I’m actually beginning to struggle to think where I’ve had good Chinese food in London. Had a loathsome 5-quid-gorge-yourself-sick experience on Old Compton St. with the Russian, I remember. I had good Chinese food in the middle of nowhere in Pankow once, but my thoughts were occupied the whole time with thinking – I was new here at the time and was just getting through the reams of initial bureaucracy – how CAN these people have been bothered to come all the way to Germany and leap through a gazillion hoops for the sake of opening a restaurant? I hope they’re millionaires now.

AGF, good for you. Love seems like a good reason to be in a place, and I hope your Polish gent will meet you with open arms at the airport. I remember – many moons ago, admittedly – when I first came here, the Russian had bustled right to the front of the people hustling and bustling at arrivals to meet folk so he could see me that vital one second quicker. (Now he just texts me, “Have you got money for the S-Bahn?”)… So love took me to Berlin, which I didn’t forgive it, for a while, but then I forgave it, and now all is good in the world. (I wanted to come and write you an encouraging comment but can’t comment at your place because I’m not a blogspot person. Sometimes wordpress makes you feel like an outcast, I must say.) (Look out for Radio Free Mike’s Stammtisch when you get back. It’s a good way to meet people.)

Ed, I’ve never eaten Eisbein in my life. It just looks like too demoralising an undertaking. Is it worth it? I read about their Napoleon connection too and wondered if this was their Berliner wit at play. But perhaps not. It claims to be the oldest restaurant in the city, after all. (And maybe the street claims to be the oldest too.)


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