Note: This blog is part of a series on a recent bicycle tour across Austria, along the Danube. To read from the beginning, click here.
After a six- or seven-hour red-eye flight on September 20, our group arrived in Munich, Germany, and hopped in a van to Schärding, Austria, the location of our first stay. The van driver flew down the highway at what felt like 80 miles an hour in two lanes of thick, bumper-to-bumper traffic. As we drove, we compared notes on the Deutsch language. Eight of the 16 of us were in the van; none of us knew how to say anything besides “danke” (thank you).
It was my brother Allan’s idea that we should all learn the words “excuse me” because speaking them provides a great way to get noticed and start a conversation. After we’d settled in our hotel, we walked into the center of Schärding, a quaint square surrounded by darling buildings, sculptures, and other public art. We sat down at a pub outside—our first biergarten—ordered some Austrian brew, and asked the waiter how to say “excuse me.”
“Entschuldigen sie,” he told us.
We didn’t begin to try to spell the words, but I recorded the pronunciation, so we could practice. Even with that assistance to call upon continually, we could not recall how to say the phrase. We practiced as we drank the first tall beer.
It was my sister-in-law Jennifer who came up with a good solution. She built a phonetic model of the word, based around words we know and can remember: en + shoe + hooligan – hoo + see.
We had our first opportunity to try our bastardization of the word out at a pier, where a line had formed for a dinner cruise. We were in the line but had realized there were many more people than could possibly fit on the boat.
I approached two men and a woman and used my new superpower.
“Enshoeligancy,” I said.
The three snapped to attention at once. Sweet, I thought. This works!
“Sprechen sie English?” I asked. (Do you speak English?)
“Yes,” one of them said, nodding.
It was easy from there. I asked if most people in line had tickets already, and we learned some did but that many likely did not. It was safe to remain in the line, as we were up near the front and there was a chance we would make it on the ferry. (We did.)
Our first successful communication. Subsequent conversations were nearly as easy. Many people spoke English. So, we needed only to say, “Enshoeligancy. Sprechen sie English?” to start most conversations. As in: ““Enshoeligancy. Sprechen sie English?” and then, “Where is the water closet?”
Enshoeligancy turned out to be a great all-purpose word. We could use it while biking if we accidentally almost crashed into someone—as in “excuse me, I can’t believe I just did that.” We could use it, too, when we were in the way or otherwise causing an annoyance.
We learned other key words and phrases from other waiters. Those we called upon most were “morgen,” for “morning”; “vielen dank,” for “thank you very much,” and “bitte,” for “you’re welcome.”
Bitte was another thousand-dollar word with multiple meanings. The Deutsch use it to say “please”—as in “Come again?” They’d also say it when handing something to you, as in “Here you go.”
Kaffee was a word we learned the first morning at breakfast, and the kaffee was dark, rich, and thick. There was espresso and cappuccino, (but, alas, no decaf, which is what I drink).
On the trail we learned these fun words:
* Treppelweg, which means footpath. There were treppelwegs every few miles for fishermen and people out walking or adventuring along the bike path.
* Zimmer meant rooms for rent.
In the grocery store, I got a kick out of these words on a package for cinnamon buns: “2+1 gratis.” (Our version of buy two, get one free.)
Biergarten is a word we heard over and over from my brother Allan. Riding in the lead spot, he’d turn around to count us and make sure all 16 were present and accounted for. Then he’d holler: “Biergarten!”