The Wonders of Google Translate

I’ve been lazy about updating for no particular reason. I have a post to write about the German grocery store experience (why is the vanilla extract in single-use packets?) but I haven’t quite gotten it done yet. This week we’ve had our first real experience of German spring – every day, we’ve had high winds, rain, snow, hail and sun, frequently all in the same hour. Our landlord assures me this is going to continue for the month of April, so I’m planning on wearing my raincoat and waterproof boots every day. I have thought a little wistfully of Texas this time of year, when the bluebonnets are blooming and the temperature is just right.

Other, more exciting news is that I will start German class next week. It will be three hours a day every day, and hopefully by the end in June I’ll have a better grasp of everyday German. My German is still quite poor – I mostly have nouns, so I sound like a toddler. This is entertaining because, for example, I needed to get some prescriptions refilled. The city publishes a directory of doctors who speak non-German languages, and I picked a practice that was also recommended by an expat message board. Unfortunately, the first time I called they asked me to call back the next week. The next time I called, they had an appointment – but I forgot this was Easter week, when many people are on holiday. Apparently among the people on holiday were all the English speakers in the office. When I called to make my appointment, I asked to be connected to an English speaker (this had worked previously). This time, I was connected to a person who could understand, but not speak English. After some fits and starts, I got the appointment sorted out.

When I arrived at the office, I had to fill out the standard medical history form. One problem – despite having English-speaking staff and advertising as such, the medical history form was in German. One of the many modern tools I am thankful for is Google Translate, which has a lovely app. One of the app features is that you can hold up the camera at something in a foreign language, and it takes a stab at translating it live. This saved me from having to punch every word I didn’t know on the form into a dictionary app, so I could finish the form in a relatively timely manner. Then there was the entertaining experience of watching the medical staff attempt to translate my American medications into their equivalent EU scrips, which mostly worked. There was a little confusion since the doctor kept telling me she would go “fill” my prescription, but then handed me scrips to go to the pharmacy (which was what I had expected originally).

Google Translate also came in handy this week when our possessions were finally delivered. Our household goods were picked up on January 13th, with the exception of what we threw out, donated to Goodwill, or crammed into three suitcases and three boxes to go on the plane. We were told to expect the rest of our stuff in 30 to 50 days. Unfortunately, the reality was more like 90 days, as our shipment finally arrived yesterday. This was another entertaining linguistic challenge, as the movers were also non-German (the crew leader said he was Hungarian, and I suspect the other two movers were Polish), and their German was also not great. We didn’t want them to unpack all the boxes, since we are still in a temporary apartment, but we did want them to unwrap some of the things that were heavily wrapped in paper – mainly small pieces of furniture and Justin’s mountain bike, and also unpack boxes full of clothing. This was difficult to explain, and I ended up standing there and when they would start opening a box, I would look at the label (which was in English, and so no help to them) and say “Nicht auspacken!” or “Ja, bitte!” We really needed the dictionary when they did the inventory of box numbers, and found a missing box. When the stuff had been packed in Texas, there was a box of bike tubes that was labeled with a number before I realized we weren’t bringing it, and so the number had been voided. Unfortunately, “void” is not a cognate, and I had to look up “void” – (“Fehlstelle”) and mistake (“Fehler”) before they understood. I also had the joy of filling out a customer service survey auf Deutsch. Luckily, they did a great job, so I didn’t feel particularly cheated by having to sign off on a survey where all I could do was check off “gut”.

Easter weekend is a big thing here. Justin has both Friday and Monday off, so he’s hoping to get in some good bike rides, and we’re looking forward to hopefully getting in some hiking as well. For Sunday (when everything is closed), I have some complicated baking projects planned. I just got back from the grocery store, and everyone is shopping like they’re in the Northeast and a blizzard is coming. An old lady in the checkout line rammed me with her cart because I failed to move my cart forward to close a 2-foot gap. People here are used to shopping every day or every other day, and I think they are panicking over the thought of shopping for four days in one trip. Hopefully I didn’t forget anything, because the stores are closed for Good Friday, we’ve got a hike in a national park planned for Saturday, and I’m not sure what opens on Easter Monday.


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