Culture Shock 1: An American Fails at Asking for Permission to Take a Picture of an Electric Car

26-hannover-germany-renault-twizy-electric-car-charging-at-rathaus
Look at that thing. Just charging itself all the live long day.

On September 9th, 2012, The Wife and I took a tourist walk through Hannover known as “The Red Thread.” We didn’t finish the entire tour, but we did end up at the town hall building, where we saw a Renault Twizy electric car being charged in the parking lot. I was so impressed I had to take a picture, but the owners, an older husband and wife, walked up right at that moment. Wanting to be polite, I asked permission.

“Entschuldigung Sie bitte. Darf Ich ein bild aus deine Auto nehmen?” I asked with an American accent so thick you could hear the baseball and smell the apple pie. Luckily, the man’s gesture in response let me know I was welcome to proceed. As we were walking away, I asked my wife if I had spoken correctly.

“He understood you,” she replied. “But in Germany, we say ‘make’ a picture. Also, ‘aus’ means ‘out of,’ and ‘Auto’ is a neutral noun, rather than feminine.”

Dammit,” I said, clenching my fist. “So, basically, I just asked that man if I could steal a picture out of his she-car?”

Click here to learn more about the term “Culture Shock.”

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41 thoughts

  1. Komisch … er … I mean, lustig!

    Believe me, the first time (I made those mistakes) was also the final time. Then again, if I sprinkle my German sentences with “oot and aboot” and drop some “eh”-bombs at the end, do you suppose they can forgive the fact that I’m a Cana’jun in Yurp? ;-)

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  2. So now the shoe is on the other foot, linguistically speaking ;-) Are you enrolled in any language or integration course yet? Incidentally, “entschuldigen” is the verb, and “Entschuldigung” is the noun form.

    Keep the good stuff coming. I am sure your wife is the one who will be laughing now (with you, I hope, instead of at you) ;-)

    Chris

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  3. Good story. While my German is passable, many times I’ve had to rely on the forgiving nature of Germans when I choose all the wrong forms of words.

    Honest effort and good intent are wonderful tools.

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    1. Thank you Dan! And I appreciate your support. All of the Germans I’ve tried to speak with in their native language seem to appreciate the effort. I have yet to be mocked or insulted for trying, though hopefully it happens soon so I can write about it. :)

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  4. Another thing you should be aware of is that people value their online privacy here very highly. If you’re taking random pics of people on the street, they should not be recognisable when you publish. Same with cars. I usually blur out the license plate if it’s legible.

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  5. Ahh, don’t worry about it too much, we Germans are quite aware of the fact that German is a shit difficult language to learn. Honestly, I think the guy was over the moon you attempted the sentence in German, seeing that most Germans’ English (with the exception of your wife and myself of course) is pretty runt. I really don’t want to know what the first real-life Americans thought of my school English when I bombarded them with it.
    Just keep trying, you’ll do well as long as you are not afraid.

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    1. Thank you Sandra! I really appreciate the words of encouragement and support.

      And you’re right; fear really is the biggest obstacle. Being afraid to try and speak German, or panicking whenever you try and use your German. I suffer from the latter, and tend to forget most of what I’ve learned the second I start to speak. It’s incredibly frustrating. I’m working on a blog post about it. :)

      How are you doing?

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      1. I am great, thanks for asking. Also, my German is improving by the day now that I’m back. Still working on getting my ass to Hanover before this parasite pops out of me. I’ll keep you updated.

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    2. If I may: I’m sure your school English would have impressed the snot out of any real-life American who had an inkling of what it means to express one’s self in a foreign language.

      I’m not saying there aren’t any Americans who can appreciate it; just that I expect the number of Americans who have never tried to use a foreign language in practical, real-life situations far outweighs (per capita) the number of Germans — or any Europeans — who have tried it and made it work.

      Anyone who giggles at a foreign accent, shaky grammar, or limited vocabulary of any attempt in a foreign language without appreciating the sheer gumption it takes to risk feeling like a schmo should be kicked in the balls like a delicious salad dressing would do.

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    3. If I may: I’m sure your school English would have impressed the snot out of any real-life American who had an inkling of what it means to express one’s self in a foreign language.

      I’m not saying there aren’t any Americans who can appreciate it; just that I expect the number of Americans who have never tried to use a foreign language in practical, real-life situations far outweighs (per capita) the number of Germans — or any Europeans — who have tried it and made it work.

      Anyone who giggles at a foreign accent, shaky grammar, or limited vocabulary of any attempt in a foreign language without appreciating the sheer gumption it takes to risk feeling like a schmo should be kicked in the balls like a delicious salad dressing would do.

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      1. Hi Cliff, thanks for your kind (up to the ball kicking bit) words.
        Of course you are right, I just didn’t feel like my humble self going “Naturally, my English has always been nigh on perfect” ;-) Plus, that wouldn’t have been very encouraging for someone who – despite the fact that no-one ever should giggle at anyone trying to express him/herself in a foreign language – is afraid of just that happening.

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  6. Cool story, I love it!!
    The fact that you are asking for permission in German is very polite and shows respect to the culture. Please keep on trying!!
    BTW, I saw a free charging station here too at IKEA in Costa Mesa, CA where somebody had plugged in his Nissan Leaf. I thought that was kind of interesting to see.

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      1. Ich finde den Nissan Leaf auch cool. Leider sind die Elektro-Autos noch recht teuer. Ich hätte gerne einen.
        Mein Deutsch ist hoffentlich besser als mein Englisch – wenn ich das so sagen darf :)

        ~Anja~

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      1. The German say “roughly translated” something like: “No Champion ever fell from the sky”… take your time – a language isn’t learnt overnight.
        (Doesn’t mean you can’t try. LOL)

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