Sometime in November of 2012, The Wife and I ventured into the university district of Hannover known as Nordstadt. Nordstadt is home to Leibniz University, where watery-eyed nerds go to study science and engineering. (And I bet they eat a ton of Döner Kebabs too. German nerds love Döner Kebabs.)
We found several pubs around the university and settled into one called Gaststätte Kaiser. The word ‘Kaiser’ immediately brought to mind Keyser Söze from The Usual Suspects… and also a round, soft bread roll with a crisp crust. (Delicious!)
The waitress approached our table and I attempted to order beers for myself and my wife. What follows is our interaction if you were to translate everything — directly and literally — into English:
ME: “A pretty evening to you. We here… I mean, the us, would very gladly have two massive pilsner beers.”
WAITRESS: *Smiling* “Two, one-liter beers?”
ME: “Oh God. Um… yes. Wait. I mean one, one-liter beer to me, and a half of a one-liter beer to my German wife.”
WAITRESS: *Giggling* “Okay.”
*The waitress then turned, very obviously, toward my wife.*
WAITRESS: “Would you like anything to eat with that?”
THE WIFE: “Not just yet, thank you.”
Now, the waitress understood me just fine, yet she asked my wife if we wanted anything to eat. Clearly I had outed myself as someone not fluent in German. Perhaps I’d even identified myself specifically as an American, with my accent and proudly displayed ‘Oh God, My Wife Is German.’ t-shirt acting as indicators. But what I really wanted to know was, at exactly what moment — which word or gesture — had given me away.
So, I marched my sweet Yankee butt cheeks right up to the bar and asked her. She replied in English, and explained I had ordered ‘pilsner’; the students in Nordstadt simply order ‘pils.’ Nice, I thought to myself. It was a cultural outing, not a linguistic one.
I returned to our table and shared this bit of insight with my wife. She agreed with the assessment of the waitress, but went on to further explain the reasons for my outing:
“You pause before you speak German. Like, you take a deep, long breath, and hesitate. Then you speak very deliberately, very slowly, so people think, ‘Is he retarded, or just foreign? Oh, foreign.’ “