Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Messing with Me

Sometimes I think foreigners are just messing with me. Although technically speaking, in the instance I am about to recount, I was the foreigner, not the other guy. 
     I was in the Zurich airport last night, waiting for the Allegra Hotel shuttle, when the Best Western shuttle driver engaged me in conversation. I was in no position to judge his grasp of the English language, as I have no grasp whatsoever of Switzerdeutsch. But there we were, standing in the Zone Three shuttle area, waiting for one thing or another, when he suddenly pipes up with something along the following lines:
     "Du mit die shuttledriver is mit die full moon! Ha, ha, ha! He says it is meaning the more money! [Here he hunched his shoulders and pointed skyward.] Back und forth, back und forth, den around und around  mit die moon, nein? Like in America? Got the candybars? Die Coca Cola? MTV? [He nodded sagely.] Shuttledriver got die seat belts. Zurich! Airport! On mit die cows!"
     He went on like that for about three minutes, which is a long time when you don't know what the hell somebody's talking about. 
     What did I do? The same thing I always do when I don't understand something; I did everything in my power to appear as though I did. I nodded. I chuckled. I sighed knowingly. I think I even murmured an occasional monosyllable. 
     It was of a piece with how I just barely got through high school: pretending to take pertinent notes, to contemplate the ingenuity of the theorem on the blackboard, to listen attentively to the teacher's exposition on the amphibian reproductive system. 
     Who knows what I was agreeing with him about. He might have just insulted my mother, for all I know. Then, with a final, "Shine mit die shoes!" delivered expectantly, like a Henny Youngman punchline, the driver finally climbed into his van and drove away. 
     I stood there for a moment trying to deconstruct his little disquisition. But it wouldn't parse. 
     Then I got to thinking. If I were a shuttle driver, ferrying people interminably back and forth across the same dreary landscape of exit ramps and flyovers, safety islands and roundabouts, what might I do to amuse myself? 
     And it occurred to me that one possible way would be to go up to foreigners and simply spout elaborate, extravagant nonsense in some broken version of their tongue and see if they, like me, were such fools as to stand and smile and nod and shrug and pretend they understood what I was saying. 


  1. Gee, I just loved this piece. But then, I did write it, after all.

  2. Me too. I especially liked the comment you received. Ellen

  3. Apparently my mother liked it too (Norma)