Hallo (that means Hello) from our German home! After only a few days in Koblenz, we are starting to feel comfortable with not speaking the language, driving (and stalling) on the Autobahn, and interviewing VP-level (and above) executives in the automobile industry.
To compensate for the delicate pastries, heavy bratwursts, and free flowing beers, I’ve gone on a couple of runs along the rivers. Koblenz is located on the confluence of two rivers: the Rhine and the Moselle, in the heart of wine country. Newsflash: running with beautiful scenery makes the experience much more pleasant.
Today was our first long drive day, which meant plenty of team bonding on the Autobahn. Devin and Tim would yell “Ausfahrt” (that means exit) every time we passed a highway exit. Meanwhile, I would daydream about living in one of the many castles that lined the German hills. Neither of these activities should be considered unusual, if you know us.
Back to business. Today we toured DHL’s warehouse located around the corner from Audi’s main manufacturing plant. Now, this is not your textbook (MBA 6231 Operations I) warehouse. DHL does sub assembly for Audi, which basically means that they receive lots of tiny parts from suppliers, then DHL assembles into a larger piece and sends to Audi so they can seamlessly pop it onto the vehicle on the assembly line. I never would’ve thought that a logistics company would do pretty complicated manufacturing, so I learned something new today! Plus, we get to wear sweet safety gear, so I make sure to document every time that happens.
The boys went off to Karaoke Night at our neighborhood Irish Pub, where they made friends with locals and also came across some University of Michigan undergrads. Don’t worry, only playful rivalry ensued. Our Buckeyes decided not to get on stage this time around, but stay tuned till next week, where maybe our comfort level will be ready to belt out some Backstreet Boys. Any song requests?
Before diving in to how Team DHL dealt with overcoming the language barrier in its first 48 hours within Germany, it’s worth noting that I took three years of German in high school. Combining that decade old education with four 15-minute lessons in Duolingo last week and needless to say, my hubris towards reading, writing, and speaking German was at an all-time high when our wheels touched down in Frankfurt on Saturday morning.
And it only took a few hours to be brought back down to Earth.
Luckily for us, the Frankfurt airport is very much a German/English hybrid, with both languages used in tandem on all signage. Most of the customer service agents spoke English as well, which was incredibly useful when we went to pick up our rental car. Even the guy that brought us our car greeted us with a giant “SUP GUYS?” when we arrived at the garage, quickly picking up on our Americana. So much for blending in.
Upon arriving in Koblenz (which is a charming and quite nicely sized German city that sells itself short in its marketing materials – GAP 2015 project?!?!), we quickly realized that we wouldn’t have the same dual language luxury of the Frankfurt airport. I had the genius idea of parking in a garage marked “Frei – 400”, correctly assuming that “frei” meant “free” but failing to realize that it was commentary on the amount of open parking spaces and not the cost of parking itself.
After we set up shop in our apartment, the team hit the road for an authentic German meal. We found a cozy restaurant in one of Koblenz many, many squares, and after correctly nailing down a table for six, we quickly realized that our German vocabulary was limited to niceties and had a shocking lack of culinary terms. Our waiter, like the attendant in the parking garage, instantly recognized that we were Americans and came prepared with an English menu. We each ordered traditional German fare, with varying different types of meat, potatoes, and sauerkraut. I was in heaven.
We next headed off to the local bars to get a lay of the land. The first bar we went to felt like a dive bar back home. US state license plates adorned the walls, and we even found a confederate flag which was… weird. Our cozy table featured a basket of peanuts, and we were scolded for not throwing our discarded shells on the ground like the rest of the patrons.
For our nightcap, we ventured into the Irish pub across the street from our hotel. Having patronized many an Irish bar in my young adulthood, I felt in my element. I suavely (or so I thought) ordered “ein Guinness und ein Magners”, coupling my shallow German skills with my deep knowledge of Irish adult beverages. However, the bartender was having none of it, and replied back with the price… in English.
Overall, we had a fantastic weekend in Koblenz. We still have much to learn on the language front and on how to not stick out like the traditional American tourist. Tomorrow, we begin our project at TRW, one of DHL’s customers. Stay tuned for more info on our project!
Mistranslation of the Day: When a crying woman approached Devin asking for directions, and Devin replied (in German) “No… do YOU speak German?”
There is a stereotype about how Americans assume people from all around the world can and should speak English since it is the universal language. As an American myself studying abroad in Italy, I would have to say I fit that stereotype. I personally do not believe that people from other countries should automatically know how to speak English nor do I expect them to, but it is the fact that I did not try to learn any Italian prior to coming to Italy.
Before arriving in Italy, I was not concerned that language would be a great barrier to overcome, simply because I figured I could carry around an Italian phrase book and that all would be good. And yes, I am still alive and have been able to travel around with minimal problems, so language was not a large issue of survival, but in terms of being able to grasp the full experience, knowing the language is crucial.
Many times, I would be in a museum or at a famous landmark and not know the significance or the history behind the beautiful artifacts and sculptures. This is because many attractions are written out only in Italian, and I found this to be frustrating because buildings and sculptures all start to look the same if knowledge about that object is unknown. However, I had no one to blame but myself. Also, language is essential to any culture and because I did not know any Italian, I already missed out on great opportunities to explore new places, restaurants, and people.
Although not knowing a language is frustrating, I would have to say it was not all bad experiences. Learning a language along the way is much more fun than learning it through books and classrooms. Also, picking up the local language while abroad has helped me improve my problem-solving skills and non-verbal communication skills, and now I have more confidence in my ability to overcome barriers.
At least for next time, I know that before I travel somewhere for an extended period of time, I must learn the basics of the local language in order to maximize my experience abroad.