In the mid-eighties, my dad traveled to Germany for a business trip. With a daughter living in Germany, he was determined to immerse himself in the culture and interact with Europeans every chance he got.
He was like a child in a candy shop. Everything was new and exciting. If he ordered something he didn’t like in a restaurant, he’d grin and pull out his little notebook, quickly jotting down the new word he learned. Now he knew what not to order. Sore feet? A great opportunity to buy some of those famous German stabile Schuhe. (Stable shoes)
Left to his own devices (in other words, without his translating daughter), he made himself popular in a small hotel in Hof, Germany, by his noble attempts to pronounce his room number. Hof, by the way, is a self-proclaimed “endearing town.”
Counting to ten in German, there’s only one number that is difficult for American’s to pronounce: five or fünf.
Linguists are still scratching their heads over the correct phonetics to describe how Daddy pronounced fünfundfünfzig. Mostly because he’d get hung up and add a few extra badly articulated fu’s and uenf’s plus a few extra f’s. Fffufufunnunnfundnaundfffufufuenufnzig. Not wanting to settle for an Americanized “unf” sound, what he’d enrich his attempts with what he believed to be Germanic sounds. An unbiased observer would probably classify them as being closer to a mute swan trying to hock up a loogie.
Hotel staff’s ear-to-ear smiles convinced him that Germans appreciated consistent, no matter how bad, efforts to sprechen Sie. Instead of showing his room key, he’d cheerfully expectorate out his version fünfundfünfzig to the waitress, desk clerk, doorman, and maid. Did it ever occur to him to wonder why so many of them needed to know his room number and why they, to a man, seemed unable to remember it even after a four-day stay?
Not that he ever admitted.
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