I’ve recently been sent to Germany through work to head up a team tasked on fixing a fleet of new aircraft. I won’t say which one but it’s one of the largest in existence at the moment. On my recent trip is where I learned one vital thing about myself that I absolutely hate… I’m an ignorant traveller.
It all started at the airport where I had to pick up a hire car. “It’s OK” I thought “it’s a European company, they will speak fluent English” – mistake number one. A terrible translation between the both of us meant I’d ordered a much more expensive car than my company will be willing to pay for. Not wanting to go through the ordeal of trying to switch the car I headed in to the car park to find this beast.
While I’m inside the car I took a look around and notice all of the buttons and menus were in German… including the GPS. As there was nobody around in the car park I thought to myself “I’ll drive out, park up and ask somebody to set it up for me to where I need to go” – Mistake number two. Every person I asked looked at me with bewildered eyes and shook their heads… none of them spoke English. One man even went as far as holding his hand up to my face and walking off.
Taking a complete guess I managed to tap in a destination that looked similar to that of my hotel. A short car ride later I pulled up at some docks and the GPS told me I’d reached my destination (I think). All of this time I’d been avoiding using the internet on my phone because the roaming charges would cost me a fortune but the situation called for it and so I took the plunge – mistake number three. Because of my ignorance of not learning the local language I’d racked up a bill of £83.70 for data charges alone. The worst part was I had the GPS/data services switched on for 5-10 minutes at the max.
On my first day of work I was required to meet somebody at reception. I arrived a little early to make sure I didn’t miss them but according to the lady at reception there was nobody working there with the name that I was giving. She told me to go out and try another entrance further down the road. Pulling in to this second entrance I saw a sign with a picture of a security pass on the front of it. I assumed the sign was telling me to swipe my pass against the barriers but stupidly I forgot my pass was set up for the UK site, not the German site. An alarm started going off at the barriers and a security guard came out. Trying my best to explain my situation he finally let me through under the pretence that I go to a security office.
The security office was on the other side of the site and so I had to get an internal bus to get over to it. Jumping on the wrong bus because I couldn’t read the signs properly cost me an extra 20 minutes on my journey – mistake number four. I was already 35 minutes late for my first day because I was ignorant enough not to try and learn any of the language before coming out here and now I had to wait in line at a security office before I was even allowed in.
From that moment on the mistakes kept building up including a mistranslation regarding parts for the aircraft, eating squid for my lunch instead of chicken, giving somebody a two hour break instead of 30 minutes and managing to wait for somebody at the completely wrong airport.
At the time I was cursing people for not understanding but then it clicked that it wasn’t their fault at all – it was mine. I hadn’t been bothered to learn the language before I came out here. I assumed that people everywhere would understand English and it’d be like working and living back at home. With Australia being the only other place I’ve worked with other people abroad I’ve automatically thought it was going to be a similar experience.
From that moment on I’ve vowed not to go to another country with the thought that everybody will understand what I’m trying to say. I need to learn the language or at least the basics of the language if I want to get by and I need to stop being so ignorant in my traveller ways.
Have you ever had any similar situations/ problems while abroad?