17 September 2016

The Schöpflöffel Incident - Misunderstandings in Learning German

Scene from Rothenburg, not far from my university in Würzburg.

Once, early on, when I was learning German, I got a part time job at the university kitchen in Germany. They had tens of thousands of students. I worked the lunch shift, 12–3:00.

My job was Trays, placing lunch trays on a conveyor belt. I must have done a good job because soon I was promoted to Sauce, pouring sauce over the meat, with a ladle.

This ladle had a VERY long handle. The sauce cart was on wheels and was about a meter deep. I had a pretty good rhythm going when I suddenly DROPPED the ladle into the sauce.

Deep. Gone.

Now what?
I wasn't going to reach down in there, and I didn’t know how to say “ladle” in German.
The German word for ladle, by the way, is Schöpflöffel.

So I did nothing. I hoped no one would notice.

Pretty soon, the students began to complain, and the whole system—conveyor belt, trays, meat, sauce, veggies— stopped. They traced the problem back to me. I stood there, feeling pretty stupid. So they gave me a clean ladle, and everything started up again.

But the next day, I was back to Trays.

(From the "Meanwhile, Back in Los Ranchos" book.)