by Brady Gossett ’19
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. Broad, wholesome, and charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” —Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad
I’m headed to Stuttgart, Germany, on my first international flight, so pumped I can hardly sit still. But I need to settle down for this nine-hour trip. On my left, Professor Greg Redding ’88 asks me how my finals went, shows me a few pictures of his cats back home, and tells me how much he’s going to miss them.
An hour or two out he asks: “Are you nervous?”
Why would I be nervous? I’m just excited to get there…
Should I be nervous?
We land in Stuttgart and clear passport control. I’m practically sprinting to keep up with Dr. Redding as we rush out of the airport to our bus to Tübingen. I grab my seat, hold my bags between my knees, and try to catch my breath.
Then he flips the switch—German speaking only. Ohhhh scheisse. It just got real. Here I thought that I was just going to see a bunch of cool museums and eat good food.
Is this why he asked if I was nervous?
In Tübingen we pull up to our youth hostel, put our bags away, and walk over to Kalender, a small walk-up restaurant that Dr. Redding has recommended for its kebabs. I casually walk up to the register to order one, the guy behind the counter says something to me, and I don’t understand a word. It’s as if I haven’t taken a German class in my life. I mean, this guy sounds nothing like Professors Redding or Brian Tucker ’98.
I am stuttering and pointing—I make a fool of myself. I’ve traveled more than 4,000 miles just to feel like a complete idiot, but I get my food and, let me tell you… döner kebabs are fantastic!
We’re feasting on the delicious döner kebabs when a short, rough-looking man walks up, speaks to us, and, what do you know—I can’t understand a single word. So he sticks his hand out and shakes a few coins around. We all give the man our change.
“Danke schön!” he says. Hey, I understand that!
A few days later we’re all missing home and decide to eat dinner at a burger place. I get my food last so I’m stuck sitting alone at a table an arm’s length away from my friends.
Then a married couple joins me. I’ve been told it is completely normal for strangers to sit at your table for dinner in Germany, but I’m nervous as hell. In my best German, I ask the couple, “Kommen Sie aus Tübingen?” (Are you from Tübingen?).
“blahblahblahblahblah,” the husband replies.
“Bitte?” (Excuse me?) I say, pointing to my ear as if he weren’t speaking loud enough.
His wife intervenes. She says to me, in English, that she respects my attempt to speak their language. She also points out that her husband speaks a very strong, southern German dialect, rather than the more formal German that we learn in the classroom. She tells me that sometimes even she can’t understand what he’s saying.
Then the wife and I have a much slower German conversation. She gently corrects the things I say wrong and offers tips about speaking and listening to German. It’s not the conversation I had planned, and my friends are laughing at me on the way out. But I’m smiling.
That’s when the fun begins. The next day I walk up to the guy at Kalender, tell him what I want, make some small talk, pay, and thank him. Nailed it!
The next night we eat at a sit-down restaurant called the Neckar Muller. I order a traditional dish from Southern Germany called Maltaushen—essentially giant ravioli. Tastes great. I ask the waitress for the bill—no problem. I am rolling.
Those little exchanges where you come out successful are big confidence boosters. Now I’m learning about this country in its own words, from its own people. Still, my friends and I have to laugh about the embarrassing conversations we attempted.
It’s a few days later and our plane lands in Atlanta, GA. As we walk through U.S. Customs, it’s so comforting to see signs written in English, such a relief not to have to work just to communicate with someone. We make it through security and head to our gate for our flight to Indianapolis when I look to my left and my jaw drops.
QDOBA! My favorite!
I practically run over there, and you better believe I have NO issues whatsoever ordering my burrito and savoring that first bite.
It feels great to be home—but it’s no döner kebab.
BRADY GOSSETT ’19 is a philosophy major and spent the summer as an intern in the Office of Communications and Marketing.