Every now and then a student makes a hysterical mistake in class, prompting an outburst of laughter on my part. Usually the atmosphere is very positive and the students can laugh at their own mistakes too, but now and then I sense a bit of insecurity from the poor person who made the mistake, and I immediately regret making him/her feel uncomfortable.
That’s when I bring out the perfect antidote to their shame: My Top German Mistake.
1) Summer 2003. Family trip to western Austria. We are hiking around (notice I did not say “up”) the Großglockner, the highest peak in the Austrian Alps, when a sudden rainstorm comes through. We are near an information center and need to get quite a ways back to the parking lot where we left the car. I, with my straight-A+ report card in high school German, decide to take the initiative and ask the guy at the desk of they run shuttle buses between the information center and the parking lot.
Now, I wasn’t 100% about the plural form of “bus” and my pronunciation was not stellar, but I wasn’t top of my class for nothing, so I strode up to the counter and asked,
“Entschuldigung — haben Sie Busen?”
The large man’s face turned red, his eyebrows shot up and he stuttered, “N-n-nein!” I was perplexed at why he didn’t even have a bus schedule for me (some public transportation paradise!) when my brother, who also spoke German (at least the important words!), leaned over and said,
“Uh, Kate…? I think you just asked him if he had boobs.”