An old Bavarian joke: A tourist in Bavaria approaches two workmen and asks for directions. He’s met with blank stares, so he tries to determine their language. “Sprechen Sie deutch?” No reply. “Do you speak English?” Nothing. “Parlez-vous français? Parla italiano?”. Getting no response from them at all, he continues on, shaking his head. When he’s gone, one Bavarian turns to the other and says “Did you hear that? He speaks four languages!” The second man replies “And what good did it do him?”
Yesterday as I was walking home, I saw an old man standing on the corner of Dreiheiligenstrasse and Weinhartstrasse. He had some kind of bag on a folding metal trolley, and was staring at a photocopied street map, holding a second pair of glasses up to the pair on his nose.
“Do you need some help? Brauchen Sie Hilfe?”
He showed me his map and mumbled something. I caught the word ici and thought, OK, he speaks French. I showed him the spot on the map where we were standing, and tried to tell him in long-forgotten French which roads were which.
He seemed to neither understand me nor believe me. He pointed on the map to the Sill River, to Museumstrasse, to the streets before us but seemed turned around. And he was speaking something not recognizeably French either (A dialect? Corsican? The few words he spoke reminded me somehow of Sicilian but I could understand none of it.) I took the map and turned it 90 degrees so that it lined up with how we were standing, and that confused him even more. He seemed convinced that Dreiheiligenstrasse was Weinhartstrasse, and that I was simply wrong. Eventually he turned away and began to walk in the direction of the Viaduktbogen, at which point I gave up and said, “Na, dann toi toi toi” (Well, good luck) . It was such an odd encounter that I immediately thought to check my pockets, in case he had lifted my phone in the confusion.
I felt bad for him. I hope he found his way back to where he needed to be.