Saturday, November 17, 2007

Pardon me, but the machine devoured my money!

*Fall in Austria

A couple days ago, I went to the train station to buy a train ticket. My intention was to simultaneously get a Vorteilscard, which would give me half price on all train travel within Austria until I turn 26, and then purchase the discounted ticket.

I already had the application for my Vorteilscard ready and filled out; the only thing I needed to do was affix a passport-sized photo. Since I didn't have any extra passport-sized photos lying around, I decided to get some made in the photo machine at the train station. So upon arriving at the train station, I immediately went down to the area with the photo machines boasting passport photos, funny photos to give out to your friends, and photo business cards (among other things), and inserted my €5 into the slot, selecting the Passport Photos option. Taking a seat in the booth and pulling the curtain closed behind me, I was impressed with the kindly female voice walking me through all the steps. As the photo was being taken 4 times (from which I could choose my favorite photo to print), I couldn't help but think of the movie "Amelie"--of all the photos made in such booths in train stations, and also of the photo machine ghost that Amelie and Nino track through the city. I was instructed by the female voice to leave the booth and retrieve my photos from the slot on the outside of the machine. But when I went out photos. So I waited, allowing them to print some more...still no photos. I went back inside the booth and started jiggling things and then went out to check again...still no photos.

Realizing that I was going to remain photoless until I did something about it, I decided to go up and buy my ticket. I didn't have the first clue who to seek out as the person to talk to about the malfunctioning machine and get my money back, but I figured the guy at the ticket counter would know. So I went back upstairs and purchased a ticket for travel outside of Austria which, thankfully, did not require a Vorteilscard. Before I left the counter, I explained to him that the machine downstairs was broken and asked who I should talk to about that. He checked in the computer and saw that the photo machine people wouldn't be coming to the train station for another two weeks, and so he told me to go call the phone number on the outside of the machine and that they would be able to help me.

With a feeling of dread, I went back downstairs. Calling the number on the automat is something I would hate to do in English, let alone in German. And what was I going to say when I called?!--"Hello...a is please...." I found the number on the outside of the booth, and with a here-goes-nothing attitude, I made the call. After a couple rings, a voice at the other end picked up and said something that was completely unintelligible to me. Barging right on ahead, I greeted the voice and explained that I was in the Graz train station with a broken photo machine that took my money but would not give me the photos. As I spoke, I was surprised at how well all of this was coming out, and I did not have the nervous phone stutter that I often have! The man asked me for a few more details about the machine (does it take your money? does it take the photos? do you receive the photos? so it takes the photos--i.e., it's working--but you don't get the photos?) and then told me he'd look into that particular machine and send me the €5 by bank transfer; all he needed was my bank information and account number. Since I didn't have that information with me (or memorized), I told him I'd have to get back to him later. He said that I could send him my name and bank information in a text message and he'd take care of it.

The next day I located my bank information and sat down to write the text message. I wrote a short message introducing myself and explaining that I had spoken to him the day before about the machine that....that what? That was broken? In English, I would say that the machine ate my money. I thought about this for a few moments, weighing the appropriateness of the phrase "ate my money" and also the implications of this phrase in the German language. After some deliberation, I concluded that it would be a lively and clever way of saying that the machine was broken if I said that it ate my money. And because German has two words for "to eat"--essen, which is what humans do, and fressen, which is what animals do (and is more akin to "devour")--I could use the non-human term and further indicate in a cute and clever way that the machine devoured my money. Satisfied with this conclusion, I proofread the text message about 5 times and then sent it, feeling confident and clever with my mastery of this awkward and unusual situation.

Within seconds, my phone was ringing. I looked down at the number displayed and saw that it was the photo machine guy. Thinking that he must be calling just to confirm that he received the text, I answered the phone confidently and self-assured. He then introduced himself and said that he had received my text, but that it was unclear what I meant by "the machine devoured my money." My feeling of confidence immediately deflated like a balloon. And the stuttering, ineloquent Phone Rebecca appeared. He wanted to know: So when you say that the machine ate your money, does that mean it took your money and didn't do anything? Or did it take your money and take your picture? Or did it take your money and take your picture but not give you your picture? Humbled and not feeling like a master of the German language anymore, I explained to him that, yes, the machine worked fine and took the pictures, it just didn't give me the pictures. He clarified the situation about two more times, and when he was absolutely certain that the machine did not, in fact, devour my money--that it simply did not produce the pictures--he thanked me and told me he'd take care of it.

A day later, I was discussing this situation with an Austrian friend. I told her about my clever text and the photo machine guy's confusion, and it was then that she explained to me that machines in Austria do not devour or eat one's money....they swallow one's money!

With this small lesson learned, I can confidently say that I will never forget that German-speaking machines swallow (as opposed to eat) one's money. Embarassment is truly an effective teaching tool.


Lindsay said...

LOL, Rebecca. I know things like this are only funny in hindsight. Bet this will be the first of many stories involving language/culture differences. Gorgeous fall picture.

the octopus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
the octopus said...

cant stop thinking about "die maschine hat mein geld gefressen"... it's kinda cute ;)

if it's any consolation, i'd have said it swallowed my money (in english), that is, before our little discussion.... ;)

Bruce said...

Indeed, "Embarassment is truly an effective teaching tool." I remember my fopah* in the Czech Republic where I was being considerate in offering something to a traveler on the bus, and it appeared that from his behavior he thought I was trying to sell him something. It was very embarrassing, and neither of us could speak the other's language. *note - "fopah" is in America the shortened version of the French "faux pas" defined as:
A major breach of etiquette. In other words a social blunder