Thus far in my new life in Austria, I have been hopelessly lost in translation. Among other cultural faux-pas, I find myself put in my place on the daily by stern cashiers for failing to follow social grocery norms; I drown regularly in my email inbox of German nonsense; I am mocked ceaselessly by passerby’s each time I sprint for dear life after the closed doors of my commuter rail, which I always just miss after distractedly hopping on the U-bahn in the wrong direction; and I am constant and utter confusion with the German-language paperwork that is associated with every breath I take in life. Nonetheless, the country and their "hillbilly" dialect alike are slowly beginning to grow on me as I seek out a few of my favorite things, namely yoga studio-hopping and gourmet European coffee-drinking.
Vienna is known for its fancy coffee and cake culture of overpriced well-known names, like Café Central. Yet the city’s unexpected excellence in its hipster coffee-shop scene is undoubtedly one of its underrated charms. My frustrations with fitting in despite my free spirit in this rule-driven region may have me reciting quarter-life crisis poetry, but I thank my lucky stars that I can do it in style amidst vintage scarves, boyfriend sweaters, and jumbo-slices of vegan cakes that are shared over philosophizing chatter with friends.
Soon after my first month in the country, a professor inquired what I had learned to say in German thus far. Caffeine-high on my coffee shop splendor, I recited my first and most important German phrase that had become solidified in my mind: “Ich möchte einen Cappuccino mit Soja Milch, bitte.” (“I would like a cappuccino with soymilk, please.”). She chuckled in response and indelicately broke me the news that “cappuccino” is Italian.
Needless to say, as a foreigner, I had become accustomed to being laughed at, but I was disappointed to realize that my German-speaking ability was still at square zero. Nonetheless, that all changed the next day when a hippie-looking elderly man with a mun approached me as I walked to my favorite hipster coffee shop. “Das ist eine Yogamatte!” ("That is a yoga mat!") he beamed with a friendly grin, waving his finger at the bright patchwork yoga mat bag on my back.
I pleaded myself to keep cool. This stranger thinks you’re Austrian! Come on, you can fit in! I gulped a mouthful of air, racked my brain, and finally tossed him a smile and a, “Ja!” (“Yes!”).
Keeping his grin pasted to his face, he continued, “Gldkjq lkejalfkej qflkdjq qlkdfjql qsfdlkqjsdf.” (“German gibberish syllables.”)
Without missing a beat, I threw him another blank-faced nod and smile.
Satisfied with my response, he pointed his head in the direction of his destination and declared, “Auf Wiedersehen!” (“Goodbye!”)
I waved in response, as my heart beamed with self-pride for having successfully participated in my first German conversation. Full fluency was as close as the nearest coffee shop – I could already taste it at the tip of my tongue! With pep in my step, I continued down the sidewalk, smiling to myself as I recited my next German phrase in my head. Einen Cappuccino, bitte…