To the lovely German family that just ate dinner with me,
The restaurant hostess sat me next to you at the long, family-style table. Even if you had wanted to ignore me, you probably couldn’t have.
I was wearing the oversized hoodie with my college logo on it and an even more oversized winter coat on top. When I tried to take off my coat, my zipper got stuck halfway down so you saw me wrestle with the zipper for five minutes.
Immediately after freeing the zipper, I knocked over a dainty Kolsch glass, shattering it across the table. The staff was bustling about, talking to me in German, and I was sitting there, wide-eyed, without a clue, repeating the only German word I’ve mastered “Danke-schön.”
You might remember me.
You don’t know this, but my goal of the night was to practice speaking German with someone. Even if it was just a sentence. Before I left the house, I wrote out three basic sentences I thought I could use and rehearsed them in the mirror.
I went to a coffee shop first and chickened out. But with you, it was different.
After hearing me stammer out “Hallo,” your faces lit up like I was a long-lost friend. You turned your chairs so I was in your circle, not sitting awkwardly on the outside.
I read some sentences from my phone app. When you looked at each other, confused, I showed you the written version. You practiced the correct pronunciation with me. One of you helped me translate and whatever I said, you all nodded, approvingly.
Someone ordered a round of Kölsch. You must be the mother, sitting beside me leaning your head toward mine. You speak to me in smooth, soft German. No idea what was being said or how to respond, I smiled and giggled, still nervous from the language barrier and embarrassed from the broken glass.
You smiled and giggled back and the two of us sit there, heads bowed together, giggling and smiling and smiling and giggling. You pat my hand from time to time.
“Do you like to travel?” You boomed. You must be the father. I nod and start to list off the places I hope to visit one day. You launched into a song. Deep and rhyming, you serenaded the whole table while everyone laughed into their plates saying “no no no.” I sense you are the troublemaker, but I have no idea what trouble you caused.
You all were almost finished with your food when I sat down, but you waited until I finished my meal before leaving. The whole time I was eating, you used your phones to ask me questions and wrote down suggestions for places I should see on the back of a damp cardboard coaster.
Whenever the conversation took off in German, you still spoke in my direction as if I were part of it, as if I understood.
For almost two hours you sat with me, talked with me, drank with me, laughed with me. For two hours, I was part of your family. I have no idea who you are or what we said, but I know this has been one of my favorite meals in a long time.
To the lovely German family that ate dinner with me, thank you for welcoming me.