Posted in Prose by Sandra on September 12, 2009

The German word “achtung” always causes a little cringe of embarrassment in me. I believe it meant “stop” or “danger”, and is pronounced “ahk-tung”. It is a very harsh word phonetically speaking.

When I was working at the Starbucks in Changi Airport T2, I fancied myself a bit of a polyglot. After all, I had managed to sell a bottle of water to a Japanese tourist using mangled Japanese picked up from watching anime (after about 10 minutes of guess-work). I had made it my business to either learn the local greeting of the international traveller I was serving, or to greet them in their language in the first place. At that time I thought it was a brilliant idea so people could feel a little closer to home. Now, I think they laughed because it was a rather WTF experience having this 17 year old Singaporean Chinese speak Japanese or Spanish to them, however badly spoken.

So, the story of “achtung”.

As you might have guessed, it involved German travellers.

I was trying to make some conversation with this family – parents, daughter and son – while they decided what to eat. They told me they were German, and I cast about for any bits of German I knew. All of them were just looking at the menus, at the food display… not paying any real attention to me whatsoever except for the husband, who seemed to be a bit curious about what I could come up with.

“I know only one German word… I think it was achtung!”

Oh, that got their attention all right. And half of the cafe’s, probably. The wife was the one who was most stunned, shocked senseless that this Chinese girl – how dare I – say achtung! in her presence! In hindsight it was probably more disbelief and surprise… though at that moment all I could think of was how to quickly shrink away and hide in a hole.

I still do. I can’t remember what happened after – either I tried to smile and brush it off as me not knowing the meaning of the word, or I ran off to the back room and got someone else to serve them.

Still, I figured that 3 years have passed since the incident, and hopefully they were too jetlagged to bother remembering it. Which is why I thought it was safe enough to put this up for people to read.

If you happen to be part of that German family – I’m very, very shocked for having shocked you in a foreign country in your own language. I’ve repented and never spoken, nor attempted to speak another word of German again.

Not even in private.

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2 Responses

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  1. libei said, on September 16, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    so what does it mean…?????

    • Sandra said, on September 16, 2009 at 8:05 pm

      I think it means “stop” or “danger”…

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