Although I had studied German for about 4 years, I wasn’t very good at the language before studying abroad here in 2011. So when I first arrived, I was so terrified to speak the language with actual Germans that I put off doing things that required any level of social interaction with non-Americans for as long as possible. That included grocery shopping.
After living off of the cookies and apples given out at orientation meetings for nearly a week, I finally caved and walked to the local grocery store near my apartment. Luckily, picking out the items and getting to the register went quite well. Heck, even the checking out and paying went well, which I was quite nervous about. However, I was shocked at the rudeness of the cashier when she handed over my receipt.
“Bitte schön,” she said with a monotone voice as she stared me straight in the eyes.
In my mind, “bitte schön” translated to “you’re welcome.” And saying “you’re welcome” without someone saying “thank you” first is pretty darn rude.
My eyes squinted, and in a refusal to give this impolite woman the courtesy of a proper “thank you,” I quietly uttered the American “mmmhm” and walked out of the store as quickly as possible.
Over the next month, I continued to notice this phenomenon throughout my everyday life in Germany.
When I ate in the school cafeteria, the lunchlady would say “bitte schön” as she handed over my plate of Schnitzel and Pommes. When I went for drinks in a restaurant, the waiter would mutter “bitte” as he placed the beer on the table. When I ordered bread in the bakery, the baker would exclaim “bitte schön” with a smile as she handed over my Franzbrötchen.
Looking back now, I do not know if I slept through the German lesson where it was taught that “bitte
” or “bitte schön
” is also a polite way of saying “here you go,” or maybe it simply wasn’t taught in the U.S. at all. Anyways, it took an embarrassingly long time to figure out that the Germans aren’t rude. I’m just an idiot.
At least I know better now.