Living in another language is like taking part in a constant puzzle. Every time I venture out, my attitude is that of a spy embarking on a new mission. I speak in secret code to the people I meet, who respond in kind. The items I seek and the tasks I must accomplish usually contain some element of uncertainty or inexplicability.
I give you the small example of the Berlin Film Festival Mission. Aaron and I are hosting our first couch surfer, a sweet American studying film in Paris, visiting Berlin this weekend to attend the Berlinale (Berlin’s internationl film festival). Yesterday, Aaron and I decided to try to get tickets to one of the films she would be attending. Leaving Aaron at home to take the homemade baked beans out of the oven (more on that adventure soon), Couch Surfer M and I traveled to Potsdamer Platz, the festival hub. The sign on the ticket kiosk informed us that we could not buy tickets for today’s showings there. Like lightening, I formulated my first query, in Deutsch code, for the man behind the kiosk counter. “Where can we buy tickets for today?” I receieved and uncoded the response: “At the theatre where the film will be shown.”
M and I turned our attention to the map (like all good quests, my Berlin missions almost always involve a trusty map). The theatre we sought was in the neighborhood. We plunged into the street and soon found a theatre, but not the right one. I approached the nearest festival official, and relayed my coded inquiry as to the whearabouts of the Arsenal. The official looked at me uncertainly. “Can I explain in German?” he asked. I know he meant to say, “Will you understand the code?” Brazenly, I accepted the challenge. He let loose a series of turns, crossings, and landmarks, which I even repeated back to him. He looked skeptical as we set out, but just as I thought he’d described, we arrived at the Arsenal.
The final step of our mission loomed before us: the purchase of the tickets, to the right show, at the right time. My moves have gotten more sophisticated as I’ve grown more comfortable with the code. Instead of curtly demanding tickets, I began with a friendly greeting. “Good day,” I said. “Do you still have tickets left for Tangier 8?” Affirmative. “Do you have a reduced price option for students?” Affirmative, but I would have to prove Aaron’s student status in absentia, which I did by borrowing M’s student ID.
We walked away the triumphant bearers of two valid tickets for the 3:30 showing of Tangier 8, a show you can all skip if ever it crosses your path, unless you’re with a film student who can redeem it with inciteful analysis.