Brief Encounters: Nov., 2011
Tales of Everday Life
Leaving the opera one evening, an opera singer stopped at a Würstlstand to have a sausage. The man preparing his Burenwurst looked up at his customer with interest: "Your voice is wonderful, you are surely a singer," he declared. "And what a voice! You must be a tenor."
The singer smiled and opened his mouth to speak. But before he could answer, a Sandler (homeless man) standing nearby cut him off: "Ach! You know nothing!" he said in disgust. "He is obviously a baritone!"
In Vienna, it seems, even bums know the difference between a tenor and a baritone.
Heard on Ö1
I was riding home late one summer evening on my scooter, when I had to stop at a light in the middle of a three lane street in the 10th District, where I waited for the light. While gazing around aimlessly, I suddenly saw on my right a man with long, thin hair and bad teeth in a jeans jacket, teetering precariously beside me in the middle of the road. He was smiling, a little crookedly, and saying something.
I couldn’t hear him, so I raised the face protector on my helmet, and was greeted by a thick Viennese dialect, "Kann ich mitfahren?" ("Can I ride along?") All very polite, you understand, if a bit unusual.
Just the same, I was a little startled, my mind racing. Then I looked him straight in the eyes and said, in English, and as sweetly as I could muster, "Yes, but you will have to wear a helmet."
He looked at me quizzically, his head tilting from side to side, trying to understand what I just said, and not at all sure what was going on. Then the light turned green; he smiled and waved, and I smiled and waved. And I rode off.
We had a friend visiting from Washington, D.C. who is a vegetarian, so we took her out one night to Wrenk, the highly regarded vegetarian restaurant in the 1st District. We opened the menu and I began to translate the menu for my friend.
"But there’s lamb and chicken on the menu," she said to me. "I thought that this was a vegetarian restaurant."
I looked back at the menu thinking that I must have translated incorrectly, but I hadn’t. These dishes were definitely with meat. We called the waitress over. Why was there lamb and chicken on the menu, we asked, non-plussed. Wasn’t this a vegetarian restaurant? She looked at us as if we were fools, and then said, completely seriously,
"Well, they eat vegetables, don’t they?"
The Tower of Babel
The U1 between Nestroyplatz and Schwedenplatz. 7:30. A quick ride of just one stop. At Nestroyplatz the doors open and I lunge into the crowd. Then for the next three minutes I do what I always do on crowded undergrounds: Try to indentify all the languages being spoken around me. I hear Russian and Turkish – and Tagalog and German– and Spanish and Arabic.
And one more language being shouted into a cell phone. Unidentifiable. Maybe it’s Farsi.
Seven languages between two stations. It’s a particularly rich morning.
A little girl of about seven is leaning sleepily on her mother. Suddenly she looks up and says in English: "I wonder how it would be if there was one language." Her mother looks down:
"What do you mean, at school?"
"No, in the whole world."
Esperanto still hasn’t conquered the Tower of Babel.