Friday, June 13, 2008

Lost in Translation

So I recently got married (oh the fresh new blushingness of it all) and I'm finally getting my paperwork sorted. I always vowed I would never change my surname (well, I always vowed I would never get married too. Look where that got me) but I think Rashid is better than Guhrs, no?

So while I’m at it with the paperwork I have at last decided to re-apply for my German passport. I had a German passport as a kid (my dad is German) which I had a great knack for leaving at boarding school in Malawi. We'd get to leave on the early bus the day that school broke up as we had furthest to travel. We'd get on the bus, all fresh and excited, drive 4 hours or whatever it was to Lilongwe, where our parents would pick us up. We'd then pile into our little brown short-wheel-base land cruiser that sucked in dust like it was a competition and we'd head to Zambia - another hour and half to the border and anywhere between 3 to 6 hours from there to home depending on the state of the road, our car, tyres etc. So we'd get to the border and my dad would say: "Okay, passports please". And I would rummage around in my bag and then say "Oh. Umm, da-a-ad, I think I left mine at school". So (after much sighing and “WHAT? AGAIN”) we'd have to drive all the way back to Lilongwe and wait for the kids on the afternoon bus to bring my passport. I think I did this THREE times, can you believe it? Geeez. Anyway, keep reading, you'll see that I haven't got much better.

When my passport expired and I had to go to the German Embassy to get a new one, the staff at the embassy started talking to me in German. I was terrified! The only thing I can say in German is "I am a ballpoint pen" which doesn't really get you very far in the embassy or anywhere else for that matter (maybe a quick straight jacketed ride to ‘your lovely new home’, but that’s about it). My dad luckily was with me and bailed me out. So the next time my passport expired I didn't bother to renew it and got a South African one instead and as I was at university in SA I thought it would be easier all round. And of course I was scared to go to the Germans in case they started talking to me again. In fact its only just this month that I have finally plucked up the courage to re-apply. I’m making dad go with me though in case they do it again. Pathetic, I'm 32!

At 20 I traveled to Europe, my first time out of Africa and something of a culture shock. Another post another time. On my German passport. No problem. So last year when my (then) boyfriend and I decided to go skiing I didn't even THINK it would be a problem. I've been to Europe before.....We made all the plans. We'll fly in to Germany, hire a car, drive to Austria. All goes according to plan. Until...we arrive at the German border, in Munich, me clutching my South African passport. They stamp my passport and then say. "Ah. Vere is de visa."
"Oh! I need one of those?" (Duh!! See told you I haven't got any better).
"Please step zis vay madam"
So they put me in this little room while they put a big cross through the stamp in my passport and fill out all these forms in quadruplicate.
"Ve von't put this down as a criminal record, I'm sure it was a genuine mistake"
Gee thanks (although they were probably thinking, but really? How can you be so STUPID?)
I say to boyfriend "Why have all these immigration guys got guns"
To which he replies, "Well, they're not immigration guys. They're actually the police. And I suppose you're sort of under arrest".
"Oh!" I say "Cool!"
“But I'm actually half German” I tell the gun wielding fellows. “But I don't speak German”, I add quickly.
“So why don't you have a German passport?”
“Oh coz I was born in South Africa”.
“Do you speak Afrikaans?”
“No.”
“So your dad is German and you don’t speak German, you were born in South Africa but you don’t speak Afrikaans” Shakes his head, puzzled.
“Oh. But I've lived in Zambia all my life. I speak Chinyanja!” I say proudly.
He gives me a confused look. Like, so? I speak German and English and Polish and French and Dutch. Big deal. Chinyanja. Is that a made up language?
So they put me in a small white walled room, and I shift about, trying not to need a wee so badly, looking around for hidden cameras, wondering if they are watching me through the two way mirror while they try to figure out what to do with me. They are looking for the superior who goes to look for his superior. Boyfriend is canceling hire car and looking for baggage. Eventually they figure it out and after much form filling and signing and promises that I won't do it again (coz I get a kick out of this sort of thing?) and frowning (on their part) they put us on the next plane back to the UK. Thankfully, not Zambia. As one epauletted (is that how you spell it?) tight trousered policeman is escorting us to the plane I say "Don’t worry, you don’t have to take us all the way there, we can go, don’t want to hassle you"
“No madam, I need to escort you all the way to your seats” He says with raised eyebrows, clutching the butt of his gun. I'm glad I didn't tell him I am a ballpoint pen. Boy they must have been glad to get rid of us country bumpkins.
At Heathrow my poor soon-to-be brother in law picks us up (he only dropped us off a couple of hours ago!) and we’re at his flat in London trying to make a cunning plan. We are not in the slightest put out or disgruntled. However applying for a visa will take weeks and you have to do it in South Africa. Okaaaay. The only places that will have me without a visa (in the whole of Europe) are Britain, Switzerland (of course) Iceland and Lichtenstein. So Switzerland it is. Oh but first we have to wait for our bags which are still in Munich or somewhere over the sea or maybe actually en route to South Korea. We have a FANTASTIC time skiing (I’ve never SEEN so much snow) and I don’t even break a limb or ANYthing. Incredible.

Then last month on our way back form the UK we got stuck in Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam for 24 hours because our flight got cancelled and they say “You can go and have a night out in Amserdam, that’ll be fun! Oh you have a South African passport? No sorry. Here’s a meal voucher for 3 euros and you can stay at the crummy hotel in the airport but, sorry you can only check in a 7 tonight. I know its only 7 in the morning now but it’s the best we can do. Oh and you have to buy your own toothbrush coz you can’t have access to your bags ” So I’m getting my German passport renewed. Next time we'll have a night on the town to match no other.

This whole rambling came from the fact that I’m trying to fill in the forms for my new passport (forms are in German), with not a German in sight. I googled a translation for one section and this is what came up:

In choice auslandischen to the right: Based on the gewahlten to the right arises and/or determine mean we following Namensfuhrung. ....?

What the bollocks does THAT mean???

Give me "I am a ballpoint pen" any day.

1 comment:

tam said...

oh man! you make me laugh. i'm sorry i couldnt enlist his help yet, hope you have figured it out. have fun in Zed. lucky you.