So, I’m making my morning journey upwards in the elevator today. It’s refreshingly nippy outside and our offices have been decorated for Christmas, so I’m in a bit of a holiday mood. Since I’m the only one on the elevator, and I bore easily, I start singing to myself:
Santa Claus is coming to town, Santa Claus is coming to town, San-ta-Claus-is-co-miiiiiing-to-tooooooown.
I’m just getting into the drawn out “tooooooown” bit when the elevator doors open at my floor and standing in front of me are fifteen Germans in their finest business attire. I’m embarassed into utter silence. We’re staring at each other, thirty eyes on me and my two eyes skipping madly around, trying to figure out who these people are.
The way that my particular floor of the building is set up, the six elevators open onto a lobby that has two sets of glass doors on either end. Both are locked at all times and both open onto further lobbies. Those two lobbies have their own sets of doors that are locked at all times. Once you’re past those doors, you can finally enter the offices. We’re kind of big on locking things around here. So, without a badge to enter the series of lobbies, you’re kind of screwed into sitting in the elevator lobby like a dog that’s been put outside for chewing on the sofa legs.
These Germans are packed into the elevator lobby like sardines. I finally ask them if they’re waiting on someone; can I get that someone for them? “Yes,” they say. They are waiting for their “guide” but can’t be more specific than that. I have no idea what they’re talking about, so I ask if they’d like to be let into one of the lobbies with actual chairs. There is a chorus of eager, “Ja, bitte” all around.
As I’m holding the door open for the Germans, I’m thinking to myself, “Do it! Say something to them in German! Impress them!” But the other part of me, the one that hasn’t spoken any German to an actual German or Austrian or Swiss person in about five years and that I secretly believe doesn’t want me to succeed at anything, ever, screams “NOOOOOOOO! YOU’LL JUST EMBARASS YOURSELF EVEN MORE THAN YOU DID WITH YOUR STUPID SANTA CLAUS SONG! SHUT UP NOW!” My internal battle raged as the last of the Germans marched through the glass doors.
They were all smiling at me, expectantly; I suppose it was because I was standing there acting like I knew what to do with them next: “Please, come along to this conference room over here! I will fetch your guide and a round of mimosas for you all!” But really, I was standing there like a schmuck still trying to decide whether or not to say some fleeting thing to them in their mother tongue. Somewhere inside, I realized that I had totally gone past the point where a casual little “Wie geht’s Ihnen heute?” would come off as surprisingly continental and sophisticated and was now at the point where I was starting to confuse them with my continued, mute presence.
Panicking, I turned to leave and make my way to my office. I stammered out, “Oooookay, well, I guess I’ll just leave you guys here. Good luck!” Good luck? What? As I was walking away, a few of them said, “Thank you!” And as I turned the corner down a hallway, I finally squeaked back, “Tschus! Biss dann!” and scurried away as quickly as possible before they could come after me with excited shouts of “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?” because, no. I don’t today, I’m afraid.