To the Nice Woman in Line Next to Me at the Bakery Yesterday

You spoke only a word or two in German. No French. You wanted a couple of pastries for you and your kid, but you didn’t know how to say that. You wanted to politely point at them through the glass.

The woman working behind the counter knew what you meant.

“Have a seat on the restaurant side, and one of my colleagues will serve you there,” she said. In French.

You didn’t understand, so she repeated it. All very kindly, but still in French.

I leaned over and said to you quietly in English, “Just go sit at a table, and you can order there.”

The clerk nodded.

You looked at me with a mixture of relief and horror.

Because if you are seated at the table, how will you be able to point at the pastries you want? Plus, this total stranger just watched you look foolish.

Believe me: you didn’t look foolish. You looked like a newly arrived expat who just wanted a cup of coffee and a nice pastry. Maybe I can do it in French, but I’ve had my days of not being able to order a pastry in Slovak or Russian without pointing at it. I remember.

Go to this site. Scroll down until you see the pastries. If you hold your mouse over the pictures, you will see what each item is in Slovak, German, and English. My favorite was the Bratislavský rožok orechový. There isn’t a picture of it there, though. To find it, you have to go to the Jedálny a nápojový lístok (food and drink menu) and scroll through that.

Which is what I just did now. Because I couldn’t remember how to say it, but I knew I would know it when I saw it. Even without the English translation next to it.

So, yes, you had a rough moment there. But things are only going to get easier. This is as bad as it gets. Some day–and sooner than you think–you will be a pro at this. And a friend or family member will come visit you. And you will take them out for coffee and a little cake somewhere.

And you will order for both of you, because your guest won’t know how.


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  1. Rachel says:

    Thanks for this post. It made me smile! I wasn’t the women at the bakery yesterday, but it very well could have been me! I can’t wait until things get easier :)

  2. Jennifer says:

    I love this post too because I can definitely relate. Ordering pastries is so intimidating; it used to make me break out in a cold sweat every time. Even now I still sometimes prefer to point because I can never remember the names of all the different kinds of pastries, so if I have to branch out besides my usual “pain au chocolat,” I usually revert to pointing.

  3. The Expatresse says:

    I completely forgot to include in the entry a link to this article that actually inspired me to write mine:

  4. kate says:

    At least the lady behind the counter was kind. She didn’t pretend that she didn’t understand. That is VERY nice.

    “Thank you” is always the first word I pick up in any language, because in the beginning you are so helpless and everyone is doing things for you.

    (“Please”, “Hello”, “Goodbye” and counting to ten and you’re ready to take on the world! Or, at least the country.)

  5. Dear Beet:

    Very touched by your link and had a nice smile about your own story! Haven’t we all been in those situations! Hope you like the new addresses!


  6. Anita says:

    I recently had a moment like this (I was out at a winery without Will). I mostly felt ashamed, that I caused everyone so much confusion. I did greatly appreciate the assistance of the kind woman how help me communicate. I might still be there without her help.

    Thanks for this post.

  7. Valentina says:

    Who who has traveled hasn’t had a moment like this– or many? She was lucky to have you to reassure her. xov

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