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Caviar, Humidifiers, Greyhounds and an embarrassing greeting

August 17, 2009

Business English Today

Bonn, 14. August 2009
Dear Sir or Madame,
I was talking to my old friend Christian the other day, reminiscing about the old days.

Christian is one of a group of people I used to coach who were all involved in organising classical music concerts. They met all the big stars of the music world and looked after them when they were on tour in Germany, including making hotel reservations and travel arrangements. They had fascinating stories to tell.

What every violinist needs

There was the famous violinist who sent a 5-page fax with detailed instructions of “essentials” for his concert. As well as the usual caviar and Champagne, and the Audi sports car he insisted they sent to the airport to pick him up, he demanded an industrial-sized humidifier for his hotel room because he had asthma.

They called me in in situations like this. “How do we tell him the hotel won’t allow it? They say it’ll ruin the carpet. But he insists!” The violinist had, apparently, managed to destroy a Persian rug in another hotel, and word had got around.

Blind greyhounds

Then there was the Russian pianist who arrived at the concert hall with three greyhounds, one of them blind, who needed to be taken for a walk while she rehearsed. “If only she’d have told us beforehand. We’d have arranged something.” I’m glad I don’t speak Russian and I wasn’t called in to mediate in that one.

Affairs and first-class tickets

Sometimes, they didn’t call me in when they perhaps should have, and sent faxes and emails to people promising strange and wonderful things, like telling a famous conductor that they would take care of his “affair” at a first-class hotel, or advising an opera singer that she would “become a first-class train ticket.”

Luckily, many of the musicians they dealt with were not English native speakers either, so they probably won’t have noticed the little slip-ups. I thought they were hilarious!

"Guten Tag, Frau Kalb"

Before you start saying I shouldn’t make fun of other people’s mistakes, I can tell you one really embarrassing one I made when I was learning German.

I was fascinated by the different ways of greeting people – the handshake and then “Guten Morgen”, “Guten Tag”, “Mahlzeit”, “Gruss Gott”, and so on. Eager to get everything right, I repeated whatever was said to me, looking the other person in the eye with a friendly smile. That was until the day a very tall and grim looking lady offered me her hand and said “Guten Tag, Kalb”. I had no idea what time of day “Kalb” was, but keen as I was to fit in, I returned her greeting with “Guten Tag, Kalb.”

I never saw Frau Kalb again, but I’ll never forget her face and the way she looked at me. It was almost as bad as the time I asked a woman in the office where I worked “Was fressen Ihre Kinder gerne?” It’s hard to believe now, but I really thought it was just the same as “essen”, like it is in English: “What do your children eat?” “What does your dog eat?” No difference!

So, I have the deepest sympathy for anyone learning a foreign language, and I’m really not laughing at you but with you. Finally, Frau Kalb, if you’re out there, I’d just like to say “Guten Tag. Schön, Sie kennengelernt zu haben!”

Your

Jean Lennox

Editor-in-Chief

Vocabulary

to reminisce – in Erinnerungen schwelgen
humidifier – Luftbefeuchter
to call someone in – jemand einholen
carpet – Teppich
Persian rug – Perserteppich
greyhound – Windhund
to mediate – schlichten
to become – werden
to deal with something – betreuen, erledigen, bearbeiten
slip-up – kleine Panne
embarrassing – peinlich
hilarious – extrem lustig
eager – eifrig
grim – grimmig, ernst
keen – eifrig
to fit in – sich anpassen

Tip of the week
How to greet people in English

If you are introduced to someone, shake hands and say, “Hello, it’s nice to meet you.

If someone says, “How are you?” say “Fine, thanks.”

If someone says, “How do you do?” answer by saying “How do you do?” or “Pleased to meet you.” Don’t say “Very well, thank you,” or something similar.

“How do you do?” is not a proper question. It’s just like saying, “Guten Tag.”

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