Traveling is fun, but also you gotta be comfortable feeling like an idiot sometimes. Especially in countries you don’t speak the language.

Basic things like getting a haircut turn into adventures. Or landing in a new airport/city, and trying to decipher squiggly lines to figure out where you’re going.

My biggest experiences with this are China and Germany. In China nobody spoke English except my Chinese colleagues.

In Germany, I’ve had 3 levels of experience: Berlin (most people spoke English), Nürnberg (some people spoke English), and Apolda (nobody speaks English).

I’m currently in Apolda, Germany, on a 5 week solo business retreat. Pretty much I put myself in a small rural town with no distractions and work day and night, every day. Straight huuuuuuustlin’.

Buying Vegetables

Today I was at the grocery store and man, just trying to buy vegetables is a challenge. So they have you weight em on a machine and put your own sticker, that’s fairly standard. There’s a computer in the produce area where you put your fruit/veg down and hit the icon on the touchscreen.

Well, there’s not an icon for everything, then it’s like hmmmm. So you gotta find an employee and try to google translate whats up.

I was getting some lemons and they weren’t on there, I gathered that you just take em to the register. I tagged my red onions, ginger, and tomatoes, then dropped a hand of bananas in my basket.

[at the register] The cashier sets em down and says something I didn’t understand (since I only know about 10 words this happens anytime a German says anything). The bananas were the first thing in line so I didn’t know if she’s saying hello, you have something on your face, or what’s going on.

I said “ich sprechen kein deutsch” (I don’t speak German), then she points at a sticker and I’m like ahhh. Turns out you need a sticker for the bananas too.

Ok then, I grab the bananas and start speed walking back to produce section, clownishly holding up the line. I get about 15 feet and she’s like “hey hey hey” and points next to her… haha there’s a tagging machine right by the register. Smart. Very smart.

Side note: In Thailand when you don’t have your veggies tagged the cashier walks all the way back and does it herself, and you’re left standing in line while people looking at you like, dude.

Now people in line are looking at me like who’s this doof bout to take 5 minutes to walk across the (huge) store to tag some ‘nanners.

I mean, that’s not so bad, stuff like this just happens enough while traveling that I start to be like yup here we are again. Things that seem automatic to the locals just blows over your mind and you’re left looking like an idiot.

You get more intuitive as you experience more countries, but without speaking the language that one’s always throwin’ up snafus left and right.

Let’s All Travel

Being the idiot traveler really makes you appreciate being able to communicate. It also makes you want to help other people in your home country or anywhere you know they’re foreign, when you see someone struggling if you’ve been that struggler before it’s like dude I got you, let me help you out.

Language is Fun

If I had the free time I’d love to learn a bunch of languages, or at the least practice and learn a few hours every day in the country I’m in.

Right now biz building has a grip on me but I can see some point in the future when things are on autopilot, traveling and learning like 5 languages solid. I speak English and Spanish well right now. I’d like to learn Chinese, Portuguese, maybe German, and maybe Japanese.

It’s ok to be the “I have no idea what I’m doing” dog/person 😀

Hasta la proxima!

July 10th Update

Ok I just had to come back here and share this, because it will be funny to read (for me) some point later…

So I’m at the grocery getting my usual – 4 Franziskaner weisse, 2 Bayreuther hefe-weisse, 1 Guinness, and a bushel of radishes… I’m in line at checkout and put my beers on the conveyor belt. There’s 2 people ahead of me.

As soon as my beers get within arms reach of the red haired cashier (she knows me as the dumb foreigner that speaks no German by now), she starts aggressively putting each of them on their sides haha. In her mind I can imagine her like “that’s not how they go!”… or whatever I don’t know.

I helped her and followed suit on the last 2 of 7 beers, so now they’re all laying on their side like passed out college kids, but hey at least there’s not chance a jolt in the belt will topple a beer 😀

It gets to me and she does the standard polite “hallo” like nothing happened haha.

Maybe nothing happened, but I get a kick out of it anyway.

Joe Lannen
About Me

I'm a wandering entrepreneur, roaming the globe and working on projects to make a positive impact on the world. I live out of 2 backpacks, love the outdoors, and always down to connect with minds of the Earth :D