In which a Taiwanese-American girl walks into a Japanese restaurant in Austria and speaks Chinese

Sunday was particularly lovely; despite sleeping past my alarm and waking up at 1 PM, I enjoyed the entirety of the day.

As soon as I got into town I set my mind to obtaining lunch. I seriously entertained the idea of getting kebap again, but then decided that for experience’s sake, I should try something new every time I eat—well, while I’m here, anyway. So I headed to Getreidegasse to try Austria’s take on Asian food. I passed by one Chinese buffet and found myself in the quiet courtyard of Restaurant Nagano.

I was a little thrown off that I didn’t get tea automatically; I had to ask for it. When my bill came I found that it cost €2.80…oi. To the restaurant’s credit though, it was delicious: loose-leaf green tea (no tea bag!) with a hint of peach.
I’ve heard that the sushi in Austria is awful, so for the sake of trying I ordered a two-piece plate of salmon nigiri. It was pretty good; kudos for the fish not being cold, and it tasted fresh and milky. The only thing was, as you can see from this picture, that the fish was sliced THIN. Sigh!
I felt a little self-conscious when I took out my Moleskine to take notes on the food. I probably looked like a very insecure Anton Ego. I hope no one mistook me for a food critic…

For the sake of my wallet I ordered a simple bowl of udon soup. The price was still a little painful at €8.90, considering that I make myself udon soup all the time for next to nothing. Oh well. The noodles were nice and chewy, the broth was savory, and the vegetables and seaweed tasted fresh. I suppose you can’t ask for more!

While it was unnecessarily pricey, I do have to say the food was satisfying and delicious. The highlight of my meal, however, was my conversation with the waitress. While I chewed my noodles and read a book, I overheard all of the staff speaking in Mandarin Chinese.
So rather than speaking in my limited German sprinkled with English, I addressed the waitress in Chinese when she came with my bill. She immediately brightened up—considerably—and eagerly asked me about myself. “And you came here all by yourself?” she asked in awe, when I told her I had come from the US. She thanked me over and over again, even though I only tipped 50 cents, and even though I had done nothing more than order food and eat it all.
It was a lovely, warm moment; it makes my day every time I make a connection with the locals, though funnily enough I have far more extended conversations in Chinese here in Austria than in German. There’s something indescribably beautiful about breaking out from the confines of a limited vocabulary in one language and finding another soul who speaks your native tongue; even if you have nothing else in common it creates an instant bond.
It may sound silly, but I feel like we are all grains of sand being flung from place to place and we rejoice when we are thrown against another particle that came from the same stone.

Sprechen Sie Englisch?

Before I started taking German here, the only useful phrase I knew was “Sprechen Sie Englisch,” which means “Do you speak English?” in its formal form.

Of course, one could argue that it’s a useless phrase as anyone who’d answer yes to “Sprechen Sie Englisch” would understand “Do you speak English?” anyway, so it wouldn’t make a difference, but I like to make myself feel better by feeling like I tried, at least, to not be That American.
The thing I’ve noticed though, is that every time I someone “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” and they do, in fact, speak English, they don’t just say yes. They always say “A little bit,” or “Yes, only a tiny bit.” That’s a perfectly reasonable answer, but here’s the kicker: they always speak perfectly good English. And yet if you ask them if they speak English, it’s always “only a little.”
I don’t know if Austrians are a modest people, or if they really underestimate how well they speak English, or if that’s what they’re supposed to say. I can almost imagine, in Austrian schools, children being told exactly how to respond to such a question.
“Klaus, if an American comes up to you and says ‘Sprecken zee Engleesh,’ what do you say?”
“I say ‘A little bit,’ Lehrer!”
“Perfect! Have a Mozartkugel.”
Though I suppose if someone came up to me and asked if I spoke Spanish, or Chinese, I would respond the same way. I suppose answering that you only speak a little bit of the language excuses you from having to say anything more than a few basic things, and getting away with it. I guess it also saves you from extended conversations you don’t want to be part of.
“Sprechen sie Englisch?”
“Yes, a little.”
“Where’s the nearest McDonald’s?”
“It’s over there to your right.”
“Great! Say, what’s your take on foreign policy?”
“Sorry, I told you I only spoke a little English. Auf Wiedersehen!”