How a Sneeze Almost Lead to Falling in Love with a Girl in Germany

Road Schooled by Joe Trey: AKA Adventure Hermit

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The sneeze gets a bum wrap in a world consumed by COVID. It was once the cupid of bodily functions. Bringing strangers together. Often eliciting smiles from the most unyielding of scowls. An authorized, unsubstantiated and likely unconfirmed study estimates nearly 68.2% of all successful marriages began with a sneeze. A moment when one stranger said "bless you" to another. (*citation required and likely not forthcoming)

While that fabricated statistic might seem a bit of an exaggeration. This common courtesy does indeed break down barriers. For those that are not comfortable, you could use the German, gesundheit. This was my dad's preferred acknowledgment. I adopted it because it made me feel bilingual, and I have also passed it down to my daughters.

Germany

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I may have taken my bravado of being bilingual too far. At the age of 16, I visited Europe for the first time. I was part of a music ambassador program, and we had several stops throughout Germany. With only a few days to prepare for the trip and the internet and Google years away from being invented, I went knowing nothing of foreign languages. But, I did know, gesundheit.

On the flight over, I dreamt of meeting a beautiful Fräulein perhaps suffering from allergic rhinitis. Commonly known as a nose tickle. I imagined sliding up to the damsel in distress and unleashing a confident one friendly, gesundheit.

As these things tend to go, at least in 80s movies, she would be overcome by my American accent and precise command of her native language. She'd respond with a curtsey, showing just a hint of her knee below her dirndl. Batting her saucer like blue eyes, tossing back her symmetrical blonde braids and replying, "danka."

I'd recognized the word as thank you. Thanks to a single-page pamphlet of German words I found stuffed into the plane's seat pocket, I would quickly reply with a German, you're welcome, saying, "bitte." Now, I'd really have her attention.

She'd suggest we get together later at the Viktualienmarkt Beergarden. In my excitement, I'd nod my approval vigorously. Knowing I could enjoy "bier" in Germany as a 16-year-old, thanks to — a note from my mom! I'd go for broke with one more phrase rushing out the words, "Our Feet Our the Same." Hoping if I said it fast enough like the pamphlet suggested. If spoken correctly, it should sound like Auf Wiedersehen, meaning goodbye in German.

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These couple of words, along with schnitzel and Badezimmer (bathroom) would prove surprisingly efficient to get me through most of Germany on more than one occasion.

Music and Beer

Still dreaming of my "Hills are Alive" Moment with my new German friend, we'd share beer boots of Radler — a traditional mix of pilsner and "lemonade." The lemonade actually being a lemon-lime citrus soda. She'd try to convince me to dance along with the Barvarian Oompah Band. After some initial consternation and a few more sips of Radler, she, along with the liquid courage, would convince me to give it a whirl.

We dance and drink and drink some more. I'd let my friend practice her English with me. Convincing her, it was chivalry and not my lacking in speaking German fluently. Using an abundance of politeness, I would occasionally sneak in, a casual, Nein. Or perhaps a Ja as my way of showing her I really was a master of her native tongue.

After a revelry, we head out onto the streets of Munich. Walking and holding hands along the cobblestone streets. We'd wander down to a small stream and sit. I'd show off my blue ribbon rock skipping techniques, and she'd grab hold of my left bicep as if I had one worth clinging upon.

I'd tell her how in America, those who could "skim the rock" are celebrated at Hasselhoff-like levels for our stone prowess. She'd laugh and encourage me to throw more stones. I'd oblige sending another flat rock into the stream. Cathing the current just right, it would skip 6, nein, possibly seven times. In her excitement, she'd lean over and kiss me. Then it would happen again.

I'd see her nose wrinkle at the same time mine began to twitch. Perhaps a combination of the pollen and the power of my Drakkar Noir mingling in the air. She'd step back and let out a glorious niesen (sneeze). I'd say, gesundheit to her, and she'd say, Bless you to me. We'd both smile and embrace. The credits would roll, and somewhere in the universe, John Hughes would be stealing my story for a future screenplay.

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Sadly, in reality, my time in Germany involved no canoodling. But that didn't stop me from saying gesundheit to as many strangers as I can, then or now. It's no longer a desperate Cyrano De Bergerac technique to win the affections of young German girls. But that's ok, I'm married to one now. Our meeting was quite different from the one I fantasized about at 16. Although I will say my wife is pretty impressed with my rock skipping skills!

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Epilogue

I wrote a portion of this piece on June 6, 2019. It was initially focused on the origins of the sneeze. In it, I mentioned how "the plague" was over. Now the sentiment has carried on more out of politeness. It has little modern-day effects on warding off evil spirits as it was in the 1600s.

If you are to sneeze today, say in a Costco, your fellow Americans are less likely to say, bless you. They are more likely to scatter faster than a 1980's mom scrambling to get one of 8 Cabbage Patch dolls on the back shelf of a Sears Department Store.

Try to remember, chances are that sneezing person next to you doesn't have COVID. Should you find yourself a victim of such sneeze shaming, to you, I say, "Bless You, and may evil spirits and COVID not darken you or your family's doorstep, for all of your days." No need to say Danka back.

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Joe Trey is the Adventure Hermit! A moniker fitting of his ambivert nature. Visions of rock stardom drove him to get a BFA in music from the University of Connecticut. Not long after, he abandoned his dreams of NYC and relocated to the Rocky Mountains! He has drunk the occasional "toe." When in Dawson, one might say. Don't ask. Or do! His work and love of travel have brought him nearly around the world. Writing, Hiking, Camping, Music, Motorcycles get him up and out each day. Hugging his wife and teenage daughters at night, bring him home! Not a tortoise, not a hare (but a bit hairy in all the wrong places), Joe only competes with himself. Through his writing and adventures, he encourages others to do the same!

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