On the ferry between Hoek van Holland and Harwich you can normally hear two languages: Dutch and English. I have heard Fries (spoken in the north of the Netherlands) and Hindi too. Sometimes there are huge families from India and Pakistan.
When I came to the bar this time carrying a beer and a newspaper, I noticed a family sitting at the next table talking German. They were having a nice time. Mother and daughter were discussing what items you could buy for the girl’s new Barbie doll. The son asked his father if there might be planes landing on the ship, or helicopters. When the boy asked about what would happen if the ferry sank, father explained about the safety measures and pointed at the messages on the video screen. There was also a little film about this, but it was in Dutch and English.
Most of the Dutch can speak German a bit and certainly can understand it. For a long time we had five channels on our tv and three of them were German. So it’s not so special that I can understand German quite good, but speaking it is far from perfect in my case.
They were obviously having a great time, it was all new to them all. The father decided to have this moment saved for a longer time and took photographs. After he took some, he decided to have one of the whole family. He placed the camera on the table, installed the timer and ordered his gang to put their heads flat on the table.
It looked a bit weird from my point of view. When the camera had flashed he checked the result but was not very happy with it. So again they put their heads on the table, the adults sitting at the end of it. But he was not satisfied with this one either.
I couldn’t keep back any longer, so I asked in my best German whether I could be of service to them and take the picture for them.
His eyes almost popped out and he stammered: “Nein danke”.
I shrugged and went back reading the newspaper. The situation really had changed, the family put their heads close together and resumed their conversation in a whispering manner. I stood up after a few minutes and got a new beer for myself because the first one was finished. When I came back I just saw the back of the father leaving the bar as the last of the family.
I was not intruding I think. I wasn’t impolite. I used the formal “Sie” and not “Du” while addressing him. And I don’t consider myself to look aggressive or such. I’m not a skinhead and have just one colour in my hair: grey.
I still wonder what happened.