“Woh ist der bahnhof?”
One of our family jokes is about how when you go to live in Germany, for some reason, one of the first phrases you learn isn’t “guten tag” or “Wiegehts” (hello! / how are you?) but “where is the train station?” And it is particularly hilarious because even if you ever say it exactly right (or so you think) no one can understand what you are saying. And if they DO understand – they start giving you directions with elaborate hand signals.
Germans are very precise. They won’t just point in a general direction, they will use all kinds of words for left, right, straight ahead, and my personal favorite “gegenuber” which means catty-corner, or diagonally across from something, all words that the beginner doesn’t have a clue. So even if you successfully ask for directions, you can’t understand the answer.
Most of the time, however, you will ask “woh ist der bahnhof” several times, as the response is continually “wie, bitte?”, the polite way of sayinh “WHAT??” and then finally they will get this “aha!” and they will say “Oh! Woh ist der bahnhof?!” and it sounds exactly like what you have been saying for the last five minutes.
I had a “woh is der bahnhof” experience here in Kuwait. I was searching for a souk I had heard about. I asked some of my friends – where is the souk Watiniya? I experienced that two seconds of total blank non-response that always feels like two days, and then one of them laughed and said “oh, she means the souk Watiya” and they told me where it was.
But I’m getting smarter. It wasn’t the part where I added the extra syllable that confused them. It was the fact that I used the soft “t” and not the hard “t”. It’s a small thing, but enough to make me dance for joy – I can hear the difference!