Putting a newly learned foreign word to good use

This item appears on page 49 of the December 2013 issue.

Tell us about the funniest thing that happened to you while traveling in a foreign country. (ITN prints no info on destinations in the United States.) There are no restrictions on length. ITN staff will choose each month’s winner, who will receive a free one-year subscription to ITN. Include your full mailing address. Entries not chosen cannot be acknowledged. 

This month’s winner is ROSEMARY HAGEN of Englewood, FL:


This happened many years ago when Berlin was still a divided city and, when leaving East Berlin for West Germany, you had to go through East German Customs.

My husband, Paul, and I spent our last night in East Berlin at a movie with English subtitles. After the movie, I remarked that I had learned a new word, “Narr,” which means “fool” or “idiot.”

The next day at Customs, Paul took our passports forward but, after a long time, returned looking worried. 

“They won’t give me your passport and they won’t tell me why,” he said.

Just then a German soldier approached and said to me, “Auf­steh­en!” This means “Get up!” and I got up! When we got to the office, he showed me the form Paul had filled out. I saw that Paul had forgotten my birthdate. 

I smiled reassuringly and said, in my limited German, “Herr Hagen ist ein Narr. Mein Geburtstag ist fünfundzwanzig August, nicht sechs” (“Mr. Hagen is an idiot. My birthday is August 25, not six”).

The soldier came around the counter and gave me a big hug.

When I got back to the car, I decided I would kid Paul, so I didn’t say a thing. He gave me a funny look but didn’t say a word for about 50 miles, then could no longer contain himself.

“How come that guy hugged you?” he asked.

“How come you can’t remember my birthday?” I countered.

“Oh, it was that!” he grunted. “It’s the 26th, isn’t it?”

I laughed at him. “I’ll never tell,” I said.