Lost and found in translation

Whenever we have the doors of Holy Trinity open in holiday season, visitors find their way in. So, after a lunchtime wedding today, a delightful family from Germany wandered in as we were clearing up, and I sauntered over to welcome them and show them round.  Their English was minimal, apart from the young daughter who could understand quite a bit.  My German is very patchy, learned by serving customers at a campsite shop in Switzerland and studying some German research on medieval thought.  But the mother had read about William Wallace and was keen to discover Scotland, so I launched in.

Holy Trinity has quite a connection with the military, including a memorial chapel for the World Wars, complete with windows of warrior saints.  I felt a bit uncomfortable (‘don’t mention the war’) muddling through the explanations, though all of us were from a post-war generation. It balanced out a bit when they told me that their ‘Evangelische Kirche’ (possibly Lutheran, though we didn’t quite get that straight) had been bombed during the war (I thought at first they said ‘bombed behind the wall’ but we got there in the end).

I struggled a bit to translate ‘archangel’ (Michael) – Engelfuehrer?  Hochengel?  But the (Biblical) dragon in the window helped to identify him – there’s nothing like a visual aid.  However, we got into deep water with St Catherine  (above).  My mistake was to show them the wheel and try to explain that this was where we got the name ‘Catherine-wheel’ for a type of firework.  Their look of complete mystification made me switch to martyrdom, though I was unsure of the German for martyr.  I spoke about Romans and the Coliseum and dying for your faith, and they asked whether the Romans were in Scotland.  Yes, but this is Catherine of Alexandria, I said.  Ach so.  You could see them wondering how she got there from Scotland, so I moved us quickly on.

Then the Forth Valley Mothers’ Union banner caught their interest.  We sorted out ‘Forth Valley’ – after all, Forth could be an adverb as well as a river.  I wrongly said valley was a ‘Wald’ and they looked puzzled again.  We settled for a canyon in the end.  What does the MU do?  Well, how do you explain running a creche at a prison?  I tried to draw a prison, and they got it – Ah…  ‘Jail’.  I’d forgotten that we speak American now.  By then I was lunchless, in post-wedding hyper-ness, and punch-drunk with my botched German.  I rashly began to explain how the MU collects flip-flops to give to inebriated girls in heels in Stirling so they can walk home.  ‘Flip-flops!’  At last we found a common language.  I acted out a drunken female changing her footwear and they got it straight away, calling out loudly, ‘flip-flops!!’

What they made of the crazed pastor of this Schottische Evangelische (as they insisted, meaning ‘Protestant’) Anglikanische Kirche I shall never know, but they went off happily to climb up to the Castle, having written some incomprehensible German in our visitors’ book.

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