I met this interesting fellow when I lived and worked at a resort in the Bavarian Alps region of Germany. He was known only as “Schmechtig,” and was one of the cooks there. I was wary of him at first, because I was young and he always looked annoyed or just fed up. If anyone tried to talk to him he’d wave them off with an angry flick of the hand. I decided to steer clear.
But one day he saw me coming towards the kitchen, and with a decided twinkle in his eye, tipped his little soup bowl in a kind of salute and said, “Schmechtig suppe. Gut suppe.” I said, “Ja?” or something like that and continued on. This soon became a ritual every time I walked by the kitchen. I quickly learned that Schmechtig’s special “soup” was beer. That explained the twinkle in his eye.
(Sorry about the blurry photo, but it really captures his gesture.)
I knew almost nothing about Schmechtig, because he didn’t speak English and I only understood a little German. He was old enough to be my grandfather and I was either busy working or hanging out with the other kids who worked there. Our only interaction was the daily tipping of the soup bowl, but I found myself looking forward to it.
One day I noticed Schmechtig in the parking lot near where the younger employees lived. I had my camera and thought it would be fun to capture him outside the kitchen. When I pointed to my camera, Schmechtig grabbed one of the rental bikes like he was going to ride it and posed happily. It made me laugh, and that made him laugh. It was the first time I’d heard that sound come from him and it made my week.
My last memory of Schmechtig was on New Year’s Eve at the resort. All of us kids were dancing in the bar as usual and suddenly someone cried out, “Schmechtig!” We couldn’t believe it–he was out of the kitchen, and in the bar no less. More surprising, he walked up to me and said, “Tanzen?” I knew enough German to know that meant “dance.” I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say, so my boyfriend accepted for me and Schmechtig and I did a funny little “waltz” while everyone around us clapped. When the music stopped, everybody cheered and Schmechtig took a little bow before leaving.
No photos of the dance, but I haven’t forgotten the moment. We went back to the States soon after and I never saw Schmechtig again.
Have you ever had a connection with someone who didn’t speak your language?