I will never get used to the idea that you are allowed to openly carry and drink alcohol in public in Vienna (I stared in shock at a man drinking a tall boy in line for a bus ticket just the other day). But, there I was, sitting on the bus with a bottle of cabernet sauvignon bouncing in my lap like a baby. I was on my way to meet my tandem language buddy for a party.
In a gross overestimation of my language learning ability, I signed up to be a part of the tandem language program at WU my first week in Austria. It matches up two students who want to learn the language the other is a native speaker of. However, nearing the end of my intensive German course, I realized that maybe I had been a bit presumptuous. I only had the vocabulary to carry a conversation about a class schedule, what I liked to eat, and how to get to the Volkstheatre from Stephansplatz…and even that was pretty dicey. I figured after several lines of “I like to eat [blank], but I don’t like to eat [blank],” “I have class Monday from 9 to 17:30”, or “Turn left at the Rathaus.” my novelty would wear very thin. Yet, despite my better judgement, I went anyways to meet my new partner at the tandem program’s welcome night, and, fortunately (maybe it was the prosecco they were serving), we hit it off. We went out the very next day to shop and have a delicious Italian dinner, all the while only speaking in English (tandem fail).
Quick Pause: My boyfriend’s name is Tom. My buddy’s name is Tom. And my tandem language partner’s name is Tom. This is getting ridiculous. In an effort to keep track, they have since been given numerical values respective to their appearance in my life. Boyfriend Tom is overjoyed to be considered “Tom #1.”
He (Tom #3) invited me out tonight for a party with some friends, and naturally, I was wary. I was going to a party filled with people I didn’t know with someone I didn’t really know in a language I certainly didn’t know. For a homebody like me, that was a cocktail of disaster. However, when I was a big drama kid, one of my favourite improv games was called “Yes, Let’s.” It was a game that taught you the importance of accepting whatever your teammates gave you to keep a scene going. If they said they wanted to go to the zoo, you had to say, “Yes, let’s!” If they said they wanted to check out the tiger cage, you said, “Yes, let’s!” and if they said that they wanted to go inside, you had to say (however begrudgingly) “Yes, lets!” all in the name of a good scene. So, faced with the daunting task of surviving my first real Austrian party, I said, “Yes, lets!” and hopped into the tiger cage.
It turned out to be a petite private party of people playing poker (an alliteration I couldn’t refuse). I asked that they keep speaking in German as that’s what I was here to learn, and they obliged. The best part about listening to a language you don’t understand is that you can create in your own meanings. I began to dub in my own internal dialogue. They complimented my hair a lot.
For the better part of the night they taught us three newcomers the ins and outs of poker. However, all the instructions were given in German, so I think I’m even worse off now than I was before, which – given how bad I am at poker – isn’t saying a lot. Once the game and the chips ran out, we began discussing everything from politics to shoes to university scholarships in a swamp water mix of German, English, Spanish, and a hint of French. They were excited to teach me German, but mostly just to laugh at my garbled pronunciation. I was given a journal by the tandem language program to track my experience from personal goals to vocabulary learned with my partner. Tonight, surrounded by new Austrian drinking buddies, I certainly did get to learn several words in German…but I don’t think they should get put in my journal.
I was nervous to follow through with my obligation to the tandem language program, and I was even more nervous to go out tonight. But after a night on the town, making of new friends, and actually being invited to the zoo, there’s a reason why “Yes, Let’s” is still my favourite game.