Kayla and Hans-Erik were seated by a waitress in the café nestled in the heart of Bendigo. Kayla was unaware of the quiet chatter of the nearby café patrons. She was purely focused on the man who sat in front of her. He was a six foot two, twenty-one year old who’d just arrived from Berlin. June her colleague from work had set her up on a blind date with him. He was to visit her school and pop into her German classes later in the week.
‘So, what would you recommend a German backpacker who has just arrived in Australia?’ Kayla asked the waitress.
‘Well, there’s the kangaroo dish…’
‘The kangaroo dish sounds nice,’ Hans-Erik said.
Kayla’s mouth opened wide with shock. ‘Kangaroo? You mean our national treasure? You can’t eat that! That’d be like eating Skippy!’
‘Skippy? What is that?’
‘You mean, who is that? Skippy was our very own national hero! Skippy the bush kangaroo who used to save the world! Well, maybe only Australia and definitely only ever on TV!’
Hans-Erik scowled. ‘Fine. Do you have deer?’
‘No! You can’t have that! That’d be like – like – eating Bambi!’
‘What? Are you joking or being serious?’
‘I’m being deadly serious – you can’t eat either one of them!’
‘Well, what can I eat then?’ Hans-Erik demanded.
Kayla turned to the waitress who was by now tapping her foot impatiently on the wooden floor and asked if she had any German dishes like roast pork with dumplings.
‘I’m sorry, Miss, but we don’t have any German dishes.’
Kayla slouched into her chair. ‘Oh,’ was all she said.
Hans-Erik turned towards the waitress. ‘I’ll have whatever she’s having.’
Kayla looked up at the waitress. ‘What drinks do you have?’
‘We have a new range of autumnal drinks – some milkshakes including Fluffy Bunny, Fluffy Duck and Banana Fluff.’
‘What’s Banana Fluff like?’
The waitress cocked her head to one side and smiled. ‘It’s a banana flavoured drink with honey, yoghurt and one scoop of vanilla ice cream.’
‘Nice. We’ll have that.’
‘That will be ten dollars thank you.’
‘Hey, it’s on me,’ Kayla said to Hans-Erik.
‘No thanks. I will pay for my own!’
They paid the waitress who waltzed off and saw to their drinks. Once they came Kayla took a sip through a straw.
‘Not bad!’ she said. ‘What do you think?’
Hans-Erik took a sip as well. ‘Yes, very nice.’
Kayla sat back in her seat and tried to relax. The sound of cutlery clinking on porcelain plates and spoons stirring sugar into mugs suddenly seemed to whirl into a huge noise. The endless chatter seemed to increase as Cyril, the town nuisance entered the café and started quoting former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating saying, ‘This is the sweetest victory of all… this is a victory for the true believers.’ He then said other quotes like, ‘I want to do you slowly… in the psychological battle stakes we are stripped down and ready to go… I want to see you squirm out of this load of rubbish! There will be no easy execution for you… if you think I’m going to put you out of your misery quickly you can think again.’ He then went on to claim the “end was nigh” and that “the Mark of the Beast was upon them all” as he went from table to table getting in everyone’s personal space. He even went up to Kayla’s chair, put his hands on her shoulders and said a la Joey from Friends, ‘How you doin’?’ He wasn’t happy until the waitress sat him down with a cappuccino and a choc chip cookie. Suddenly, Kayla desperately wanted to be somewhere else.
‘I think I’ve lost my appetite,’ she said.
‘Do you want to go?’ Hans-Erik asked.
‘Fine. Let’s go.’
The last thing they heard as they ran out the door was Cyril starting up again with another Keating quote, ‘As far as you’re concerned, unless you’re scripted you’re useless! Unless you’re scripted you’re useless… let me tell you Mr Speaker unless he’s in with a question in his hand written by someone on his staff… he’s useless!’
* * *
Kayla and Hans-Erik ended up back in the lush and leafy Rosalind Park. Hans-Erik took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his brow.
‘It is so hot!’ he exclaimed. ‘How can you stand it?’
Kayla shook her head. ‘Are you kidding me? It’s only twenty-three degrees today! I guess you don’t get days as hot as this back home, right?’
‘Actually, we do get days that are quite hot.’
Kayla sat down on a park bench and Hans-Erik joined her. ‘Well, I guess you don’t have as many lazy people there as we do here. The great Aussie yobbo – the lazybones. You know, the kind of people who drive Utes with a blue heeler in the back, wear flannel shirts and spend their dole check on smokes and a six pack of beer.’
Hans-Erik raised an eyebrow. ‘Yes, we do have lazy people like that back home in Germany as well. I am not sure what you mean about the Ute and the blue heeler, though. I take it that a Ute is a form of transport but I am not certain what the latter is.’
Kayla laughed. ‘It is a breed of dog and is another type of national icon – like Skippy the kangaroo I guess. Getting back to German people though, I was wondering if you could listen to something.’
She handed him an earphone and plugged it into her iPod. She searched through her files until she came across the file she was after. It was of a German conversation.
‘I use this to teach my class,’ Kayla explained as Hans-Erik cocked his head to one side as he listened.
‘Ha! They’re not even German!’
‘What? You’re kidding me! How could they not be? This is part of an accredited course!’
‘They are not German! Perhaps Australian or even English maybe, pretending to be…’
‘Impossible! I teach my classes using this audio! It’s supposed to teach them how to speak German like a native! I mean, like, the correct pronunciation and everything!’
Hans-Erik chuckled as he handed back her iPod and earphones. ‘Well, they are not German, that’s for sure.’
‘Well, a lot of people think I sound British. This guy I went to uni with who was from Botswana said I sounded English. He asked me if I was from England to which I replied, “No.” He then asked me if my parents were at least English and again I said, “No.”
“Well, you must watch a lot of British television then,” he said to which I replied for the third time, “No.”
Hans-Erik nodded. ‘A lot of people say the same about my accent. I have been asked on several occasions if I am from the United Kingdom. I regret to say that I have never even travelled there yet.’
Kayla sighed. ‘You know what frustrates me? The fact that all I ever really learnt during German class at school was, “Excuse me, can you please tell me how to get to the bus station?” or “How much is that loaf of bread?” I mean, I wanted to be able to really converse in German and talk about one’s hopes and dreams. You know, like, to be able to speak in everyday, colloquial German like you would with your friends back home. I feel so frustrated! I mean, we’ve talked all day and I have hardly spoken a word of German!’
Hans-Erik shook his head. ‘You’re not as bad as you think. In fact, you are probably better than a lot of Germans. There are some who cannot even speak the language properly even though it is their native tongue. I guess one cannot be too harsh on them for German is a very tough language to learn – besides Danish of course!’
Kayla raised her hands to the sky. ‘How must Princess Mary of Denmark stand it? I mean, she’s an Australian like me and yet she has had to learn to speak the language like that of a native! It was considerably difficult for her since she had never learnt a foreign language before.’
‘Not even in school?’
‘That’s right! Not even in school. I guess learning foreign languages aren’t seen as being that important here like it is overseas. I mean, everyone else throughout the world can speak English fluently but can we speak other languages properly here? No! Why? Because of people’s ignorance and intolerance to other cultures – that’s why! Back when I was a kid in school, I learnt both German and French. Then I took up Japanese as well when I was at uni.’
‘Yes, we have to learn French at school back home as well. It is seen as being a very important language. To us, since the country is quite close by. Some schools still offer Latin! But what you said about Princess Mary was correct for she did have to learn it. For one day she will become queen and it would be embarrassing if she could not speak Danish like a native.’
‘So, do you like The Scorpions or what?’
‘Their song Wind of Change was really popular here.’
‘Is that so?’
‘Yes it is.’
‘Have you ever been to Germany?’
‘No. I’ve never been able to afford it. But I’d love to go!’
‘Maybe you will be able to go there someday.’
‘I hope so.’
‘So, should I call June to pick me up now or what?’
Kayla sighed, resigned to the fact they were getting nowhere. ‘Yeah, OK then.’
‘So, I shall be visiting your school sometime next week?’
‘Yeah. So, I guess I’ll see you then.’ She reached out and they shook hands. ‘Auf Wiedersehen,’ she said.
‘Ja, auf Wiedersehen,’ he said as she turned away and walked off before he called after her. ‘This is the sweetest victory of all… this is a victory for the true believers!’