It’s been a pretty crazy week. Last Wednesday, I left for a solo road trip to Columbus, Ohio. I spent a few days up North and then met up with my husband’s family to pick up his aunt and uncle, who are visiting from Germany. I brought them home with me to Chattanooga on Sunday.
As a typical American who speaks only 1 language with anything close to fluency, driving for 7+ hours with two people who speak little English introduced some interesting challenges. We attempted to address the challenges with technology. I downloaded the Google translator app on my iPad and handed it to Pat’s aunt so she could speak into the iPad and translate what she wanted to say into English. The app will even read the translation out loud, which is perfect when you’re driving.
There were a few glitches, however. Elvi, Pat’s aunt, had trouble getting it to hear her properly. At one point, I heard her mutter, “Transfestite . . . transvestite . . . oh! Transvestite!” I looked over at her, smiling, and she said (in much better English than google managed), “Something I never said!” I was just impressed she knew the word.
I learned that, in Germany, people are not allowed to talk on their cell phones while operating a vehicle. Elvi was rather shocked when she saw a man driving by in what seems to be the common posture of 20-something American men: slouched low in the seat, elbow propped on the window sill, cell phone held tight against his ear. As he sped past me at something well over 75 mph, I wondered if it was physically possible for him to see out of his windshield, let alone his side windows or rearview mirrors.
I also learned that in Germany, passengers can drink alcohol while someone who is not drinking is driving. I thought about this for a while. Study after study has shown that people who are on a cell phone can’t drive. Some studies suggest cell-phone-talkers exhibit worse response times and greater levels of distraction while driving than people who have a blood alcohol level that barely exceeds the legal limit.
I did not even try to explain why we Americans (except in a handful of states) think it’s our god-given right to talk on the phone while we drive, yet think it’s just plain criminal to let a passenger enjoy a beer as they ride down the road. I picked up my cell phone and called my husband instead.
We made it to Chattanooga with what may have been a world record for the fewest words spoken during a 7 hour car ride ever. I spent most of the journey trying to remember all the German words I once knew (not that there were a lot). It wouldn’t have helped much–even if I could remember them, I wouldn’t have been able to pronounce them in a recognizable form.