As he inspected my papers on Sunday afternoon, the immigration cop wanted to fake me out. They often try.
Germany, at the crossroads of Europe, sees a lot of suspicious characters passing through. I'm sure the police get trained in how to make casual chat with a departing traveller, to reveal inconsistent stories which might bear a closer look.
My Australian passport invites suspicion. It was issued in Tokyo, and says that I was born in the USA. Living now in Germany, but speaking atrocious German...well, it adds to a history of flaky national allegiances.
The cop made a play. Also, wer gewinnt das Spiel? he asked. So who's going to win the game?
Hmm...it's June 13, 2010, and a German asks an Australian about a game. He stumped me for a minute. Maybe it's that pesky World Cup? When flags appear on cars, you know something's afoot.
In der Weltmeisterschaft?.
Ja, he sniggered.
Mein Hertz bleibt in Australien, aber ich gebe eine Wette auf Deutschland ab, was my clumsy reply. My heart stays with Australia, but I'm betting on Germany.
(Australians, let's look on the bright side. The Socceroos kept Germany to a mere four-point margin. If we were playing Aussie Rules, that'd be a cliffhanger. In many ways, Monday's game was a triumph!)
The cop wasn't satisfied with my answer. He noticed the destination on my boarding pass, and raised an eyebrow.
Why on earth would anyone want to go there?
Well may he ask. I had a perfectly good reason, but like all perfectly good reasons, it sounds preposterous.
Master Right and I are attending a sports event. A big sporting event. A world championship, in fact.
Yes, that's right. We—two prissy, middle-aged, unathletic fops—spent the last few days boning up on the finer points of weightlifting. Before you crack a predictable joke, note that we'll attend the women's finals, so that's the last boning up you'll see. Yes, you'll find us in the bleachers, there to cheer for our national team.
Our national team? A multicultural couple such as us often can't decide which of our several nations demands the most support. (Master Right, for example, regarded himself as an honorary Australian until the whaling suit. ) But this time, we had a mission. For the next several days, our team is Japan. A 60 x90 cm Hinomaru flag sits, neatly folded, in my husband's carry-on.
I tried to explain this to the cop.
Wir besuchen die Weltmeisterschaft... Dumb move. In German, the World Cup is simply known as the World Championship, or Weltmeisterschaft. After football, there are few other world champions which Germans want to become. Since Boris and Steffi retired, nobody watches tennis. Leave skiing to the Austrians. Champions are football champions, period.
...die Weltmeisterschaft auf...fuck! What's the German word for weightlifting? I fumbled for a second or two.
In this pause, the cop quietly suggested that if I were attending the Weltmeisterschaft, I should change my ticket to Johannesburg.
German speakers will point out, in an instant, that the word is Gewichtheben. A simple, direct translation of the English.
I think I said it. Then again, I think I might have said something like Gesichtheben, which means, um, lifting your face.
Of course, we could switch to English at any time—d'oh!—except that might create even more confusion.
German has borrowed the word lifting, you see. Das Lifting means a facelift, which Master Right discovered when he followed Brigitte Nielsen's makeover on local reality TV. Using the word would confrm that I was trolling Eastern Europe for cheap plastic surgery.
So, I took a time-honoured route, the last resort when a foreign language stumps you. I mimed it.
Think about the challenge. Just putting your hands in the air and moving them up and down really doesn't tell the story. You have to do the facial expressions and sound effects. Right?
That's when the cop dropped his Hans Landa routine and waved me through. Not because he understood what I was talking about, I suspect. Rather, he decided that anyone who stands in a public place drawing attention to himself wouldn't be engaged in crime on the sly.
Master Right waited on the other side of immigration—they hadn't hassled him at all, as usual—and we were off.
To where? You'll need to wait for the next installment to find out. But the sign above hides a subtle clue.
EDIT. The destination was Bulgaria. The word in the starburst is written Cyrillic. It Roman letters, it reads NOVO, or new.