I’m pleased to announce that I can now check another European country off my list – Germany! Recently, I had to attend a work conference in Heidelberg (at Heidelberg University) and so although this was not a voluntary instance of travel, I do feel very strongly that Heidelberg is just the sort of place I would visit if I was the kind of person who voluntarily visited places. It is a beautiful, classically European city, complete with cobbled streets and a ruined castle atop one of the nearby mountains. Its main centerpiece is the Neckar River, which passes underneath several scenic bridges. Unfortunately, due to the nature of my visit I was not able to do much sightseeing, but I did snap a few shaky photos to share (see gallery below). One of the conference events took us to the ruined castle, which was a highlight of the trip. It was nighttime during the visit so good iPhone photographs were out of the question, but it was an awesome experience (in the sense that it inspired a great deal of awe). It was a real castle, complete with gargoyles and turrets and a winding mountain path to its entrance. Throughout my visit, I was repeatedly struck with the thought that I really do need to learn at least a little German. I already live in a country where the vast majority of the population speaks it, but I had not really been surrounded by it for an extended period of time until now. I had to take a couple of taxis by myself, and found myself at a loss to communicate without any German basics except for Danke and Bitte and Gutentag. My brain obviously now associates feeling socially awkward with speaking French, so I also embarrassed myself by stuttering a few French words in my attempts to communicate. What a strange feeling it was to be back on the Swiss train home, feeling grateful that I could once again understand the conductor’s announcements in French! Of course, most Germans can speak English perfectly well – I just feel guilty if I start right in with that assumption and no attempt to speak the native language, however poor the attempt may be. On the train to Heidelberg, I sat in one of those closed-in cars with one other gentleman, who was working away on his laptop. He leaned over and explained that he had heard me conversing earlier with one of my colleagues, and asked if I would mind proofreading a job application letter that he was writing in English. I was of course happy to help, and he was so eager for feedback on his English grammar that I felt bad pointing out his few minor errors. He left me genuinely hoping he gets the job. This little interaction again left me impressed with the linguistic talent of Europeans in general. Time and time again they will aver that they ‘do not speak English’ or ‘barely speak English’ or speak ‘terrible English.’ This is true exactly 0% of the time: when a European tells you that they do not speak English, what they really mean is that they were not born speaking English! Having to work so hard just to make myself understood in another language is something I will always lament, but seeing how Europeans are able to interact in such a wide variety of circumstances and social situations will always encourage me to keep trying.