Can I have a coffee?


When you are in Vienna there are a couple of things you have to do. “Go see the Lipizzaner Stallions,” commanded my buddy.

“I don’t like horse shows.”

“This isn’t a horse show,” he said.

“What is it?”

“It is the greatest animal performance in the world. The horses walk backwards.”

“That doesn’t sound very practical.”

“Neither is the hour record. But it’s awesome.”

“Is it free?”

“Nothing in Austria is free.”

“Well, I’m super cheap and don’t like horse shows so I’m going to pass on the backwards dancing horses.”

My buddy was frustrated with my failure to appreciate great culture. “Look, Wanky, I’ll buy the damned tickets.” He owns a Ferrari and a bunch of college debt and a very nice home. “Just go see the damned horses. You will thank me later.”

As soon as we got to Vienna I began avoiding buying the horse show tickets, first by getting concerts to a couple of classical music performances. Mrs. WM was surprised. “How come you gettin’ onna concert Mozart ticket? You always callin that onna funeral musics.”

“It’s either that or the horses. And I hate horse shows.” The weather had been superb unti the moment I spoke ill of the horses. In moved a bank of clouds and it started to rain. We had left our umbrellas back at the Hotel am Billigsten along with our coats. The temperature dropped thirty degrees and it started to rain.

“This will blow right over,” I said as we scooted beneath the eaves of a shop built back in the 1700s. The rain really started coming down.

Ms. WM looked at her weather app. “It’s rainin’ on ten days inna straight.”

“Those forecasts are always wrong.” As I uttered the word “wrong” the rain doubled in fury, washing down big piles of sludge from the tiles that hadn’t been cleaned since, surprise, the 1700s. A giant piece of black tar and coal tailings splattered on my sneakers and then onto my pants.

“You gonna change a pants now.”

“No, because this is the only pair I brought.” A lively husband-wife battle arose about the wisdom of taking an 11-day trip to northern Europe in early winter with only one pair of pants. The words “stupid,” “crazy,” “big dummy,”and “onna” got bandied around a bit.

We finally decided to go warm up so that we could fight some more. One of Vienna’s oldest coffee shops, Das Alte Kaffeehaus, beckoned. The waitress came to take our order. “Two coffees, please,” I said.

She stared blankly, so I repeated my English more slowly but louder. “TWO COFFEES, PLEASE.” Europeans are like people everywhere. If you are patient with them, everyone can understand English, although I briefly wondered if I’d done the equivalent of going into a pro shop and ordering a “bike.”

“Yes, sir, I heard you the first time. What kind of coffee would you like?”

“With milk, thanks.” It’s awesome to see the magic of English in action. You just have to be patient because it’s pretty much the only language in the world that learns itself.

The waitress studied me for a moment. “Would you like to choose from the menu? We don’t exactly have what you have ordered.”

I needed a menu to order coffee in a coffee shop? “Weird,” I thought. I browsed the coffee selections, which were complicated. Schwarzer, Verlaengeter, Brauner, Schale Gold, Melange, Franziskaner, Verkehrt, Einspaenner, Fiaker, Wiener Eiskaffee, Maria Theresia …

It was all a bit too confusing, and getting explanations was going to exceed my kindergarten-level German, so rather than order from the menu and get some weird coffee-with-eggplant concoction I went with something that no one could possibly screw up. “A latte, please.”

“Latte?” she asked.

“Yes. Latte. LATTE.”

She shook her head, resigned.

A few minutes later she came back with two warm glasses of milk and set them on the table. She paused for a second, daring me to say anything.

I looked at the warm milk. Then I drank it.


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