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train stationA few years ago, I decided to visit my brother who was stationed in Germany. I assumed that most Germans would speak English. But I found that many people spoke only their native tongue - including the ticket inspector on the train.

He punched my ticket, then chatted cordially for a bit, making gestures like a windmill. I simply nodded from time to time to show him that I was interested.

When he had gone, an American woman in the compartment leaned forward and asked if I spoke German.

"No," I confessed.

"Then that explains," she said, "why you didn't bat an eyelid when he told you that you were on the wrong train."

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