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This Is Why I Don’t Ride A Bike

, , , , , | Legal | October 14, 2021

On my first day of a holiday to Austria, I rent a bicycle. I hit the back of a car at five km/h and fall off my bike. The driver is an Austrian woman. I am a British man. To be fair to her, I was using my phone to navigate, and I was on the road instead of the cycle lane.

She starts shouting in German.

Me: “Sprache sie Englisch?”

Driver: “Why are you cycling on the road?”

Me: “I’m not injured, thanks. I have never been to this country. What happens when there is a collision?”

She produces a form, all in German.

Driver: “We both have to complete this form for the insurance.”

She points to a five-centimeter scratch on her car.

Me: “Crime of the century. You can have my name and address, but I will not complete a legal document in a language I don’t understand.”

Driver: “I will explain it to you. Look, this—”

Me: “No offence, but I can’t trust you to translate it independently. You’re biased.”

Driver: “But Austria is a German-speaking country! Why don’t you speak German?”

Seriously? I start thinking of the psychological and historical reasons why I, as a Brit, wouldn’t be interested in German.

Me: “This situation didn’t really feature in my holiday planning. Who produced that form? Have they an English version?”

Driver: “But Austria is a German-speaking country!”

After a while, we’re going round in circles. She is getting frustrated. I’m searching for any way at all to end the stalemate.

Me: “No disrespect, but I will not complete that without an independent, human translation. I could get sued for a lot of money if I don’t understand what I am signing. I’m on holiday here and I can wait a very long time.”

Driver: “What German do you know?”

Me: “Since you asked, I can say three things. I can say, ‘Du bist ein löffel.’”

Driver: “I… I am a spoon? Where did you learn this?”

Me: “School. My teacher had a strange sense of humour.”

Driver: “I… Anything else?”

Me: “Yes. ‘Mein luftkissenboot ist voll mit alle,’ and, ‘Möchtest du ein darmspülung.’”

Driver: “I… I, what— Do you know what this means?”

Me: “‘My hovercraft is full of eels,’ and, ‘Would you like an enema?’”

Driver: “Nein, danke?”

Me: “That’s from The Big Bang Theory. Is this of any use in understanding the form?”

Driver: “I’m calling the police!”

Me: “You do that. Maybe they will translate.”

Ten minutes later, a car with “Polizei” on the side arrives, and two tall, beautiful blondes in their early twenties get out. 

Cop #1: “What happened?”

Me: “I hit her on my bike, and I won’t complete the form because I don’t understand German.”

Cop #1: “That form is to report the accident to her car insurance. That’s normal in Austria. Are you a resident here?”

Me: “No, I live in Wales. What does the form say?”

Cop #1: “I will translate it.”

She goes through the form line by line while I complete my details. Meanwhile, [Cop #2] and the woman get heated.

Me: “If this is about me can you summarise?”

Cop #2: “She says you were on your phone, but I don’t care because that is not a crime. Not unless you were in a call.”

Me: “I would not get this sort of service at home.”

Cop #2: “I think you understand the danger.”

Me: “I have another question about traffic laws, please?”

Cop #2: “Yes?”

Me: “Is the cycle lane compulsory or optional?”

Cop #2: “The special bike route is mandatory.”

Me: “That’s called a ‘cycle lane’ in English. Are you saying you have the power to punish me just because I cycled on the road when a cycle lane is available?”

Cop #2: “Yes. I could make you pay a fine for that.”

Me: “At home, I would have had a lecture about cycling with a phone, and the cycle lane wouldn’t have existed in the first place.”

For the rest of my trip, I found that Austrians, both the authorities and the people, always answered a straight question. Advice was only offered where it was needed. I felt very safe and very happy to the point that I would live there.