Lost in translation – a lesson learned at a hot dog stand – #agiletd

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It seems there is inspiration for learning all around us. I’ve just got back to my room after a walk around the local area here at Agile Testing Days in Berlin. The location is excellent, despite being a distance from the airport, and the local area is just lovely. Lots of fabulous buildings and shops and tree lined streets. I’d left my memory card back in the laptop otherwise I’d have included some photos.

I’m one of these tourists that loves to sample the local food. I don’t see the point in being abroad and eating English food. It’s not like we’re known for our culinary delights anyway. So I decided to stop off at a wiener stand by the side of the road.

What followed can only be described as a “Lost in Translation” moment.

Me: Hallo

Vendor : Hallo. (Something else which I suspect was “what can I get you”, but cannot be sure as my German is very very bad)

Me: I’d like what the locals eat please.

Vendor: Ok.

He then proceeded to create the most creative looking “hot-dog” I’ve ever seen. His face told a thousand horrors as he randomly put bits of various stuff from the fridge in a tiny bread roll. He looked like a scientist trying different flavour combinations, each one accompanied by a frown and a suggestion that this might not taste so good.

With a look of sheer panic he placed the largest weiner I’ve ever seen in the tiny roll. Then added Ketchup and Mustard. Some more stuff from the fridge. He rolled his eyes, raised his eye brows and gave off more non-verbal clues that he really wasn’t sure about this thing.


It seems my request for something authentic and local had been Lost in Translation and since my German was so embarassingly bad neither of us had really got a good deal out of this.

He leaned over the counter and said:

“hmmm. I guess this is a German Hotdog” His eyes told a chilling truth though. Here was a man who’d created something he’d no doubtedly have nightmares about. I could see in his eyes that he was gutted. I too was apprehensive of this “German hot-dog”.


As it happens it was delicious but I suspect, not very authentic. The locals in the cafe were all incredibly amused by my lunch too. I think one or two took pity on me as they offered me kitchen roll and laughed heartily with (at?) me. They’d seen this epic failure on my behalf to communicate my requirements clearly and seen the resulting meal. I’d done everything I preach against doing. I’d failed to communicate my intentions clearly.

If only I had have brought a German Phrase book with me things could have been very different.


And so I learned a valuable lesson here today. Even with the best intentions in the world, communication breakdown is a reality and both parties can be dissatisfied with the final product. I should have learned some German for my trip or at least given the vendor something more substantial to go on.


This happens in the work place too, even when there is a common cultural language in use. Ideas and concepts get lost in a fog of misunderstanding and assumptions.


I think next time I venture out to taste the local cuisine I shall take a phrase book with me and try to clearly articulate my intentions in more detail. I can still see the vendors face now (who I learned was called Alios….I think). But I also tried to let him know how delicious it was, because it truly was amazing. And despite the fact his non-verbal communication suggested otherwise, I can’t help wonder whether he’ll add it to his menu as “The German Hotdog”.

2 thoughts on “Lost in translation – a lesson learned at a hot dog stand – #agiletd

  1. At least you got the feedback about your problem of miscommunicating your requirements. I don’t think that most customers dealing with software development get this feedback, unfortunately.Let me know the next time. I might help with the German there 🙂

  2. I have been in Germany occasionally, never saw a dog like that. I would be horrified also.A strong point you made is that you noticed the non-verbal communication of the sales person and you valued it. You even accepted the signs of “horror” and still you accepted the “stuff” I think you made a great metaphor we often see in testing, testers are asked to deliver “stuff” to an environment called production. The business values our fear and still accepts because the manager told to do so.I doubt they also will not start eating with pleasure. Nowadays you see lots of writings about human over processes, tools over documentation. Value and testing. As you stated, communication is important. I believe testers should start to learn identify and value also the non-verbal communication to help each other interact in-between and also value and deliver value. It cannot be individual parts to teach and work out.At this comment was just triggered by the hot dog and the non-verbal communication you identified.Cheers!Jeroen

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