The assignment that took me to Europe in the first place was to write about a NASCAR race in Belgium. (There’s NASCAR in Belgium? you ask. That’s what I was there to write about, I answer.)
Upon arriving at the track called Circuit Zolder, I met a German journalist named Andre Wiegold, who, like almost everybody else I encountered, speaks fluent English. Within five minutes, I told him in German what I was doing and started practicing on him. He welcomed my questions, which set me free to ask anybody and everybody anything I wanted. (Well, that’s how I interpreted it, at least.) His encouragement launched this do-over into places it never would have gone otherwise.
For my NASCAR story, in English I interviewed Joerg Bensemann, a dentist who works on scheduling for a track in Germany. In German, I told him that when I visited in 1988, everybody talked too fast. He said, in German (at a reasonable pace), if I talk slowly, can you understand me? I did … and it felt like someone ran their finger down my spine. That was weird, I thought, but it also felt good.