When I was at high school I spent two and a half years trying to learn German. It certainly wasn't my best subject and I eventually scrapped through with a D at GCSE level. Now that I travel quite a lot with work I get plenty of opportunities to make use of my limited German ability. Unfortunately although I try hard there is hardly ever a great success story. For some reason I seem to always struggle to buy lunch.
I'm in Vienna all this week and so I've had plenty of opportunity to hear, read, and try to speak German. Usually I limit myself to please and thank you, but yesterday I made the mistake of trying something a little more complex. I went into a sandwich shop, decided what I wanted, and ordered it along with a bottle of coke all in German. My sandwich and coke arrived and then I was hit with a long stream of German, of which I understood exactly zero words. So I had to switch back to English. Fortunately the guy serving spoke English and so there wasn't a problem. He even said that my German accent was quite good.
I wouldn't mind if this was the first time that this had happened, but in fact the first time I visited German (Bonn back in 2005), I also ordered a sandwich but couldn't understand the questions I was asked. On that occasion the woman behind the counter didn't speak English so I had to be saved by some helpful German students.
So from now on I think I'm going to stick to just reading small amounts of German and give up on the idea of ever being able to hold, an even simple, conversation.