The vice president of the German Social Democratic party in Cologne is in stitches. He is a young chap but no stranger to the beer cellars, I suspect, and now all of his impressive bulk is shaking, quivering, with laughter. "You are Mr Bean," he hoots. "You English…" and words fail him as the quivers take over.
All Brits like the idea of amusing foreigners with our dry wit and delicious irony. But I am not being intentionally amusing. Like Mr Bean, I am hapless. I have just launched into a complicated apology for having to ask him, at short notice, to dash over and meet the Today programme outside the Cathedral rather than at his office. You see, we have lost our car. Worse, we have lost the multi-storey car park it was parked in.
Eventually, much later that evening, we discovered that the car park was in fact located roughly where it had been all afternoon. And our car, after a further search, turned out to be similarly unmoved. We blamed lack of sleep and moved on to cause merriment in another country.
But the more I think about it, the more I am inclined to wonder whether the loss of our car was part of a deeper malaise, a cultural shift, that has come upon us almost unnoticed. We do not see cars any more. In the olden days, even those of us who could not be described as car enthusiasts still noticed them. They had personality. Bonnets of odd shapes and sizes. Headlamps that fixed you with a seductive stare. And in later life, rusty gashes along the sides.
But now the rust buckets have been traded in and the cars on the road are little square-ish, round-ish boxes. They all start when you turn the key or press the button. They all buzz along at roughly the same speed. They make a virtue of being supremely uninteresting. Where they used to roar and throb, now they switch themselves off at traffic lights. They are so invisible that they can cause entire car parks to disappear.
At a car industry event the other day I discovered that this is very much the view of the motoring classes. Britain's car makers are proud of their record of achievement in recent years, but some are worried too; worried that the products they turn out are no longer appealing for the right reasons.
Young modern motorists, they complain, are more interested in "transport solutions" than cars. They are happy to hire a car for a day or a few hours, and are more likely to be impressed by the app they use to make the transaction than the quality of the dashboard.
And this matters: one of the central ambitions of the industry, and of this government, is to persuade young people that apprenticeships in manufacturing are going to be valued again as they were in the past in Britain and still are in manufacturing powerhouses like Germany. The shop floor is to be made sexy. But how can that be done if the product is no longer sexy? You can encourage schemes to persuade the young that apprenticeships are great, but can you revivify the sense of adventure and glamour that some of the better car companies of yesteryear undoubtedly had?
Or is the app the thing now? Is finger-touch connectivity where the appeal, the personality, the élan resides in all modern manufactured goods? Is a car like a washing machine - you want a good brand, economical and sleek, but after that you are willing to give it no thought? And if your washing machine was parked next to a load of other people's washing machines in, say, Cologne, would you be able to find it?