Pt. 2: Life is too short to learn German.
I am strong, I am invincible! Or so I told myself when I booked and paid for that one way ticket. I’m a smart, independent woman! Well this independent woman realised moving to another country quickly makes you pretty damn dependant. Now I know I’m the genius who decided to move to Berlin without speaking a word of German, but being a communication designer unable to communicate can be pretty frustrating. Suddenly the simplest of tasks feel overwhelming and you are completely dependant on other people speaking English or battling through another awkward hand-sign-slash-finger-pointing interaction.
Want to open a bank account? Get a hair cut? Ask if they have a shirt in your size? Apply for an apartment? Find out why your internet has stopped working? Book a doctors appointment? Be able to read if there’s a goddamn pineapple pizza on the menu? Good luck matey, you should have never left that sweet home soil of yours.
Forms are difficult enough in English and yet incomparable to the pain inflicted by German paperwork. Just to declare your residency you must hand in a document where words are so long it requires peripheral vision just to pretend you can read it. With the help of Google Translate (thou holy saviour) you can register at the Bürgeramt—a soul-crushing place with a misleading title, as there are no burgers and only amts. You have to endure this every time you move!
Determined as I was to be fluent in three months, the truth is life is too fucking short to learn German. Naive as it sounds, learning another language is really hard and I have fallen into the overflowing pool of expats whose “Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut”. Oh how I can feel the burn of the Berliner Schnauze eye roll even as I type that. To defend the struggle is real, below is an example of definitive articles (aka ‘the’) in German compared to English.
When you don’t speak the native tongue of the country you live in, you are forced out of your comfort zone on a daily basis. For me, that’s not just being misunderstood at the supermarket or getting fined on the U-Bahn, but constantly asking for help. Unfortunately I’ve always been a proud person and it has been especially tough seeking the help of others—no matter how sincere and willing they are to do so.
On one hand, you can get by perfectly fine not speaking any German, but on the other you can get weirdly anxious about normal, every day situations. I am embarrassed to admit that my heart still sinks every time my phone rings and it’s a number I don’t recognise. Nervous and apprehensive, I often silence the call and just hope it wasn’t important. So much for Miss Unafraid...
And yet, life is too short not to learn German.
While I haven’t invested nearly enough time or effort into language learning, the limited vocabulary I have has certainly enriched my experience here. My favourite conversations happen in the most brief and basic of situations. The cab driver riding from the airport, the man who delivered my fridge, the ladies selling flowers at the markets. These are the people who don’t speak any English and grapple through my horrible German with an encouraging smile on their face. These dear strangers make my day.
Apart from a communication tool, German is pretty remarkable in how specific it can describe situations and also how hilarious these things translate. Here are a few examples:
Meaning: Bless you
Direct translation: Health
Now picture someone sneezing and people saying ‘health’ to you in English. It actually makes much more sense wishing someone good health, rather than blessing them on behalf of a God they may or may not believe in.
Meaning: The weight you gain after a breakup / due to emotional overeating
Direct translation: Grief bacon
How do we not have a word for this in English? Kummerspeck is the ultimate excuse for eating that whole wheel of cheese.
Ich drücke die Daumen
Meaning: Fingers crossed
Direct translation: I press the thumb
Thumbs pressed peeps! Now that’s an emoji worth having.
Leck mich am Arsch
Meaning: Kiss my ass
Direct translation: Lick me on the ass
Don’t lick my ass, lick me on my ass. This is the kind of specificity that makes me laugh!
Meaning: Somewhat cool
Direct translation: Very horny
So this is one of those words where context is everything. If you drop the ‘ganz’ as many do, ‘geil’ also translates to ‘horny’. It was super awkward when I didn’t understand why people kept saying they were horny at the end of meetings, I assumed I was mishearing them... or definitely in the wrong meeting. Facebook likes to help translate for me sometimes, you can see here my boss Sven really likes Fetty Wap.
Living on an island majority of my life, I have been so removed from other languages and have so much respect for the people who have learned German—as well as the locals who tolerate foreigners like me unable to do so. Between the good, the bad and the admitted angst, Berlin has certainly been a compilation of humbling experiences. Being able to order a kebab at 4 a.m. reminds me I can at least manage a few crucial life skills on my own, so that’s something.
Dec 23, 2015