Ich möchte ein heiße Hund, bitte

I’ve always felt a little bit inadequate because I don’t speak German.

It’s a deep-seated complex, which began when I ran away with a mime troupe at age 16. Here I am, in all my white-faced glory. (Don’t worry — I’ve been in remission for years, and it’s not contagious.)

Anyway … after spending almost a month in Germany, I came home with only three, totally useless phrases: “Es wird dunkel.” “Ja, und mit haselnüsse.” And worst of all, “Ich möchte ein heiße hund, bitte.”

Yes, you read that last one right. “I would like a dog in heat, please.” Some things just don’t translate word-for-word, as it turns out.

I’ve made a couple of good-faith efforts to learn German since then, but it seemed so, well … foreign. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around a language that had feminine, masculine *and * neuter articles.

Plus, there’s also that uniquely German habit of combining nouns to form impossibly long words. Imagine asking to see the Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän on duty. (Gesundheit!)

But when it comes to describing German, I think my friend Dancing Beastie said it best:

I like the crunchiness of German, contrasted with its surprising outbreaks of lisps and snuffles: schluessel, for example, delighted me for weeks when I discovered it. (The word, not the key.) Hafenschlepper is new to me but another delicious example of German at its snuffliest.

Last night we again exchanged emails on this topic, and she told me of her own attempts to learn God’s Language. “At least I have progressed fractionally beyond my childhood German, picked up from war comics,” she wrote. “A Bavarian friend at university used to think it was hilarious that all I could say was stuff like ‘Halten sie da! – Schnell, schnell! – Achtung,   Spitfire! – Gott in Himmel! – Aaagghhh!'”

“… there’s something very satisfying about saying the word ‘schnell,’ isn’t there?” I wrote back. “German sounds so … forceful.” Even ‘ich liebe Dich’ sounds like a barked-out order. “I LOVE YOU, DAMMIT!”

So my history with German has not been a happy one. But — for reasons I don’t fully understand — I’m giving it one more shot.

I was really torn between Rosetta Stone, which promised to “activate [my] natural language ability,” and the Pimsleur Method, which promised that I could “learn a language in 10 days.”

“Why not try them both?” I thought to myself in a moment of linguistic avarice/hubris. So I ordered Level 1 of both programs and dove in head-first last weekend.

The good news? I’m happy to report that I can now tell an egg from a horse. The bad: That’s about all I can remember.

I’ll do my best to hang in there until I can form a single, coherent sentence. (Hopefully one that doesn’t involve darkness, hazelnuts or dogs.)

And who knows? Maybe if I stick with it, by this time next year I’ll no longer be filled with dread — Ach, Mein Gott in Himmel! — every time Esteban says, “Let’s go to Munich for Oktoberfest,” or “Let’s spend Christmas in Vienna.”

Though I’ll probably always be a little bit afraid of mimes …


  1. Wow, you don’t do things by halves, do you?! I’d be interested to learn which you think is the better language course. (I’m still scared of going to Vienna, after my tongue-tied experiences in deepest Bavaria. But I do really want to experience a country that has built a whole culture out of kaffee und kuechen.)

    This post reminds me of our previous discussion of German, on your post ‘Obsequious liaising and moist [ugh] phlegm [ugh, ugh]’. Do you remember I said I liked ‘the crunchiness of German, contrasted with its surprising outbreaks of lisps and snuffles’. (Hey, it was so good, I’ll say it again! 😉 ) I actually rather relish the ridiculously long words that you can get in German, too. But I do agree with you about verbs at the end of sentences. Pity the poor simultaneous translators in Brussels!

    So glad you recovered from the mime episode, btw. Not sure if I could continue our correspondence if I thought you were likely to whiten your face at any moment. Did you wear stripy tights too? 😀

    • I can’t BELIEVE i forgot to plagiarize your comment about “the crunchiness of German, contrasted with its surprising outbreaks of lisps and snuffles.” It was one of the most brilliant and funny things I’d read in a long time. I must amend my post and include that quote — with your permission, of course!

      As for the language courses, so far I don’t have a clear winner. Rosetta is definitely the more fun of the two, but I don’t seem to be retaining much. Pimsleur is a little dull by comparison because it’s mostly repetition-based, but — perhaps predictably — those lessons are sinking in better, as well. Though it occurred to me this morning that perhaps my brain is getting full. 🙂

      And what’s this about your reluctance to continue our correspondence if you thought I might have a mime relapse? Ha, ha. It wouldn’t be the first time I suffered social ostracism because of my silent, mysterious ways. But rest assured that I am indeed fully cured, and that there is no chance (100% none whatsoever) that you will ever see me in stripy tights. EV-AR. (Though I do reserve the right to wear striped knickers.)

      Thanks for brightening yet another day, DB!

      • Please, plagiarize away! I should be honoured (and my rates are very reasonable).

        Thank you for satisfying me that we can continue our correspondence. I have a bit of a clown phobia and mimes are too close for comfort. Stripy knickers are fine. Erm, one question. Are ‘tights’ really called ‘panty hose’ in American English? And can I add the latter to my list of most loathed words?!

        • I’m so glad I’ve been able to allay your clown/mime fears. I’d hate to lose yet *another* friend to my sordid street-performer past!

          As for your question: “Tights” are different from “panty hose” in American English. (American English: quite the oxymoron, isn’t it? But I digress …) In the U.S., “tights” are generally understood to be of a heavier-weight fabric — and thus usually more opaque — than the unfortunately named “panty hose.” And yes, let’s please add that term to our list of most-loathed words. It makes my nose wrinkle just to think of it. Panty. Hose. *Not* a good combination! 🙂

        • I am writing to inform you that I have plagiarized your quote, as promised. Please send me your invoice at your earliest convenience. 🙂

          • Ah, the honour of being thought worthy of quotation on your splendid blog is enough.

            Thank you for making me laugh – again – this time about panty hose!

          • PANTY HOSE! Sounds like a taunt from The Holy Grail, doesn’t it? “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries. Now go away, or I shall show you my PANTY HOSE a second time!” Grin.

    • Oh, and we mustn’t forget to honour XpatScot for his fine contribution of ‘hafenschlepper’. Learning this word has added illumination to my life. 🙂

      • You are absolutely right! Hats off to XpatScot, wherever in the world he may be at this moment!

  2. Many years ago a friend related to me the story of her first trip to Germany. Prior to her departure, a (so-called) friend gave her a crash course in German which included the following phrase: Sie schlafen mit mir? which she was advised to use freely to greet new acquaintances. She returned to her native Ireland two weeks later quite effervescent about her holiday but somewhat bemused about how the Germans could possibly have earned their reputation for being humourless and stand-offish.

    • Isn’t it charming when our so-called friends set us up to embarrass ourselves like that? The tip-off is usually that the linguist can’t stop giggling as they’re teaching you the “useful travelers’ phrase.” But I’m glad the lovely Irish lass found her German hosts — as I have — to have a great sense of humor.

      Our exchange rather reminds me of one of my favorite Monty Python bits, actually. Enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6D1YI-41ao

      • As I’m sure you know, the motto of the Kings of Scotland is: “Nemo me impuni lacessit”, translated into English as “No one assails me with impunity” and Scots as “Wha daur meddle wi me”. While in school, answering an exam question on one occasion, I volunteered my own translation: “Call me names and I’ll punch you in the kisser.” I thought my version remained faithful to the essential meaning of the motto whilst retaining the original Larin phonology. Unfortunately, my teacher did not agree. 🙂

        • I think your version is BRILLIANT, XpatScot! Not only is it an accurate translation, but it also neatly summarizes centuries of Scottish history. Good show! 🙂

Leave a reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s