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!)
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.
“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 …