3: A 20% version of myself

Every time I speak in German, I can’t help but imagine how I would sound if the sense was replicated in English. I have come to the conclusion that I come across as a shy, nervous girl with severe social difficulties. At best, I retain 20% of my personality in German, whilst the other 80% remains a horrible combination of text book vocabulary, set phrases, stuttering and over exaggerated facial expressions. Therefore the only possibility of me making any real German friends is if they too have severe social difficulties. Then again, I can’t really afford to be fussy.

Whilst British Council/Expat friends can all relate to this struggle (which is lucky because without them I’d spend the year interacting as a 20% version of myself) it’s difficult to articulate the problem to friends back home over skype or facebook. So I’d like to give a few examples of things I’ve wanted to say on an average day of my year abroad and then suggest how they actually came across.

Conversations with Germans of my age

What I wanted to say:

I’m off to Paris on Thursday to see some friends who are also their year abroad.

How it actually came across:

I have to visit my boyfriend in Paris on Thursday who also participate on a year abroad.

What I wanted to say:

Ah! My finger’s bleeding.

How it actually came across:

Alas! The finger bleeds away.

What I wanted to say:

Sounds really cool! Looking forward to it.

How it actually came across:

Sounds completely horny! I am looking forward to this occasion.

In the staff room:

What I wanted to say:

I am actually a language assistant, not a student.

How it actually came across:

On the contrary! I am the new English foreign language assistant from England rather than a pupil on this school.

What I wanted to say:

I didn’t understand a single word in the sentence you just said.

How it actually came across:

I am in complete agreement!

What I wanted to say:

Hi! Nice to meet you.

How it actually came across:

Hello. It pleases me.

Conversations with my students:

What I wanted to say:

I find that Germans sometimes struggle with small talk.

How it actually came across:

It cannot be denied that the German population has many difficulties with small conversation, although this is of course a generalisation which is not always true. But mostly, yes it is true.

What I wanted to say:

Have a good weekend and thanks for your hard work!

How it actually came across:

I wish a good weekend on all of you and thank you for your hard labour.

In a museum:

What I wanted to say:

Can I get a concessions rate- I’m a student?

How it actually came across:

Would it not be possible to receive a student ticket which I am of course able to prove with an ID?

At the bank:

What I wanted to say:

Can I set up online banking myself?

How it actually came across:

Would it not be possible to introduce online banking alone?

In a restaurant:

What I wanted to say:

Can we order desserts, please?

How it actually came across:

Can we order bedside tables, please?

In conversation with my mentor teacher:

What I wanted to say:

When should I give this presentation? How’s Friday?

How it actually came across:

When shall I perform this presentation? I am happily able to teach it on Friday. If that is inconvenient, I could alternatively happily perform it next Monday. The vote is yours.

What I wanted to say:

I think the students’ English is actually really impressive for their age.

How it actually came across:

In my opinion, their linguistic capabilities are much more influential than mine were when I was your age.

What I wanted to say:

How old are they?

How it actually came across: (this one was particularly awful)

How old are you?

I should probably mention that this is a selected highlights of my experiences so far and didn’t all happen in one day- I doubt I would ever speak German again if that were the case.

As you may well be able to tell, when I speak in German I adopt this bizarre mentality that any monosyllabic/short response is insufficient, even if I would definitely speak that way in English. Instead, I opt for a lengthy, rather superfluous sentences where my opinion is unnecessarily offered and justified. My tone is also far too formal and my language incongruously elevated for breakfast table chat/staff room pleasantries. As I’ve spent a significant proportion of my degree studying Middle High German literature, I sometimes even use words (i.e alas) that haven’t been uttered in Germany for a good 500 years. School/university drills in to you that casual conversation or simplistic responses are for “candidates who tend to attract the lower marks”. In reality, it’s for people with a shot at a social life in Germany.

As this is technically my year abroad blog (which has just essentially descended in to me relaying a series of misfortunes) I should briefly mention what I’ve been up to over the past few weeks. I have moved in to a new flat until Christmas with two lovely flatmates and I have finally got my grubby hands on an Anmeldungsbestӓtigung!!! This involved me turning up an hour before the office opened only to once again be told that the next available appointment wasn’t until the end of December. However, this turned out to be a big lie as, after explaining that I’d been queuing for over an hour and threatening her with an ambiguous “I might kill myself” glance of desperation, she took pity on me and gave me an appointment for an hour’s time. I basically experienced reverse Schadenfreude. My parents also came to visit because they were missing me terribly (wanted an excuse to go to Berlin). Therefore, aside from my social incompetence, it’s been a great few weeks, especially as I’m now on half term for two weeks.

In time, I hope that these creases will iron out as I get more language practice and leave Oxford’s exclusive curriculum of ‘academic German’ behind me, at least for the next year. It does worry me that, rather than normalising my German, I might just adopt these weird linguistic quirks in English. On the contrary, I am most certainly of the opinion that it might not be possible because, self-evidently, English will forever my mother language stay.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

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 )

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s