3 June 2003 - Somewhere between Berlin and Vienna
Meine Deutsch ist nicht so gut

I had studied German in school for two years. Well, actually it was four, but there was a break in the middle and I started again from scratch, so I consider it two. It was a choice between German, Music and Latin. There was no way I was going to take a dead language, and I thought that I could learn music on my own, so German it was for me, then.

I can tell you, from personal experience, that the gulf between GCSE German and the real world is as wide as the Malaysian football league and the English Premier League. They kind of look the same, but one is faster, more complex and takes much more skill to master.

Take the simplest of instructions, for example. The things that the conductor says when the train is entering the station I can just about understand, but some of it are educated guesses. "The next station is blahblahblah. We hope you had a lovely journey. Please do not forget your belongings.". Something like that.

I worry that I'm missing the subtleties. What if the conducter was actually saying "The next station is blahblahblah. We hope you've had a lovely journey. And, by the way, the train is on fire, so it would be a good idea to get off as soon as possible.".

It must mean something that the first full conversation I had was with a lovely film attendant near Alexanderplatz, although it consisted mostly of me repeating what she was saying.
"Matrix Reloaded, die Film is auf Englisch oder Deutsch?"
"Alles auf Deutsch."
"Alles auf Deutsch?"
"Sie m☻ssen nach Potsdam Platz gehen."
"Potsdam Platz?"
"Ja, es gibt Film auf Englisch im Potsdam Platz."
"Film auf Englisch in Potsdam Platz. Danke sch¢¼n!"

Now, I'm sure that you can understand what was going on in that last conversation without me having to translate it. And a lot of what I talk to people about is in that vein. They're just simple phrases that I know, and I kind of fake it around them.

Sometimes I get into trouble. They start playing dirty, by speaking too quickly and using words I don't understand.

For example, here's me ordering dinner:
"Einmal Fisch mit Frites, bitte."
"FischUndFrites? DreiStucke,Ja?"
"Erm... Ja..."
"Erm... Ketchup is gut, danke."

At this point I just give them a five Euro note that I know I should get change from.

It actually amazes me how few people in Germany are comfortable speaking in English. Unlike those in Finland, Sweden and Denmark, the Germans assume first you can speak German, and then only try communicating to you in English. Even the guided tours at Sanssoucci palace were in German (which is why I didn't go on one).

Anyway, despite my very basic German, most of what I say has been one of the following: Entschuldigung bitte (Excuse me please), Ich versthehe nicht (I don't understand), and Mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut (My German isn't very good).


posted on Monday, June 09, 2003 - permalink
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