Thursday, June 30, 2011

More stories about my not understanding what the Germans say...

The Problem with the German language is not the language per se - it's us, those of us who don't speak the language fluently, who think that everything in German is over-complicated... when it actually is quite simple.

Like, the food-processer that you more than likely have in your kitchen - what does that actually do? It's a machine that makes food smaller. That's exactly what it's called in German: der Verkleinerer. It's not a machine used to process food, it's a food-smaller-maker.

But my issues with the German language go way beyond kitchen devices. I have made a fool of myself many times, with help from no one.

While I was in the hospital last year, I kept trying to ask for a nurse who spoke English - even a little bit. The doctors kept telling me that my sick sister would come very soon. Nini (my sister) was in fact sick at that time (something with her eternal flu or something like that), but how did the doctors know that she was sick? And if anyone from Colombia was coming to be with me, why my [sick] sister and not my mother? I said, in my best attempt at speaking German, that I did not want my sick sister, I wanted a nurse. Nurse. Do you understand "Nurse"? Nurse! Nurse! Nuuuuuuuurse. Because when you say something, the same thing, three times, and then say it also really, reeeeeeally slow, then people understand you. Nope, they didn't. It was not until two weeks after I left the hospital that I learned that "sick sister" is actually only one word, a noun for that matter - Krankenschwester - and it means Nurse.

A couple of months later we went to Berlin. Luckily, Mrs. Siedenburg had already explained that the building that we were to visit, the Bundestag, was the name of the building, not the "day of the federation". So that was not a problem. When we arrived at the building, beautiful and magestic, by the way, she said, "OMG! Look at the snake!" WTF. I don't like snakes. I certainly don't want to see the snake. Please, let us just walk away. But then also Mr. Siedenburg made a comment about the amazingly long snake - which just kinda made me wanna go home. They both read my thoughts, because we started walking in the opposite direction. As we neared a side-entrance, they both made a comment, of how lucky we were to have avoided the snake. When we met with Mrs. Siedenburg's sister, she made a comment about the snake, and we (all of us, including unknowing me) agreed that it was in fact amazing. At that point I realized that I was surely misunderstanding what "the snake" was. I figured it was, perhaps, a sculpture of some sort, a monument or something. We reached the top of the Bundestag and as we looked down, again the snake came into our conversation. I looked down and saw a particular arrangement of bushes that, if you really, really, really use your imagination, you can assume they are placed in a way that kind of forms a snake. "Oh, there it is!" I thought, and politely made a comment about how pretty the snake was. No one really understood my comment; more than likely, I had declined a verb or an adjective or a noun (or all of them) wrong and thus made my comment unintelligible. It was not until about 2 months after that, that I learned that the word for a long line, as in a group of people waiting in line for something, is die Schlange, which is the same word for snake.

We moved to a new apartment in January. Given that the German Post Service offers mail forwarding for free for six months, I went to the post office (the central, main station, HUGE building filled with Germans) to request this service. I waited in the Schlange for my turn to come up, and when my turn came, I approached the lady and said, "I moved." She looked at me and said, "Ok?" I was expecting her to automatically give me the forms I needed to fill out - you know, old address, new address, etc. But she's a secretary, you know, she needs everything spelled out for her. And I had practiced my sentences for about 10 minutes, so I knew I was saying everything with perfect grammar. "I moved. I need the forms," I said. "What forms?" she asked. OMG. I had the dumbest secretary of all times... "I moved. I now live in a new house. I need the forms for the address change," I said, a s  s l o w l y  a s  p o s s i b l e.  She smiled and said, "Oh, you moved. Of course. here are the forms. You can deposit them in that post box." Dude, she said exactly the same thing I said. I smiled, hating her in my heart, and left. Later that day, I told an acquaintance that I moved. She said, "No, you moved." I said, "Yeah, exactly. Ich habe mich umgezogen." She said, "No, you should say, Ich bin umgezogen. What you're saying is that you changed your clothes."


  1. OMG, that's so funny. And i'm a little bit sorry for you that you have to make such experiences. But - on the other hand it's really cool to tell those stories to your kids later on. Or your friends. Or the internet. Because that are so well known problems for people who learn another language.

  2. Hehehe this just makes me happy to know I am not alone ;-)