Archive for the ‘Language Barrier’ Category


December 1, 2009

As my regular readers (I’m so happy I can say that!) may recall, I was informed a few weeks ago that I’d have to make a presentation, and I wasn’t wild about the idea.  After that, no more was said about it for a couple of weeks, and I thought maybe I’d dodged the bullet.  No such luck.  I’ve been assigned a presentation date.  My teacher had, in fact, forgotten about the presentations (permanently, I’d hoped), but he remembered last week.  I have to present on December 7th.  Bitte!  Nein!


I’ve finally chosen a topic (until I change my mind, that is).  I’m going to talk about Handel’s Messiah.  I’ve had it stuck in my head for the last two days, and I regret that I wasn’t able to participate in the community choir’s performance this year.


All-American: Thanksgiving and Peanut Butter

November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  I am so thankful to have all of you in my life, and I wish we could be together today, but I’m also very thankful for the opportunity to learn German, and I’m deeply grateful to everyone who played a part in making this trip possible, especially my family.

Last night I did a little baking in the school kitchen (I don’t have an oven in my apartment, unfortunately).  I made peanut butter cookies and lemon bars to share with my class, and today we talked a little bit about the origins and traditions associated with Thanksgiving while we ate them.  We always have fun talking together.  I couldn’t have hand-picked a better group or teacher for myself; that’s such a huge blessing.

Shopping for my baking project was a little stressful.  Everything I needed was in the store; the problem was recognizing it.  I’ve always taken for granted how very easy it is to shop for groceries when I’m home.  I don’t have to stare at each item for ages, reading every word (sometimes consulting a dictionary), and wishing the manufacturer had thought to put pictures of the contents on the package.  I recognize what I want immediately, usually by the logo of whatever my preferred brand happens to be (the marketers got me, Dr. R!), and I just grab it and go.  In and out.  Not so Tuesday night.  I spent about an hour and a half shopping for 15-20 items.

The only product I had no trouble  identifying was the peanut butter.  I’ve bought peanut butter twice now (in Germany, that is), and I find it endlessly amusing that the German marketers/manufacturers go to so much trouble to make the packaging scream “American!”  It’s as though they want to be absolutely certain everyone knows they bear no responsibility for the creation of such a product.  The labels are invariably some combination of red, white and blue, and sport a U.S. map, or flag, or both.  One jar had the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline on it.  As far as I know, New York has no more to do with peanut butter than any other city  (George Washington Carver certainly wasn’t from anywhere near there, and while he didn’t actually “invent” peanut butter, he is certainly responsible for improving the recipe and popularizing it), but for some reason Europeans seem to associate all things American with New York.  Whenever I tell someone I’m from the U.S., they’ll say, “Ah; New York!” and ask me how far away I live, and whether I’ve been there.  Fabiana is dying to go.  New York was a nice place to visit, I grant, but there are many other places I would visit before I’d go back.  I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.  Certainly not the peanut butter.

Cultural (Con)Fusion

November 22, 2009

As I may have mentioned previously, I’m having a great time now that I’ve gotten used to being here.  My teacher is fantastic.  He’s always patient and thorough, and has a great sense of humor.  Class is always fun, and I’m learning a great deal.

One of the most interesting things about studying abroad (obviously) is the opportunity to learn about different cultures:  in my case, not only German culture, but so many others.  There are students in my class from Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, Albania, France, Brazil, Mexico and New Zealand (I think), and whenever we discuss a topic, we get to hear different perspectives and learn how things are thought about/done/said in other countries.  It’s really fascinating.

I’ve become fast friends with another student from Italy named Fabiana.  She was so sweet and helpful to me my first few days, and now we might as well be joined at the hip.  We go almost everywhere together, and we always have a great time.  Our friendship is full of laughter, partly because an Italian and an American speaking German together creates so many opportunities for comical mistakes and misunderstandings, and partly because we often find different aspects of each others’ cultures so amusing.

Our friendship is a cultural exchange program unto itself.  We correct each others’ pronunciation of Italian and English words, and we entice each other to try things we normally wouldn’t have.  Fabiana taught me that I’ve been pronouncing the vast majority of pasta types wrong my whole life, especially gnocchi.  She also got me to try heisse maroni (roasted chestnuts) for the first time.  I’m sorry to say I wasn’t impressed.  When I bit into one, the texture reminded me strongly of Lima beans, which I hate.  Oh well.  As for American culture, Fabiana is eternally amused at the correct pronunciations of various American things and places, especially Cincinnati.  I also introduced her to peanut butter and banana sandwiches, which she loved.

Next week I’m going to hunt up some cottage cheese so she can try it with canned peaches (a favorite snack of mine; thanks, mom!), and Fabiana is bound and determined to see to it that I’ve eaten “real” Spaghetti Carbonara (one of my all-time favorite meals) before I return home.  Cultural exchange rocks.

Deutsch Hilarity

November 11, 2009

Last night a fellow commenter on Dave Barry’s Blog asked me, “Bumble, is it true, what Mark Twain said about German?”  I had no idea what he was talking about, so I googled Mark Twain and German, and I found this. I read about half of it last night, and I was laughing so hard that my sides hurt and I had tears in my eyes.  It probably won’t seem as funny to those of you who haven’t studied German, but Anwyn, Dad and Meanie the Blue should enjoy it, if they haven’t already read it.  As I assured my acquaintance last night, it is absolutely true.  Twain was brilliant.

Tough Questions

November 2, 2009

Religion.  It’s a difficult enough topic when you’re discussing it in your native language.  Try translating your beliefs from English to German so they can be understood in Italian.

My friend from school asked me about my faith last week, specifically whether using “God” as an oath or exclamation was common and acceptable in the USA, and why or why not.  She also wanted to know the differences between Catholic and Protestant faith, and the differences between Protestant denominations.

With the help of two dictionaries, I explained that many people in the states say “God” all the time, but that I don’t because I was raised in a Christian church, and it’s against the third commandment.  My knowledge of Catholicism is limited, but I think I managed to get the basics of what I believe across, and she understood the differences.

I invited her to visit a church here with me, and she’s interested, so I must have said something right.  That was the most difficult conversation I’ve ever had in my life.

Lost in Translation

November 2, 2009

When I was out with my friends the other day, we stopped in Marienplatz and listened to a really good band that was playing some kind of benefit concert.  The emcee announced something that I thought had to do with a church, and then a man came by a few minutes later, rattled off something in German, and stuck a stein with crosses on it under my nose.  He was collecting coins in it.  I told him I hadn’t understood what he’d said, and he nodded and said he understood, then walked away.  We listened for a few more minutes, and before we left, I decided if it had to do with good music and God, it was probably a good cause, so I found the man and put a 2 Euro coin in his stein.  He thanked me and gave me a plastic paper clip with more crosses, a ginkgo leaf, and a website on it.  I just visited the website and discovered that they were collecting money for a cemetary, not a church.  Oh well.

A Few More Observations

November 1, 2009

I had a good day on Thursday.  I walked around Munich with a couple other students, conversing in a mixture of broken German and English (with the other two going off in Italian when they were trying to figure something out).  It was challenging, but we mostly managed to understand each other.  There are so many beautiful old buildings near the school.  It’s neat just to walk around and look.  Eventually we stopped in a Bier Garten (beer garden) and sat for a while.  The other two had a beer while I had a glass of water.  My glass was about the size of a tumbler, and must have been dirty, because it had stuff floating in it.  It was so little (and I’m so American) that I assumed it was free.  Wrong!  2.20 Euro for a small glass of dirty water.  I think the beer was probably cheaper.  I pay less than that for a burger and fries in the states.  Oh well.

On Friday I went to a marketplace with a friend to buy fresh fruit, and I came across a honey shop.  I didn’t know there were so many different kinds of honey and honey products.  They had honey gummy bears, honey shampoo, honeycomb, beeswax candles, and every flavor of honey you can imagine and more.  I bought a small jar of orange blossom honey and a tiny little beeswax candle that smelled like honey.  It was a neat shop.

I cooked eggs a couple of times this week.  Even eggs are a little different here.  They aren’t refrigerated, for one thing (which rather shocked me), and perhaps because of that, the yolks are a little darker; more orange than yellow.  And one or two of them had tiny feathers stuck to the shell.  It really brings home the reality of where eggs come from.  Makes me think of that one line in Fried Green Tomatoes.  A penny for whoever knows the line I mean.  🙂

I toured Schloss Nymphenburg (a palace) with a couple of friends yesterday.  It was beautiful.  Apparently it was a gift from the king for his wife.  I need to marry a king.  Afterwards we ate at McDonald’s.  It was the biggest McDonald’s I’ve ever seen in my life.  Three stories high, and at least a dozen registers, all busy.  The burger tasted just the same, though.

Children are the same the world over.  It was pretty cold yesterday, and twice during my outing I saw small children yell “Nein!” and run away when their parents tried to put warm hats on their little heads.