Here’s to more than two ‘monats’ in Germany. Blending in hasn’t been much of a problem, which is kind of a problem. I look German, I have a German last name, so maybe I should speak German. But I do not.
When I first arrived, I felt like the baby who drinks drain cleaner. Not because baby likes drain cleaner, but because baby thought drain cleaner was tasty apple juice.
Most of my vocabulary up until this point has concerned survival. In my second week here, I learned an important lesson about uncontrolled intersections. While in the US, the straight line at a ‘t’ intersection has the right of way, here the person to the right always gets first dibs. As I cruised through an intersection on my way to work, I was rudely interrupted by a truck laying on its horn and a fender within inches.
A woman on the street shouted, ‘Vorsicht,’ which I mistakenly assumed was a curse word, but really just meant “be careful.”
A few weeks ago I received a letter from the post office that said ‘Mahnung’ on top. I put it aside with the collection of papers that piles up and eventually gets taken to the office where kindly co-workers help me translate.
When I brought this letter in, Vicky, my cultural broker, voiced concern.
“Oh my, this is no good.”
Apparently I was a month and a half behind on paying a bill to customs. Since I am a visiting worker, that bill immediately jumped to the head of the pay line. Later we discovered two overdue electric bills in the same pile of papers.
Since arriving, words like ‘achtung,’ ‘warnung’ and ‘verboten,’ though familiar in the past, have taken on greater urgency. Without the benefit of language, I feel like I’m bumbling through life. A pinball being bounced to extremes by a blind, dumb, deaf kid.
It all seems similar to being a small child again – without that whole need to put everything in your mouth. Though I can’t read the packaging, I really don’t think I will ever mistake canned meats for something tasty.