Fooling the natives

Still an Ami

Long-time readers of might remember a post from 2008, in which I was so proud to be able to use my beginner German skills to interact at a German food store in Phoenix.  The victory in that day was not that I spoke German well, rather that I survived even a few sentences in a foreign language.  I would go on to have proper training, and focus myself more fully on actually learning the language and not just phrases from a guide book, and as one’s skills progress so do one’s goals.

For a long time my goal has been to speak German well-enough so that a native speaker doesn’t immediately think I am a native English-speaker.  A Northern German might think I am Bavarian, a Bavarian might think I am Austrian, and Austrian might think I am Swiss, a Swiss might think I am German.  To me, it doesn’t matter how wrong the guess is, so long as the native German-speaker doesn’t say “American” or “British” when guessing where I am from.  Why?  Well, it is a badge of honor to speak well-enough to even superficially fool a native speaker, and I find interactions with people are a little less mired in stereotypes or assumptions when people don’t think you are from a superpower across the pond.

So when a line cook who prides himself on identifying accents was stumped, and his mouth dropped to the floor when I told him where I am from, my day became a lot better.

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Melting Winter

There is something soothing about the sound of running water.  As the elixir of life barrels over itself from mountains to sea the air inherits a freshness.  Luckily for us, bordering one side of our neighborhood is a small river.  A well-flowing creek keeps the water circulating in a near-by pond .  Ice still covers much of this tree-lined pond, but the ducks still find space to dunk their heads, and search for food.

To us, this bit of nature is a respite from a city’s chaos.  We have lived in Berlin, Munich, Phoenix..all cities with an abundance of movement and healthy populations.  Even our former neighborhood in Zurich was suburban but dense–a view of a tree was enough to be considered experiencing “nature.”  A meeting with a few (Swiss) neighbors yesterday gave glimpse at how our pond and river-rich neighborhood once was, before “change” moved in.

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German Language and Identity (auf Deutsch)


Language is always a sticking point in the German immigration debate.  Many times politicians say immigrants need to learn better German, to fully integrate.  But not all foreigners are told this.  Entertainers, for example, seem to have a special status in German society, and imperfections are part of the charm.  This feature was produced in German for Westdeutscher Rundfunk.  Translation provided by Katie Ganzer.

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The Berlin Learning Curve

It’s hard to understand how many little things go into successfully navigating life, until you’re forced to learn them over again.  Take the supermarket for example.  Over the years, one learns more or less the fair price for an item, where items are likely placed, and how to avoid collisions with other shoppers.  It’s just a matter of experience–when one does something for so long, the procedure becomes self-evident.

But when that experience has to be amended to fit into another culture, often we feel like fish in a new flavor of water.

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Zu Hause in Berlin

Sun at rest

It’s nice to begin to settle–settling is an often underappreciated activity.  It’s nice to settle into your favorite chair; it’s nice to settle in to a soft, warm bed before a well-deserved rest; and it’s certainly wonderful to settle into a new home, albeit thousands of miles from your last one.

So far, Schmargendorf has treated us fine with its captivating views and convenient shopping layout.  With our ever improving German, we’ve navigated the worlds of finance, electronics, retail, postal services and public transportation with little trouble and few casualties.  And today brought my first full day of life in German.

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Sprichst du Deutsch? Almost.

Rhineland sailing

I’ve been mulling a post about the role of digital media, and how bloggers, online video, and similar devices should be infusing journalism, instead of causing it’s slow stagger toward the respirator, and a ready-to-be-pulled plug.  While that sour jolt of professional pride may still be forthcoming, I thought I’d share instead a small victory in another quest of mine: learning German.

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