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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Audio Dispatch: Austrian Achensee

Editor’s Note: This is another in a series of sound-rich portraits of European cities and sites.  In this episode, I head to the Austrian Alps, and climb a mountain above the Achensee.  The trains and ferries are no match for the nature…for those willing to enjoy it. Two slideshows included

You aren’t bothered by tourists up here, on the face of a mountain above the Achensee, an Austrian lake not far from the German border.  Here you can hike among the cows, facing a steep descent to the lake.  The Achensee region is one that thrives on tourism and gimmicks, but nature kept my troupe occupied and amazed. So it is on this mountain, with these cows, that I give you my trip to the Achensee.

MUSIC: “A Hiding Place for the Moon“ by Antoine Dufour

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Audio Dispatch: Lake Constance

Top of the world

Editor’s Note: This is another in a series of sound-rich portraits of European cities and sites.  In this episode, I try to capture the feel of Lake Constance, and a visit to an Austrian town at the foot of a mountain.

The waves of Lake Constance act as sentries on the border of Switzerland, Germany and Austria.  The region around the Bodensee (as German-speakers call it) is so integrated that ferry companies from all three countries merged to save costs, and share their international resources.  But Lake Constance also has the benefit of sitting in the shadows of respectable mountains—meaning one can sail, lounge by the lake and hike up a mountain in one trip.  And that’s just what I did.  Here is my trip to Lake Constance…

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Exploring the Egelsee

Just through there..
To cross into the canton (state) of Aargau from our place, requires a steep hike into a bipolar universe.  Our still somewhat suburban setting morphs quickly into mixed agriculture–cows, chickens, greenhouses, orchards.  Just as quickly, as we hike higher toward the Egelsee lake, the houses become larger and more ornate; the cars become more high-priced; the views become enviable.

Our Swiss neighbors asked us once if we had yet visited the Egelsee, and we hadn’t.   “A shame,” the neighbors implied, with a disappointed verbal gauntlet thrown for us to venture into a dark wood to find a cherished lake.  We didn’t know what to expect from Egelsee–literally  translated to “Leech Lake.”  Legend says its bottom holds ruins of a castle, and its dark water has swallowed many a person.  With those warming thoughts, how could we have not yet visited the lake?

“A shame” indeed.

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Chilling in a French November

Stretching his legs in a brief moment of sun

Hercule Poirot is a famous product of Agatha Christie’s criminal mind.  His brilliant mustache and unshakable French accent combined with the less-notable ability to solve crimes have all kept this sleuth in high regard around the world.  I must admit, though: when Poirot’s accent was replaced by an actual Frenchman’s voice-over, I felt a little dirty.

These are the personal revelations one must cope with when the rain is falling on France’s countryside.

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