Thursday, January 20, 2005

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

When people find out I’ve been in Germany for nearly a year and ask me if I speak German fluently I absolutely cringe. Although I took three months of intensive lessons when I first came over and got a grasp of the basics – I really haven’t progressed since then. The main problem is that the Germans are so good at English there really isn’t any need to use it.

Of course it would make life so much better if I could communicate in German. Instead of being in a shop where someone is earnestly explaining to me how to do something (eg take care of the flowers I’ve just bought or use my new digital camera) and I try to follow but instead am really just smiling and nodding – I would actually know how to take care of the flowers! So a lot of things just flow over me. Any mail I get from the bank or gym I try to decipher, then chuck out (or file it if it looks really serious) and cross my fingers.

But I felt like I was making some progress this morning when the gas man came around and I knew the routine. I have figured out that every six months (probably to the day) a coloured sticker appears on the front of the building announcing the imminent arrival of the gas man. Then on the appointed day a friendly guy in a uniform (kind of like the ghost busters ones only green) comes around, asks me to “Schließen Sie die Fenster”, and waves a wand thingy around the house. He then tells us that we are perfectly safe and there is no carbon monoxide floating around. This morning though I got a bit of a lecture (first in German - me smiling and nodding) about not cramming all our suitcases in the space around the gas machine depriving it of oxygen (and presumably causing it to blow up?). He clued on to me though and suspiciously asked “Sprechen sie Englisch?” “Yup”, So then (luckily) I got the English version.

It reminded me of a similar incident where English/German speaking friends came over for dinner and seeing the overflowing contents of the bin noted “You’re not really following the recycling rules are you?!!” I’m thinking in my head “what recycling rules?!!” I separate the paper out, and take my bottles back to the supermarket – you mean there’s more to it??

So its probably for the best that I’m heading back to the UK before I cause a major ecological disaster or residential gas explosion in the quiet streets of the West End.

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