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New York City meets Munich

Getting along

August 25th, 2011 · No Comments · Learning German

There’s one thing in German I’m always ready to say at a moment’s notice:

  • Entschuldigen Sie bitte, mein Deutsch ist nicht gut. Ich bin neu hier.

Basically it’s “Pardon me, please, my German isn’t good. I’m new here.”

It comes in handy, and is a little more graceful than making a Butthead-like “Uhhhh” noise. I first used the above phrase when I was left alone in the Ikea self-serve section, pulling some boxes down, when another customer asked me a question. He pondered my response, and replied “Uh, ok.” and that was the end of that.

Choose wisely.The experience of being somewhere that seems fairly familiar and comfortable, yet not being able to talk or understand people except at the most basic and halting levels has actually been pretty useful. I lean heavy on words and language, and not having that tool so readily at hand makes me stretch. I have to observe and deduce, and I pay a lot more attention to facial expressions and how people say things. It also encourages me to be a bit more introverted, which is useful when trying to work on creative projects like writing and software development.

There’s no doubt it’s humbling. I don’t even bother trying to answer the phone, but luckily we get almost no calls. I can bluff my way through transacting with a cashier or accepting a package, as long as no unusual questions arise. I muddle through my interactions with other dog owners adequately. Since the context of conversation is fairly focused, with my basic German I can usually figure out what the other owner is saying and respond with terse answers, like

  • Er ist ein Junge.
    He is a boy.
  • Er ist neun Jahre alt.
    He is nine years old.
  • Er ist freundlich.
    He is friendly.
  • Er beisst nur gemeine Leute.
    He only bites mean people.

I haven’t had to use the last one yet. But I’m ready. And for those late night walks, there’s always

  • Tu mir nicht weh. Ich habe kein Geld.
    Don’t hurt me. I have no money.

I probably won’t need that, but you never know.

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