Friday, May 05, 2006

German theory

In response to Banalities comment on this post, I am inspired to tell a story about when I worked in Germany for a summer. See, I don't speak German (although I did learn to say "Excuse me," "I'm sorry," "I don't understand," "I don't speak German," and "Where is the bathroom," among other key phrases), but there was a sign in the lab where I worked that I was able to translate. I glance at it, and then chuckled to myself. The Germans, surprised, said, "You understand that?"

"Sure," I said. And I read, "In this lab we have both theory and practice. Nothing works, and no one knows why!"

It wasn't really that amazing of a feat, though, because I had learned the words for "know," and "work," and the German words for "theory" and "practice" are something like "theorin" and "praktica." (I'm just making those up, so don't jump down my throat if they are wrong, which they are.) But the point is, I could guess from context at the meaning.

Being in Germany was interesting. I found out what it was like to be illiterate. It's not fun. Sure, I could tell that the box in the grocery store was soap, but was it bath soap? Dish soap? Laundry soap? Who knew? And I knew the sign with a picture of a bike on it was telling me that something was verboten, but I couldn't tell if I was not allowed to walk on the bike path or if I was forbidden from riding my bike on the pedestrian path. Critical distinction, there.

It was a fun experience, all in all. And by spending three weeks in Germany made me much less afraid to try speaking French when I went to Paris for a long weekend. Sure, my accent was horrible and my grammar was faulty, but at least I had a shot.

1 comment:

Doktah said...

When I visited the Czech Republic I made sure to have the ESSENTIAL phrases translated by a friend of mine.
1. Please
2. Thank you.
3. I'm sorry. I'm very clumsy.
4. I'm sorry. Beer is very inexpensive here.
5. Where is the bathroom?
6. Which coin do I use to pay for this bathroom?
7. Please don't hate me for being American. I'm actually a very nice person.
8. I don't speak Czech. I speak English and enough German that you will think I'm a moron, but we will be able to communicate.