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Blending in with Germans

By SammyK on Tue, Jul 14th 09 at 09:47AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

I always do my best to not look like a tourist when I visit new cities.

Standing in the middle of a busy intersection looking around with a map in your hands, stopping to take pictures of everything you see and speaking in English are all dead giveaways of your tourist status.

Most importantly, I try to speak in German only when traveling about German-speaking cities.

Having spent so much time in Spanish-speaking countries, I have really neglected my German, but since I started learning German at such a young age, I am able to produce the sounds of German words much like a native speaker.

However, I still get pegged as a non-native speaker with my horrible German grammar.

You know you're not doing too hot when the person you're talking to switches to English mid-conversation. It's happened to me a few times.

I initially get frustrated with the person who switches to English because when I wanted to speak German with a native German speaker in New Zealand or Australia, they would refuse to speak German because they were in an English-speaking country.

Oh, fair enough, but now we're in GERMANy. Not ENGLISHy. Speak German please.

For the most part, all my conversations with people on the street have stayed in German even when I screw up the grammar a bit.

Yesterday I went into a bakery and ordered a sandwich. There were two desserts there that looked tasty and I asked the baker which one he liked better in German.

After some small talk in German he asked me if I was German and I said, "No, I'm American." He replied, "Oh, American German." I said, "No, just American." He was quite confused and asked where I learned how to speak German. When I told him, "in middle school in Kentucky," he was even more confused.

I take that as a compliment.

I just recently purchased a SIM card for my phone. I was going from cell phone shop to cell phone shop trying to find the best deal. At first I was asking people if they spoke English (asking the question in German of course).

One guy responded with, "A little," and then continued in German. I'm glad he did because it made me realize that even though I didn't understand everything they said, I still understood them quite well.

I finally went into T-Moble and bought a SIM card. From asking questions about pricing to purchasing the SIM, I kept it all in German. I completely undestimated my German speaking abilities.

Comments

Jen wrote on July 14th 09 at 09:01AM
I began learning French during my freshman year of high school in Kentucky (hi, fellow Kentuckian!), and I continued it until my sophomore year in college. When I finally had the opportunity to visit France a couple of years ago, I used French as much as possible despite stumbling over some grammar or words here and there. But like you, for the most part, I was able to understand more than I thought I would...and a lot of my French came back to me. But the biggest compliment came when a French person commented that I had a great French accent!
Kirsten Pearson wrote on July 14th 09 at 12:18PM
I totally understand where you're coming from. I started learning German in grade-school (just songs and poems and nothing too serious) but it has really helped with my pronunciation. In college I studied abroad there and had the same issue where everyone wanted to practice their English on me. Luckily I was still able to speak a lot of German, especially when out shopping, and I was surprised at how much I could understand. Speaking is always more difficult. But even if I messed up the grammar (which happened all the time!) I found people could still understand most of what I said. Can't wait to travel back there some day. Have fun! Can't wait to meet you some day too when you get back to the states :) Bis dann, Tschüß.
Sam's Mom wrote on July 14th 09 at 05:06PM
I'm so proud of you! I still have the German tapes that I think got you started. I remember how you used to laugh when they would say, "The man has a long nose." When Maja said "nine-hundred and ninety-nine" you would die laughing. You made her say it over and over. I wish you could have located her.

Have you left Germany yet?

Love, Mom
Benny the Irish polyglot wrote on July 15th 09 at 01:40AM
Wow!! Thanks for the DOUBLE link love :P
I heard your German in Buenos Aires, your accent was excellent!! I'm not surprised that the guy in the bakery was confused ;)
Confidence is the most important thing in speaking any language; forget grammar and vocabulary and pronunciation. If you think you can speak it well and you are speaking it, then you will have conversations with people :) That's what it's all about!!
Anyway, as I've said on my blog, I usually use exaggerated showmanship when I talk to distract them from any grammatical mistakes I make :P But my next "3 month" mission will be about speaking a language with zero accent, so the natives think I'm one of them... It's the holy grail of any language learner!!
Sorry if you can't come to Prague, but we'll meet again in another place. Count on it :)
Andy W. wrote on July 16th 09 at 07:14PM
Ich werde beeindruckt. Ihr werden sehr guter Eingeborener. Ihr werden Grün und Ihr Haar ist auf Feuer. Wunderbar, ja?
Todd wrote on July 16th 09 at 08:40PM
I can't pretend to speak any German other than bitte, ein masse, and other random but useful words. The hardest part of blending in with Germans that I've found is my willingness to cross an empty street on a red light. Most Germans I've seen have much better patience than I do.
Jamie Powers wrote on July 17th 09 at 03:13AM
I agree w/ Andy.

Love you, Sam!
Andy W. wrote on July 17th 09 at 02:25PM
Oops, the formatting got messed up. "Grün" should be Grun with an umlaut. Oh, well! Jamie, thanks for supporting me in what I said. It's good for Sam to get this feedback. ;-)
Andy W. wrote on July 17th 09 at 02:27PM
Wow that got even more messed up as well. Sam, you might want to make your website a bit more German-friendly. :-)
Rici wrote on July 19th 09 at 07:16AM
Hallo Sam,
schön zu hören, dass du dein Deutsch ein bißchen auffrischen konntest! Wenn du willst, können wir auch immer auf Deutsch oder Denglish kommunizieren. Schade, dass du nur so kurz da warst... Das nächste Mal müssen wir unbedingt nochmal tanzen gehen. Und natürlich gibt es da auch noch einige Biersorten und andere Spezialitäten auszuprobieren ;) Hoffen, dir geht es gut bei den Schotten.
Eine gute Reise und Grüße von Mathi und mir aus der Neustadt!
The incredible story of how two recent college grads are traveling around the world on an impossible budget.
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