Six years ago we were leaving Germany about this time following a three month sabbatical, and I was returning to work. It may have been auspicious, I had a blowout on the highway and had to call roadside assistance my first day back, standing there in the dark of a November Seattle morning in the rain on the shoulder marvelling at how fast everyone seemed to be going, on their way to work — and when I got in I learned I had the same project I did the previous year, they just doubled the goal and kept the name the same, the same name as a popular contraceptive (“Plan B”) but no one seemed interested in changing it — and after I switched departments I learned they had a project with the same name there too, Plan B, like a foreign language, sometimes it seems they just want to keep others out by speaking in code.
And finishing our first few weeks of German class we’ve learned so much more here than in the States because the course is taught in all Deutsch, as they can’t use English since there’s Afghans, Croatians, a Pakistani, Pole, and African in the class — and Dawn and I, forced to use the part of our brain that’s trying to learn German can’t fall back on the comfort of English and doesn’t have the luxury to ‘toggle’ between the two languages because given the choice, the brain will always choose what’s easiest.
As with other languages, the more you get into it, the more intricate and complex it becomes: and unlike English, where the definite article is just “the,” in Deutsch there are three variations (der, die, das) and no logic to which word gets what article, and although they’re masculine, feminine and neuter, the gender doesn’t conform to the object and seems willy-nilly, and the plural version of the nouns has five suffixes that also change, that you just have to memorise and stop complaining about, because English is probably harder, and Deutsch, likely harder for Afghans than us Americans, where our language shares so much with the Germans.
The der, die, das changes when the case changes from nominative to dative too — and English is just as jammed up when you start talking about why the rules work the way they do, most English-speakers can’t even explain it, they just know what sounds right — and this is why I think it’s better to jump in and speak it and use the language than treat it as an abstract, distant thing, studying its rules and architecture from the outside, as it seems you can’t ever penetrate it that way, it’s too hard and overwhelming — especially when you know in the back of your mind you could get by speaking English, and that’s why I think it’s important to learn the native language, because you don’t really have to — it shows a respect and willingness to integrate that communicates something through its sheer intent, arguably more important than the words themselves.
We laid out our money for a used car in a trailer in the small town of Sulzbach/Murr, which Eberhard spelled out for me in an SMS because I couldn’t understand him when he said it on the phone — and the Murr is the river it’s on, which is important in finding German places (it will sometimes say “a. d. Neckar” for example, which means ‘on the Neckar [River]’), and euros still feel like Monopoly play money to me even though I know they’re not, because they come in different colours and don’t correspond to anything tangible when spending money here.
I’ll go with Eberhard tomorrow to do the registration for the car and the insurance, and then we’ll get the plates and go back to retrieve the car and have just 24 hours before we use it for the first time for a long weekend to celebrate Dawn’s birthday in a city that’s just about four hours away, the fifth most popular tourist destination in Europe after London, Paris, Istanbul and Rome — and they have different power outlets there so we can’t be bothered to take electronic devices, and they don’t take the euro, so we’ll need to get local currency, and we’ll get there by way of Nuremberg. First respondent who guesses the city without using Google (and follows the honour system) gets a DropBox playlist of autumn gloom.