De do do do, Die, Das, Der, Dem

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.

About pinklightsabre

William Pearse publishes memoir, travel journals, poetry and prose, and lives in the Pacific Northwest.
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16 Responses to De do do do, Die, Das, Der, Dem

    • pinklightsabre says:

      We have a winner! You keep it to yourself, you — it’s a surprise. How cool is that?! I’m going to pop something in your inbox here tomorrow, look for it. Love and kisses, – Bill

      Like

  1. sweetsound says:

    Aw autumn gloom sounds great. I’d never have guessed it though! Sounds like fun!

    A “blowout” on the freeway briefly took on a different connotation for me after talking about babies with my family. Glad it wasn’t that.

    Like

    • pinklightsabre says:

      I know. Blowout is bad no matter what the context. I was thinking about the baby blowout for some reason this week too, but it’s a distant thing for us. Reminds me of a road trip back from Oregon, but I’m going to forget about it and leave it there on the highway somewhere.
      I loved your post and photos from the hike in Utah, by the way.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. andrew says:

    Prague! I Loved this place when I went there as a young man. U Fleků Brewery and Restaurant
    http://www.ufleku.cz/en/

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      Right on! Nice to hear from you old mate! Thanks for this link – we will go have a look at it, and some Pils no doubt. Hope you are well and missing you and your charming family. – Bill

      Like

  3. rossmurray1 says:

    Sounds like your heading to another country so it must be Berlin, which was.

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    • rossmurray1 says:

      Aww, I thought you were staying in Germany.

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      Good guess as we were planning to do that but decided somewhere else instead, as we were discouraged by the distance, spending a good 6.5 hours by car or train. And too expensive by plane. Nuts, huh? Big country. No music reference there, just keep it at the literal level. Have you been there? I think there’s 4 million there, and it’s Germany’s biggest city. Will have to wait until next year.

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  4. ksbeth says:

    i had no idea, but after reading your comment section, i do now – enjoy!

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  5. walt walker says:

    Goddammit, I knew it was Prague, like, a week ago, but I kept mum. Not fair.

    I can relate. I took a Polish class in Polish, and I didn’t really know enough Polish to get what I was supposed to get out of it. Kept falling back on the English, which as you said ain’t the right way. And I approach foreign languages with a drop-down box mentality. I click on the box and scroll down looking for the right declension. That gets you nowhere fast.

    But I also have to really think through a language before it makes sense to me. Like, the Polish for “do you speak English” never made sense to me until I realized they’re not saying do you speak English, they’re saying “does the gentleman/lady speak in the Polish way? When they want to say “what time is it?” they say “does the gentleman/lady have the time?” Better to shoot first and ask questions later, probably.

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      I knew you knew it, sorry but things aren’t fair you know. I haven’t thought of the word declension in a while but that’s it, short-cuts…there seems to be a bigger lesson for me here about patience too and practice, and how things can come so slowly, but still “come” day by day. The very slow learning has its own nice reassurance to it. I didn’t know that about the Polish language, how they think – it is changing your paradigm to think differently, which is supposed to be one of the best things for the mind. Once I get used to repositioning the verbs, if ever I do, and round out my grammar and vocabulary I’ll be satisfied. And then I’ll work more on pronunciation.

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