No Sir, I’ve just wiped it off!”
A very warm welcome to everybody from inside my temporary home, where the fireplace, in stark contrast to the previous week, has been in service for 3 days straight. Despite it being well into November now, I really don’t think it’s that cold over here, unless of course you lounge around outside doing nothing (which I haven’t had the chance to do recently). Having said that, Bernd and Heike were very much taken aback on Saturday, on returning from holiday (I’d had a free house the whole week!) where they found the house to be “freezing.” Now if you ask me, I really didn’t think that it was that chilly in the house, indeed I’d been basking in that temperature all week; however I think I’m gradually accepting that I must have developed some mild form of immunity to the cold over the past year, where a (at times) Arctic-house at 44 Monks Road, Exeter, awaited my return from campus each day from November to April. Either way, the hotel has been making good use of the Bayerischer Wald, what with this massive furnace blazing (only joking), a bit like the Orcs and the Fangorn Forest in “Lord of the Rings.”
Before we begin I must quickly apologise for the lack of visual interaction in this instalment, it’s going to be a slightly more observational / discussion orientated entry, so you might need to concentrate a little harder this time round! Also briefly, I’d just like to mention Chris Cooper’s blog documenting his year abroad in Austria: He elaborates on a number of comments (all of which I’m sure that most year abroad students in Germany have experienced) which I can only wholeheartedly agree with. I really do recommend you to check out his blog; he covers how almost EVERYTHING seems to close out here on a Sunday, the notion of 9-5 work, and what most rings true, the productivity of the ‘year abroad.’
It really makes me laugh nowadays to think back on all those listening exercises / comprehensions in German that we’ve had to do over the years whilst studying. Listening was always my weakest aspect of language learning, but boy, I can tell you now that those exercises seem like a mere walk in the park compared to what I’ve had to listen to out here so far! Can anybody please tell me (I’m sure Matt Williams knows) who does the talking on those German exercise tapes / CD’s; because they have the clearest, cleanest (almost Anglo-German) accent that I’ve ever heard. And I only discovered that once I arrived out here! Despite my German having taken gigantic strides during these past 7 weeks, there are still times (that probably will remain) when I can take a passive role in a conversation with my colleagues or a group of locals, and halfway through the conversation I’ll ask myself, “are they speaking Dutch, are they a group of pirates, or simply got food in their mouths?”
Honestly, Franconian can be so difficult at times to understand (I’ve learnt not to generalise and call everything Bavaria, which can upset some people). To verify this, and simultaneously to confirm that I’m not just a wimp, our cook Ingo, who’s East German, admits that at times that even he finds it very difficult to understand one of his Franconian co-workers called Aurelia. Lately, our most regular customer Roland has been giving me some lessons in Franconian; so if you study German like me and are living elsewhere in the country and have heard these phrases before, then clearly I’ve been taught incorrectly! There are a couple of ways to say ‘sit down’, endemic to Oberfranken (the ‘county’ where I’m living), which include: “Pflanz di’ noo,’ or ‘Setz di’ noo.’ These are in comparison to ‘Setzst du dich’ in Hochdeutsch (standard German). There is also “Schleich di,” which means ‘go away,’ or “halst maul” which means ‘be quiet.” Finally, I’ve also heard “Wiederschauen” for ‘goodbye’ and “aufgehӧrt,” for ‘have you slept well?” Almost everybody here recommends to me ironically that I should learn Hochdeutsch, and Hochdeutsch only. Although it’s coming on fast it’s still hard and a slower process I would say, because I’m always hearing ‘Franconian,’ which is vastly different to standard German. If you’d like a more visual impression, then click on this link here, which shows you ‘German‘ wikipedia, then click on this second link, which shows you ‘Bavarian‘ wikipedia. Does that look like the same language to you?! I thought not! That’s what I’m coping with!
In addition to this obstacle, Christian (who is East German himself) has been teaching me some East German slang, which again, is very different to standard German. Normally if I’d like another beer at a pub or restaurant, I might say ‘noch ein Bier bitte.’ In East German however, it’s apparently a bit more common to hear ‘Nüü ans nämer noh.” It sounds funny, it looks nothing like normal German, and it makes life a hell of a harder. Ironically enough, one customer asked me last night (pay no credence to the fact that she was at least 80 years old) whether I was East German! It totally made my day, and made me think that my German is finally coming on :). The cherry on top of the cake was another customer calling me “Chef” (boss) a little later on during the evening. My head has grown significantly since :).
It really is unbelievable, how many different dialects exist throughout Germany; I’ve had countless conversations with guests and friends here about this. Most recently, I’ve had the most revealing conversation concerning the subject. Only yesterday I spoke with a couple staying in the hotel who come from Hessen, who to me seemed to speak really clear and understandable German (compared to people around here in the outback!).I was understanding everything they said (which made a change), and I was loving it. They explained that there are hundreds and hundreds of different dialects in Germany, and that funnily enough they find it difficult to understand people in Göβweinstein. In return I could only name 6 different English accents: Essex, Cockney, farmer, Scouse, Brummie, and Geordie (which puts the whole situation into context!) They claimed, that even though I could understand perfectly well what they were saying to me at that moment, that if I was to spend Christmas at their family home and listen to all the conversations going on with the family clan, then I would probably understand ‘gar nichts’ (absolutely NOTHING). According to them, dialects in Germany vary on average per 10 kilometres. Ironically, this has been making me wonder, is it worth studying German at all if I’m going to struggle communicating in Berlin with what I’ve learnt here in Bavaria?!
Only joking 🙂 I’m loving it and learning loads, more than I ever imagined that I would. I only wanted to give you an impression of the challenges that one faces when trying to learn another language; that it’s not all about learning the words, oh no. Pronunciation and context are as, if not more, important than anything else. Again, I apologise for the lack of photos in this blog installment. I promise that I will include more the next time, and won’t rant anywhere near as much as I have done this evening. But for now, thanks for reading, and until the next time… Wiederschauen!