I am writing you from my first class window seat on the train to Mannheim and then Mϋnchen (Munich). The Rheinland countryside is absolutely stunning. Last weekend I went to Kӧln (Cologne) and spend most of the time with a fixed expression of awe and disbelief at how impressive the Kӧlner Dom was (pictures to follow!). On the topic of German pronunciation though, did you all note that in the two cities I just mentioned there was an English version since we can’t pronounce the name the natives use? This is a small testament to the trials and tribulations of learning German :P. I think my favourite “learning experience” so far was when my supervisor told me (in German) he couldn’t get a hold of the Über-something-something-something. He was pointing in the direction of a series of desks so I figured from context that he must be referring to someone, and the giant word I didn’t understand MUST be a job title. I then asked if he or she was sick or just on vacation. When my supervisor burst out laughing I figured something had gone wrong. He replied that an “elevator” couldn’t be sick or on vacation, but he’s thrilled by how much I was making him laugh that day. Earlier that day I had expressed my surprise that all the songs on the radio were in English. My supervisor’s reaction was basically “umm…of course!” and for some reason he found my “when-a-North-American-goes-to-Europe”-type question rather entertaining. Another favourite topic my two supervisors find amusing is the different legal drinking ages in North America. In Germany, you can basically start drinking legally at 16. When I was asked how old one had to be to drink in the USA, the reply of “21,” made my coworkers start laughing hysterically, especially when it was discovered that you could sooner join the American army and die for your country before you could have a drink.
My next language faux-pas also involved the fateful elevator. During my first few days of work something unimaginable happened- for 30 minutes I was basically the only one in the lab. This would not normally have been a problem if only I hadn’t been asked for directions. I was sitting in the office studying my notes and trying to memorize all the new protocol steps, equipment names, and random instructions that I had received concerning what I would be doing when a rather rushed, out of breath woman walked in with a giant box of samples and asked, “Wo ist der Aufzug??”. After 12 years of Saturday morning German school, and a lifetime of speaking German with my grandparents I should have been able to break it down and figure out what Auf(up)zug(train) could have meant, but in that moment my mind was nothing more than a blank screen periodically flicking through images of the 30+ machines I had seen in the lab, madly wondering which one could possibly be the one she needed. After a few seconds of wide-eyed silence she began energetically lifting the box up and down in the air saying, “Aufzug? Aufzug?? Aufzug?!?” My mind grinded to a halt, time stopped, and I suddenly blurted out, “Ich bin aus Kanada!” (I’m from Canada!), as if being Canadian was a completely reasonable argument as to why I would have no clue what on Earth was going on. Apparently it worked, because she said, “Ah! OK!” and proceeded to look in the lab herself. A few seconds later the clouds cleared and the proverbial light bulb in my head lit up like a lighthouse through a perfect storm. “Ah! the ELEVATOR!”, I cried and rushed to assist the poor woman. Ever since this incident she has been very kind and made sure to speak v…e…r...y….. s…l…o…w…l…y with me ;).
Overall, I make my coworkers laugh a lot, and am learning tons! I find that every day it gets a little easier to express more complicated ideas in German, but I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t think there are going to be more slip ups to come. When they happen I will let you all know ;).