11 January 2007


You are never as intelligent in a second language as you are in your first language. And I am proving that theory in spades!

GLH and I will soon be signing up for German language classes. And the German I learned way back in high school and college is slowly coming out again. At this stage, I could probably have a conversation at the level of a 2 year old. Although the 2 year old would have better grammar and a wider vocabulary.

Yesterday I was even able to have some very small conversations completely in German -- with the postman who needed a signature, the restroom attendant who gave me the correct change to access the restroom and even directions from a hotel employee, although the finger pointed answer helped much better than the words for that last one.

But I am still reminded on a daily basis that I am an Auslander (foreigner) who hasn't a clue how to go about the business of daily life in this new country. This is very difficult for me as I am an intelligent and competent individual who is very unaccustomed to feeling like a complete idiot.

Here are some examples:

Earlier today I filled up the gas tank on the rental car. After 5 minutes of trying, I still could not for the life of me figure out how get the gas to come out of the pump. Finally I asked for assistance and a station employee came out to help. He explained to me in German what he was doing. But I didn't understand. The next time I have to fill up a tank, I still won't know. Although as the car has now been returned and we won't have our own for at least a few months, perhaps I will know enough German by then.

I needed to purchase feminine hygiene products. The tampons were no problem as Tampax is an international brand. But the maxi pads presented more of an issue. After staring at the wall of packages for a while I finally selected one with a picture of a maxi pad on the side. When I got home, I realized I had inadvertently purchased incontinence pads. They do look the same. But they are much, much larger.

I am happy to report that I am successfully using the public transit system and thus far have been able to get myself anywhere that I needed to go. Although I suspect that is more the result of a well designed and efficient system than any display of intelligence by me.


Anonymous said...

Suddenly I am so thankfully that Ireland is English speaking - or technically bilingual, I guess.

Global Librarian said...

Some might argue that the Irish don't necessarily speak English. After all, many Irish movies need to be dubbed so that other English speakers can understand them.

When I lived in Ireland, it took me a bit more than a month before I was routinely able to understand what people were saying. And I never understood some people, generally those from the far west of Ireland.