12 June 2007

Perplexed

I had my first session with a private German tutor. The classes just didn't work for me.

Although I have studied German before, I completely forgot essentially all of the grammar. My tutor and I decided it would probably be best to start from the beginning in order to relearn the grammar, although we will likely move very quickly for the first few sessions.

She gave me the titles for a couple of books for our lessons. They are the standard Beginning German books plus one on the fundamentals of German grammar.

Yesterday afternoon I went to a bookstore in Zürich to purchase them. I approached the information desk on the first floor with my carefully written list of titles, authors and publishers.

"Haben Sie diese Bücher?" I asked.

The woman glanced at the titles before launching into a stream of rapid-fire German. I caught a couple of words, but most of it was completely lost.

Noticing my blank stare, she pointed at the escalator and said, very slowly, "Kundendienst auf erste Stock." (Customer service on first floor)

So I went upstairs and found the area with the language books. I went to the nearby information desk, handed the woman my list and said, "Haben Sie diese Bücher?"

She looked them up on the computer. Then she also launched into a rapid-fire stream of German, spoken so quickly I hadn't a chance of understanding. I suspect she was giving me directions because she also pointed across the room.

Noting my obvious lack of comprehension, she walked over to a shelf, got the books and handed them to me.

Here's what I do not understand. Did neither of the women notice the requested titles were entry-level German?

6 comments:

Marcy said...

It seems that often, if people hear you say one phrase in their language, they'll assume you basically can speak almost fluently. I'd take it as a compliment to your accent when asking them for the books. ; )

Greg said...

They might assume that you speak Swiss-German and not that mythical language that no one here in Switzerland speaks, 'Hochdeutsch'. I've known a few folks in my German classes that spoke decent enough Swiss-German for everyday things, but couldn't read or write High-German.

Sadly, you will find that most Swiss speak better English than they do high-german.

I used to regularly apologize for my lack of being able to speak Swiss-German: "Entschuldigung, mein Schwiezerdeutch ist nicht so gut". Is a much better way of saying "Hochdeutsch, Bitte!". You'll also get to see them laugh a bit and then try to speak hochdeutch. Sadly though, I know folks that try to speak in high-german using words like 'Luegen' (see), 'Losen' (hear), 'Reden' (speak) and the like, all the time thinking they're speaking high-german.

I prefer speaking French. After I apologize for my bad french, shopkeepers have always been happy to help me finish my sentences. And, there aren't all of the weird dialects like there are here in Allemania.

monika said...

...not weird dialects in French??? I speak pretty fluent French (at least according to civil service exams), but couldn't figure out what the cashiers were saying to me here in Switzerland -- they count differently here! Seems they do it in Belgium too, and the odd spot in France. There are other differences too...

Expat Traveler said...

lol - monika the counting is so simple... IT's more straightforward to me than the normal french numbers... They were saying septant, huitant, neunant... 70,80, 90 - the rest of the numbers are the same...

And GL - I'd take it as a compliment....

Expat Traveler said...

by the way, you are just racking in the posts! I'm so behind!

CanadianSwiss said...

I totally agree with Greg. Speaking both High-German and Swiss German fluently, I know for a fact that probably 75%+ of the Swiss cannot have a conversation in High German without MANY mistakes. It's just not their mother tongue. I'm sure my High German is not perfect either (I spoke only Swiss dialect when I came here), but I assure you that I hear and find many errors.

Anyway, I'd also take it as a compliment. Just that short sentence made them think you were fluent.