The jig’s up, Germany. Game over, although I must say, you were a formidable opponent. Well played, Deutschland, well played.
Day in, day out, I make orders, request service, exchange pleasantries and attempt insults in your language. Granted, I butcher the language, but I study the phrasebook and channel my high school German teacher, Herr Ahlers, and I do my best. It’s only fitting, seeing as how I’m living in your country. But sometimes, like when I was running frantically through the train station in Leipzig that time, or when my husband was in the hospital and the only word of German I could comprehend meant ‘to die’, or when you were trying to deliver that package but over the intercom I just thought you were an axe murderer trying to get in my building, I need your assistance. When I ask “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” I’m truly desperate. I’m not asking for a favor, I’m begging for help.
But your dirty little secret has been exposed, your cover was blown wide open. Yesterday I went to a school (a Gymnasium, the equivalent of a college prep high school in the U.S.) to talk with a room full of 14-year olds. Aside from the initial teenage shyness and the requisite awkwardness, they were amazing. They were inquisitive (“But why don’t you have children?”), polite (“You are pretty.”) and resourceful (“We have a bottle of wine for you as a thanks for visiting us!”). And damnit, they were adorable! If you look at pictures of me circa 1995 you would not use that adjective to describe me. Frumpy, perhaps. Emotionally confused, to be sure. Adorable, never.
The most important revelation of the day, however, was not to do with the children themselves, but instead with their English skills. When I was asked to visit this class, I was given the impression that the children might struggle a bit to use their English in a conversational rather than written format. What I witnessed was exactly opposite, their conversational skills were fantastic. They asked me questions above and beyond the normal, boring age/name/favorite movie rigmarole. They understood everything I said, answered my questions to them, and even understood my humor (or at least laughed politely, which is good enough for me).
This experience proved to me that, as I have long suspected, many people are lying -NAY!- stretching the truth when they answer a straight up “nein” when asked the infamous “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” Granted, high school was a long time ago for all of us and I’m sure your confidence in your abilities has diminished. Admittedly, there isn’t much opportunity for you to practice any English that you may have picked up in school in this neck of the woods. And sure, it may be slightly annoying to hear me speak such terrible German and sort of satisfactory to stare blankly at me instead of helping out. But I am asking -NAY!- imploring you to please, when you see the desperation on my face, be a pal and use a couple of those words you remember. No one will laugh at your pronunciation or scoff at poor grammar. On the contrary, you’re likely to get a hug just for trying!
Please note in the photos below how cute those children are, and how very grown-up and interesting I am. They are riveted! Or sleeping with their eyes open. You be the judge.