After years of learning German in University, I did not expect my very first interaction with a “real life German” is in Chinese. The officer at the Frankfurt border control asked me where I came from, where my destination was, and for how long would my stay in EU be in exceptionally fluent Mandarin Chinese, and he wasn’t Asian. It was at this point that I realized that my professors did not exaggerate the multiculturalism and multilingualism in Germany.
I have studied through 3 German textbooks, all of which were book series called “Berliner Platz - Alltag in Deutschland”, meaning “Berlin square - everyday life in Germany”. This title is one of the reasons why I was extremely excited about this school trip. I’ve taken enough German courses to earn a minor, but embarrassingly I have never spoken a single German sentence to people other than my profs or classmates. It sounds fun that I am going to personally check if those three textbooks can get me through “everyday life in Berlin”.
With some friends, this was our first meal in Germany. Of course we did not know what to order, and we wanted something so authentic, that we ended up in a restaurant that only had German menus. The restaurant looked like a brunch place, but it had all sorts of things from sausages to schnitzels. I was the only one in the group who understood some German, but it didn’t help much.
The waitress recommended some 30 euro full meal, but we did not completely understand nor felt like it. With tons of confusion, we all ordered this “Currywurst mit Kartoffelsalat”. It was the most straightforward item on the menu that I could recognize instantly, so I recommended this to everyone. My roommate didn’t know what Currywurst is, and when he asked the waitress in English, she looked at him as if he was crazy: “It’s Currywurst!”, she shrugged her shoulders and wasn’t sure what was confusing him. I told him “it’s curry sausages”, and then the waitress immediately had an a-ha moment, “ah, ja genau, sausages, sausages…”.
This gave me some idea of the English competency of an average Berliner. It’s only the first day, but the first impression was that they had “good enough” English to meaningfully communicate, but far away from fluent speakers. I have a separate post about communications with Germans in general.
The first two German words I learned was:
- der Eingang (entrance)
- der Ausgang (exit)
I was surprised that I didn’t know these two words before, and that I understood and memorized them without looking them up in a dictionary. I just learned two words from experience instead of a vocabulary list!