Herbert is having an affair.
“Who is that woman? Your wife?”
“No,” he insists “That’s my mother!”
“She looks too old to be your mother!”
“No, she is my mother. I promise!”
“I don’t believe you!”
In a convoluted twist ending the scene above turns out to be just that, a scene. Also, no my boyfriend’s name is not Herbert. Shocker. What sounds like a made-for-TV movie exchange is an actual chapter from my German textbook. Herbert is an actor rehearsing a scene for a play with his wife, Olga, who is also an actor. We’re sitting in a German intensive language class, me and the unlikely band of misfits that constitute my new friends. Ok, technically they don’t know we’re friends yet because in my desperation to make any kind of friend I’ve panicked and am not talking at all. An amazing strategy, I know.
We’ve come from every corner of the world, my new friends and I, to learn the complicated, elusive German language. We’ve come for many difference reasons. Some of them are hopeful students, working to attend a German university in the future. Others are fleeing dire circumstances and trying to make this strange new city home. Still others are brave, adventurous types, just out experiencing the world. They’re all alert, attentive, and already seem to be speaking German like pros.
And then there’s me. I followed a man who sort of liked me, spent the week before I signed up for class eating Nutella from the jar, regularly claim to have moved to escape Donald Trump’s presidency, and have only learned the word for “matchbox” since moving here. The only thing I have going for me are some skill at language learning and the most free time I’ve had in my life. Being unemployed will do that for you.
I knew that as soon as I moved here, I was going to have to learn German. Seems like a totally normal thing to do after moving abroad, but I was living in a comfortable denial I liked to blame on being American and also Donald Trump.
Side Note: Donald Trump is a convenient excuse for literally everything bad here. People accept it readily and don’t ask further questions. You don’t speak any German??? Oh, Donald Trump! Why don’t you have any cash to pay with? Donald Trump! You’ve forgotten your reusable bags? Donald Trump! Why are you stealing my dog? Donald Trump!
While Germans can mostly all speak a gorgeous technically correct English (as most Americans assume when traveling abroad), I’m a full believer in diving in. Anyone who’s heard my atrocious Swahili can attest to that. I had already spent a few weeks in Stuttgart, avoiding talking to anyone for as long as humanly possible. But since I’m a self proclaimed academic (aka nerd/teacher’s pet) at heart and since it would be nice to have a friendship with more than just the cashier who bags my Nutella, a school seemed the only way to go. I enrolled in a 4 hour a day course, bought a new box of highlighters, and pictured long lunches laughing over German’s eccentricities with a whole slew of interesting international friends.
The first day was exactly as apparently anyone but me would expect. The other students intimidated me so much that I forgot how to socialize and spoke only to the teacher while taking copious notes. I wrote every single word she said down and then all but ran back to my house where I reunited with my Nutella jar. While I was no closer to long lunches with friends, I was sure of two things. German was the most intimidating language I had ever undertaken and I was up for the challenge.
If you ever want to learn a language quickly, an intensive course in a country that speaks it is the only way I can recommend. I spent 7 years learning French and in one month I learned German more thoroughly than I probably even wanted to (sorry, Madame Burton). I was finally learning how to live again, how to interact with the world. I could finally introduce myself, count to 10, order bread, behave like a normal human in this language that I had so stubbornly avoided for so long. Or so I thought. Which brings us back to Herbert.
There are whole books and essays written about the strangeness of language learning textbooks. My favorite author who covers the comedy of errors that can be living abroad, David Sedaris, has plenty of them and they’re all funnier than anything I say, so in lieu of this entire blog post you can just go read his books. Notice that I waited until we were well underway to throw that in.
So Herbert is having an affair. But not really since he’s an actor and maybe his name is not Herbert. And he’s pretending to have an affair for a fictional play that is happening in my German textbook. And it’s actually all being explained by his son because reasons. All of this is to teach us German possessive pronouns: mine, hers, his, theirs. Something I’m sure you all already figured out because it is obviously a very logical and straightforward way to learn possessives. And it worked because I haven’t forgotten them but for some reason it was this chapter that lead to my epiphany.
Everything we’ve learned is to help us pick people up in bars.
Bear with me. In the three weeks that led up to this lesson we’ve learned a lot…
“Ich bin Mica. I’m Mica.”
“Ich bin 26 Jahre alt. I’m 26 years old.”
“Ich bin Lehrerin. I’m a teacher.”
“Du kannst wirklich tanzen! You can really dance!”
“Ich mochte ein Bier bitte. I’d like a beer please.”
“Na ja, er ist nicht mein Freund. Oh, he isn’t my boyfriend.”
“Bist du verheiratet? Are you married?”
“Wo wohnst du? Where do you live?”
“Ich wohne in der Nahe. I live nearby.”
Are you seeing it??? Now, Germany has a particularly older population due to World War II which I shan’t be getting into. But maybe I’m onto their clever solution. They’re not teaching us to be normal people, they’re teaching us how to flirt, get a drink, and then cover up all evidence of an affair once it’s discovered. If that isn’t the most helpful information ever, I don’t know what is.
Now, if Alex asks, I’ll just tell him the jar of Nutella hidden under the bed is my dad’s.