Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How do you communicate

with no words to use?

Sometimes living in a foreign country is absolutely frustrating. Everything is different, even if you never expect it to be. The plugs are different, the pillows are different, the public transportation is different...EVERYTHING! But most importantly (and most difficultly) the language is different.

About 75% of the time that I try to communicate with native Germans, I feel like an absolute fool. I know a couple words like "please", "thank you", "one", "I don't speak German", and some food names, but that is IT. I don't know any German, and I feel like a horrible person every time someone asks me if I speak German and I have to reply "no...sorry." I can only order food while pointing at something and saying "one, please", which has incredibly limited my diet because I'm a very picky eater and I have no way of saying "yes, but no tomatoes please!". So I've basically stuck to noodle boxes and pretzels when I'm eating on the run. Otherwise, I can just make food in my apartment (which has no oven, microwave, or toaster...grrr).

I had a very interesting (to me) encounter the other day. I was at the public viewing park for the World Cup games (okay America, we need some of these public viewing parks ASAP...they're so much fun!) and I went to the food tent to get some french fries and beer (sooo healthy, I know) and when I went to check out, the girl told me my total, which of course, I didn't understand. So I kind of smiled at her and looked at the cash register to see what the number was, and handed her my money. She then asked, "Next time should I speak in English?"

This totally surprised me. It's your country and your language, why should you have to change to cater to my needs? It was just kind of funny to me that she was willing to switch to English when sooo many people I've encountered in Germany obstinately refuse to use English, even if they know a bit.

Sometimes the language barrier makes me want to give up on living here and just move back home, but most of the time I see it as a challenge to myself and as a way to improve my relations and interactions with people who live in cultures different from my own!

Tschüss (goodbye)!

P.S. Lovely photo of the best World Cup team's flag by The Daily Photo.


  1. I've always wanted to visit Germany and that's the one thing holding me back - the language barrier. I know enough Spanish to get me by, but really no German. It sounds as if you're adapting pretty well, though and I'm sure you'll learn more through cultural absorption, at least on some level. Good luck, and thanks for posting this :) It gives me renewed hope about my dream to one day travel around Europe

  2. I always feel so guilty when people speak English to me in foreign countries, it's their country, but it always surprises me how many people actually speak English. It makes me really want to learn another language properly, not just the few words and phrases I know to get by. Good luck though, you seem to be doing well with the German culture!