Speaking German

In The Art of Travel, 3. Communicating, Berlin, Places by Arjun1 Comment

It’s such a relief that so many people here speak English. And they don’t just speak English, they speak it well. I was at the grocery store the other day, buying a massive pack of Twix bars for two euros and some other candy. I had the right amount of coins out in my hand while standing in line, having done the math beforehand so I wouldn’t look like too much of an idiot. The guy who rang me up said something in a flurry of German, probably “zwei Euro achtundneunzig.” I had all the right coins out, and was prepared to give them to him, but the German threw me off. So before I could give him the money, he says “Two ninety-eight, pal” in an accent more American than even mine I think. I still can’t figure out if he’s from Germany or America, as he speaks his languages perfectly. It’s quite lucky that Americans have such a nice language safety net here; only a handful of times has someone said that they don’t speak English when I ask them a question.

On the flip side, I was also put in a funny and rare situation for a student studying abroad learning a new language. My roommate and I visited the house of his mother’s friends, who had a young two-year-old girl. This toddler talked more than anyone her age I had ever seen, but the thing is, it was all in German, and she didn’t understand any English. So, I had to converse a two-year-old with probably less than a two-year-old’s knowledge of German. There were points that I had no clue what she was saying, but often I could point to a picture and ask what that was, and she would teach me. Also I could play number games with her, using my limited knowledge of even the numbers up to 20.

Besides the difficulties of learning the spoken language of German, I have also found it quite complicated to read the non-verbal communication of Germans. Of course, there is a natural baseline among all humans that we can communicate non-verbally, more than we would think, but there is something so drastically different about the way Berliners exist around each other, compared to Americans. In some aspects, there is a subtlety that they exert which one rarely finds in America; yet simultaneously they have a bluntness which is new to me. It’s hard to write down the specificities of interactions where I notice this, but I definitely always notice it. Maybe when I figure out how to put it in words, I’ll write a blog post about it. But for now, it will remain a mystery of a new home which will excite and confuse me.

(Image: black; Source: joke battles wiki)


  1. Hello!
    I think its both so interesting and convenient that many people in Berlin speak English so fluently! In Prague and in my travels to Poland, most of my conversations have been extremely limited and difficult. Often I find myself either slowing down the speed of my words or having to use hand gestures to complete a conversation.

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