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.