Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ausländer in an Ausland

So, Anna and I have been in Germany for more than 2 months now, so I thought I’d share some of my experiences as an Auslander (foreigner) in an Ausland (foreign country).  It has been a great experience so far, and full of adventure!  Living in Germany is much like living in the United States, except that everyone here speaks German.  Actually, that’s not true, since it is one of the most international places I’ve lived, and for many of the internationals, English is the common language.  It’s not uncommon to overhear conversations on the street corner in Spanish, and in my GSL (German as a Second Language) course, I’m the only person from the United States.  But a lot of people speak German.  And it is a little strange to be partially illiterate.  I’m also trying to figure out what the word is for when you can’t speak a language.  Whatever that word is, it applies to me with respect to German!  But that’s changing slowly and steadily.  But you really don’t need that much German to get by from day to day.  For example, I’ve managed to go grocery shopping, rescue my books from customs, get a hair cut, and figure out why an international wire transfer failed (they sent our money to Bosnia).  Granted, many of these activities have benefited from the English speaking skills of the Germans (which are generally pretty good), but still, I take pride in what small victories I can.
Kohlmeise (Great Tit) on our feeder

The birding here has been slower than I expected, but there are lots of fun new birds, and I still enjoy watching the Kohlmeise, Blaumeise, and Kleiber coming and going to our feeder.  It has been a switch to go birding primarily by bicycle – especially on rainy days.  For example, there is no car to duck back into to wait out short showers, and coupled with my poor direction sense, a shortcut home might actually increase the length of the trip by about 5 km .  On the other hand, the roads are very bike friendly, and you can get to a number of locations very easily by bicycle.  I’m starting to get a good idea of what is where in the region, and working on tracking down a lot of the local common species.

Blaumeise (Blue tit, bottom) and
a Kohlmeise (top) on the feeder
Kleiber (European Nuthatch) at the feeder

 Restaurants are also a little bit different in Germany.  Fortunately, most of the restaurants (if not all?) are non-smoking, which is a pleasant surprise given the prevalence of that deadly habit here.  But they don’t automatically give tap water (das Leitungswasser.  If you’re wondering, all Nouns are capitalized in German.  Weird, I know).  In fact, one Restaurant refused to give me Tap Water unless I ordered another Drink as well and when the Water came, it was in a Glass the size of 2-3 Shot Glasses (okay, I’ll stop with the German capitalization with English words).  On the topic of capitalization, it turns out that capitalization of nouns is important, since sometimes the uncapitalized version is a verb.  And it turns out the word for bird, (Vogel) when conjugated improperly in the plural and not capitalized, is slang for having sex (synonym for the f word, basically).  Yes, I found this out the hard way in my German class by trying to write that I study birds...  Live and make mistakes, right?

The pricing system here is better – all the prices include sales tax.  So if something says $5, it really is $5!  Not $5.05 or whatever obscure amount it is with sales tax.  Unfortunately, the Germans say their numbers backwards though, so I still get some funny looks when I try to give drei und sechzig (three and sixty) instead of sechs und dreiβig (six and thirty).  By the way the funny β is called an eszett – it’s actually a double ss, and makes no b sound whatsoever, unless mispronounced by a foreigner.  But generally people are pretty forgiving here.

So far, it’s been a great experience, and a lot of fun.  And it’s certainly given me a greater appreciation for what international students in the US are experiencing!

1 comment:

  1. When we were bicycling there Mike and I got into the habit of sneaking our bike water bottles into the restaurants so we could self-hydrate.