February 2007



So today was my weekly German lesson.

I don’t believe that I’ve really explained the history of German and me too clearly, and I’m going to leave it that way. Suffice it to say that right now I have a 90 minute weekly German lesson with a fabulous instructor at my office.

She’s fabulous because not only am I (slowly) learning German, but she puts up with my antics and odd questions. I imagine that if we (all two three of us) were a regular high school or college class, she would be tearing her hair out because our progress through the textbook is, well, slow. After a very long period of study (I think we are fast approaching a year), we started chapter 6 today.

Mind you, she is incredibly patient. Ever since I read David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day, the way I view languages has been colored—perhaps for the better, considering that after four years of high school French, I was still terrible. I can safely say that I now speak German better than I ever spoke French—which probably says more about my inability to learn French than my ability to learn German.

Our classes have a decidedly relaxed approach: for about the first 30 to 45 minutes we talk about what we did over the weekend. This is probably how she demonstrates her patience the most. I’m sure that in a normal class, people talk about things like going to church, taking a walk in the forest, or visiting elder relatives at the nursing home on the weekend. Me? I end up talking about riding the slides at the Tate Modern, explaining Pastor Ted Haggard meeting an escort, or watching people use cocaine on the dance floor in Brussels.

No matter what I am trying to describe, she is patient enough to tell me the proper vocabulary words in German. Often I write down the phrases I learn that help me explain my weekends.

It was the last point that had caused me to write down “Kokain Nehmen” in large letters in my textbook.

Normally this wouldn’t bother me, but today our German class had a new student and since he was lacking a textbook, I shared mine with him—and it was only then that I realized it was written above the heads of the naked people whose body parts were labeled (it’s the “if you’re sick” chapter).


On the other hand, one of the words that the textbook kindly gave us today was “Durchfall.” This is a word I am quite happy to know and remember—and after class I proudly shared it with one of my colleagues over a piece of cake. I then talked about it with other colleagues right after lunch.

It’s the kind of word that has many uses and is amusing at the same time.

This evening I almost used it again—I had stopped into a shop, Jörg Wätzel, because the window displays featured used new underwear at sale prices. Inside the shop there was a nice selection of clothing that was at bargain prices—unfortunately none that really fit my style (argyle sweater with neon green trim, cool, but not for me). They also had some nice shoes at bargain prices, just none in my size. There was, however, a helpful clerk who spoke English (My work today put me so far into English that I really could not think at all in German at that point), and came over to talk to me whilst I was examining underwear—he was quite nice and polite; and for some reason I did not have my typical allergic reaction to him that I have with most store clerks.

We actually talked and he answered my esoteric questions, which all things considered means that he knows a lot of English because he was only stumped a few times.

At some point my German started coming back to my mind and I said to him, “I learned a really great new German word today.” Fortunately I thought better of immediately telling it to him, and he went on to sell me a pair of Olaf Benz (sound on link) underwear (at a non-sale price), in the process flattering me so much that I laughed and thanked him.

As an aside, Olaf Benz names its styles of underwear. I bought a pair of “Phantom” underwear. I had laugh, however, when I saw a pair of underwear named “New Jersey.” What on earth could be remotely sexy, inviting, or otherwise encouraging to anybody to wear a pair of underwear with that name—I immediately envisioned a toxic waste dump and petro-chemical factory belching out smog. The clerk, on the other hand, told me he envisioned a new “jersey” – as in, I believe, a sport uniform.

For those of you who don’t know, “Durchfall” is German for diarrhea, which when you come right down to it, is not something you want to be talking about whilst eating cake or right after lunch.

I suppose I can be excused this one time because I just learned the word, and if I hadn’t used it, I would have had to figure out how to say, “Mein Kopf hatte Durchfall,” which is probably not correct, but it conveys the idea that my mind is a sieve when it comes to foreign languages.

My high school French teacher could assure you of that.

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