When I first moved to Berlin there were a few things that I heard that I thought were sweet but weren’t actually what was said. This happens a lot with non native speakers, right?
I kept hearing from people, “Danke dir.” Now if you know German you know that this is the informal version of thank you. If you want to be more formal you would say, “Danke Sie.” What I was hearing though as I translated through to English was, “Danke dear.” I thought this was soooo nice. I was so impressed that Germans called everyone dear like southerners might call people, “honey.” But this didn’t make sense to what I knew of German situations. There are few pet names here and much less small talk. Finally, I heard it after I had taken some German and realized my English ears trying to change it but I still can’t help smile a little when I hear it…so nice! They are calling me dear! And when I say it, I say it with the most affection. Now that I told Ana this recently she just smiles too when she hears it and thinks my version is pretty sweet.
When I first visited Berlin and people would leave they would say something that was like the word that I knew as Ciao but it wasn’t that…something different. Were they mispronouncing? Messing up? Could everyone be doing that? Then I took some German and realized the word I couldn’t fathom was “Tschuss.” It almost sounds like the noises English speakers would use saying, “shoes,” but a little different. This word is the informal version of goodbye here and is used all of the time. I have come to really love it but oh my the confusion at first. Basic and yet a stepping stone.
We have been talking a lot lately about these little slip ups. More and more words reveal themselves to me each day and the world brings more meaning. That conversation that made no sense just months ago, a light goes on in my brain now as I hear it in my memory…oh! They meant that! Ah-ha!
Ana and I talk about this as we communicate in my native language and her second language. This can offer certain challenges in communication although it seems to be rare. She may say something that she has read but not heard and I haven’t heard it that way so it causes confusion. Or perhaps she says something that is close to the word she means but is one letter off. Most of the time this causes us to giggle and giggle. Sometimes it gets confusing. The other day she kept saying to me something that I heard as “We will always be in that.” I didn’t get it. I asked her to repeat and repeat. When we finally figured out that she was saying, “That means we will always be in debt,” it made a lot more sense. She wasn’t saying it wrong, I just wasn’t hearing it right. We laughed our way through the line we were waiting in at the time. I love that we can communicate even clearer when we need to slow down and listen to each other, realizing that this place of overlap has room for misunderstanding.
I was having coffee with one of my German friends the other day who has lived in the US and is fluent in English, German, and Hebrew and we were giggling about these mishaps and how it has just become part of who we are.
Expat life is full of these places in language…switching from language to language and asking more than once to repeat.