Petra Deters in London

Petra Deters – Practice makes Perfect!

Copyright: Petra Deters
Copyright: Petra Deters
I first came to the UK for a year in 1994 as a student. This involved studying at Buckingham College (now Brunel University) and a placement in industry in the Midlands. I returned to London in 1998 after seven months’ backpacking. London was to be my final stop before returning to Germany and so I decided to stay “for a year or two” to improve my English and get some international work experience, before going back to Germany to look for a “proper” job.

In fact I managed to get a job as an Administrator at a company that specializes in assisting overseas companies setting up in the UK. With very strong ties to Germany, they needed native German speakers who were happy to live and work in London. However, I was told that I would need to improve my English still further. I attended language courses and something obviously fell into place because I have been here ever since and am now one of the Directors!

I do still speak German more or less every day with our clients, but apart from that I speak English pretty much all of the time. The office “lingua franca” is English, and all of our foreign language speakers have very strong English. However, sometimes it’s funny when there are several German speakers all chatting away in English together – it’s just a habit that you get into as you settle in and find your feet. We often find that even twenty minutes after leaving the office we are still merrily talking in English! Then again, I have a circle of German friends whom I meet regularly and we often chat away, changing between English and German mid-sentence or even mid-word.

Being an Anglophile I found it easy and enjoyable to immerse myself in all aspects of British culture, but found some things easier than others – going to a pop concert potentially ‘transfers’ more easily than an evening at the theater. However I think that with Shakespeare productions the language barrier is about equal for native and non-native speakers alike! These days I don’t think about a language barrier at all – practice (and borrowing words and phrases from native English speakers) makes nearly perfect!

Because of the nature of my work, I do attend lots of functions and cultural events, but I think I will make it a resolution to keep up my German by attending some non-work-related German interest events. A group of us at work and our friends do often meet to explore all things German in London and sometimes we invite English friends too (happy to do our bit for cultural exchange). We are lucky to be in the capital because there is enough of a German community for it to appear on most visiting artists’ tour dates, and places like Borough Market and the German Deli provide a taste of home.

If English friends are coming over I also make an effort to cook German meals if they are brave enough to try them. There has in any case been a real increase in German products available in the UK – many of which I have experienced first hand through assisting clients via my work – and so when I return from my visits to Germany nowadays, I have some more room in my luggage for the clothes.

When I first came to the UK, I loved how friendly and welcoming everyone was but struggled with the less direct approach to doing things together, when someone says “Oh we must do that,” and then nothing happens! Obviously as a German you agree a place and date and without further ado turn up as agreed, even if it’s months later. I think I have a handle on this one now, but it goes to show the subtleties involved in managing cultural relations!

Copyright: Goethe-Institut London

September 2010

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