Un Britannique en Allemagne
L’allemand, c’est comme du pudding
Quand je suis arrivé en Allemagne, tout le monde me disait qu'on pouvait apprendre une langue étrangère dans la rue ou sur l'oreiller. N'aimant jamais sortir, j'ai opté pour l'oreiller. Et ce n'était que la première erreur. (En anglais/allemand).
Who spoke perfect English.
That was a mistake.
Five years into my life in Berlin, I still didn’t speak her mother tongue. In fact, the only time it was spoken in our modest Zwei-Zimmer-Wohnung was when she telephoned her sister. Sometimes, I’d listen in for practice.
“Ich hab dich lieb,” she said one time as she hung up. I have love for you. I’d never heard the expression before. She laid down next to me on the couch, our heads on cushions, which are just pillows for the daytime.
“Ich hab dich lieb?” I asked.
Her head tilted. “Ich dich auch.” Me too.
“No, I mean… well.” I paused. “Yes, of course. But why did you say that to her?”
She shrugged. “Because I love her?”
“So then why not say ‘Ich liebe dich’?”
“You don’t say that to your sister.”
“When do you say ‘Ich liebe dich,’ then? Just to romantic partners?”
“Exactly. It’s for less lusty love. Is lusty a word?”
“It should be. English only has one word for love. You can’t say ‘I platonic love you.’”
“Strange, right? It has a dozen words for everything.”
“It does.” I turned to face her. “I lust you.”
She smiled. “Me too.”
“So then,” I continued, “Können wir ein bisschen Deutsch sprechen?”
This was also a mistake. “Oh no.” She waggled her finger. “I didn’t get an English boyfriend to speak German.” She chewed on the word as if it had lumps. “It’s clunky. And you suck at it. If you want to learn German, go to a Kneipe.”
So, I went to a Kneipe. But in the Neukölln neighborhood of Berlin.
This was also, also a mistake.
“Ich hätte gerne ein großes Bier vom Fass bitte,” I said, hoping no one heard how casually I disregarded German grammar. “Sorry?” the young moustachioed bartender replied, “I don’t speak German yet.”
I sighed and sank onto the bar stool. To my left was an alter Herr with graying hair and a wizened, lightly pickled quality. He wore a sleeveless denim jacket with a sewn-on patch for the Scorpions, a band.
“Hallo,” I said. “Wie geht’s?”
“Just speak English,” he replied, barely looking up from his beer. “It is fine.”
“Nein. Ich will ein bisschen Deutsch sprechen.”
He turned slowly on his stool. “German is wie pudding."
“What? I mean wie, I mean warum, no wait I think I mean wie… sind Deutsche wie Pudding?”
"Well,” he said. “Do you like pudding?"
“Ja. Nicht alle, aber, ja.”
“But you wouldn’t want to eat pudding three times a day, right?”
“No.” I mean, “Nein.”
“Exactly,” he said, then turned forwards and took a slow sip of his beer. “Exactly.”