Friday, 8 October 2010

How to make friends & interrogate people.

My new friend: the fish counter lady in Edeka.

I've had some pretty torturous conversations with some Germans since I've been here. And I mean the kind of conversations that are such hard work mentally that you feel like you need a little sit down afterwards. These for me, tend to take place with people who speak not a single word of English which means I can't rely on slipping the odd English word into an otherwise difficult sentence and allowing my brain not to implode as it carries out a ruthless search for any word that might be a close approximation to the word that I am really wanting to use but don't actually know.

But since starting my course I now feel like the German that I do speak has been validated by someone and marked as correct so I have oodles more confidence in my questions and responses. Before, it felt I think like there was a possibility that I might just be guessing the words and spitting them out through my random word generating mouth.

At Kita yesterday, I was stopped and asked "Bist du die Mama aus Schottland?". Having just spent about 7 hours going over this enthralling question with my classmates, even I was surprised at just how enthusiastically I answered her. "Ja! Das bin ich!", I pretty much shouted. She would have thought it was like I had been waiting all my life for someone to ask me that. But such it seems is the way for those who FINALLY really KNOW that they are understanding things properly and being understood. It's such a pleasure that you want to use all your words at once. With literally anyone.

And so this takes us nicely back to the beginning: my new friend. Over the past few weeks, maybe months, I've had some really hellish conversations with the woman who works behind the fish counter in Edeka. I don't know what I really want to say, she doesn't know what I am trying to say, and usually it ends up with me acting out the components of the meal I am trying to make. She was the person I first spoke to about stock cubes (might want to make a cup of strong coffee right about now, my stock cube conversations are not exactly enthralling). The fact that this woman, it turned out, didn't speak English didn't put me off continuing with trying to explain what I was after - it's like once you've started you've got to keep going, you know? And then you start bringing in hand actions and miming.

Anyway, this woman always seemed to be my first port of call when I needed to ask someone whether parsley might really be called Peterslie, or if there is a reason why 8 out of 10 onions I buy are bad in the middle. I'm quite bad at not recognising people again who I don't really know, so I think each time I just assumed it was a different person until I realised I was trapped in another difficult questioning session with the same woman again.

So this woman has grown to know me and quite possibly dread me. She has taught me practically week in and week out how to ask her to take the skin off my salmon, and other little handy phrases. So, yesterday, I was chatting to Orla while we were picking up some pork, and I heard someone call "Oh hello!" in my direction. I looked to my right and here was the fish counter lady. She asked how I was getting on (as on a previous day I had told her I would be a marvel of fish-related chat in 5 weeks now that I had started my German course). She made the mistake of asking me what i had been learning, and all of a sudden she was the victim of a barrage of questions relating to her personal life. "Are you married? Do you have children? What age are you? Are you from Berlin? What's your address? Can you spell that? Slowly?"

I may have inadvertantly given the impression of being a none-too-subtle identity thief, or the new-in-town local nutjob, but she didn't seem to mind, and for me it was just lovely to get it all out to a real person, not a Spaniard playing the part of Herr Schmidt. The thing was though that I was so busy asking the questions and feeling all good about it that I didn't pay a blind bit of notice to her answers. At the end of it all she told me that she would like to learn a bit of English from me and I could learn some German from her. She seems nice, and looks about the same age as me. I dream of days where me and Fish Counter Lady are sitting having a latte discussing whether she enjoys playing tennis and going to the cinema with friends, or if she might prefer eating pizza and reading comics.

Stevie of course just thinks I am going mental and need a trip home.

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