Feel Free to Give Me A Penny
Reading other peoples blogs always inspires me to write one of my own. ‘If their boring lives can spit out a story, then surely my interesting life in Germany can come up with at least 3,’ I often tell myself. I think the real truth is that no one really sees their own life as exciting. I know it is the case for me-sure, I live in Germany, but I have been here for over 9 months now, the novelty wore off a long time ago leaving only my pitiful attempts to master the German language.
That isn’t to say that nothing ever happens. Why just today I sat in a garage watching my car (whom I decided to name ‘Scarlet’ against Gary’s wishes, who is still pining after ‘Deer Cutter Zwo’ or ‘Reh Schneider’, but watching our little Ford Fiesta getting her steering fixed and also getting ‘neue Schuen’ I was struck by a moment of inspiration, then again I was a bit bored.) getting fixed up. I sat there, looking past the posters of naked women that decorated the walls, wishing that I was skilled in the art of small talk. For a while here in Germany I was able to get by pretending my German was too bad to be able to carry a conversation. ‘I have plenty to say’ I thought, ‘if only I knew how.’ Now I cannot carry the same disillusion. Imperfect though my German is, I could still talk about the weather or how I need new shoes, or even what the kids did today. I can at least blame a little on my lack of German grammar, but the bulk of it lies in my inability to make small talk. Set me in front of a room full of people and I can pull a long winded speech out of thin air, but stick me in a little garage one on one with a mechanic and I freeze up entirely. Part of the problem is that I put too much pressure on myself. ‘Come on,’ I urge my windpipes ‘say something...Anything...no really, now.’ But it never seems to work.
Last weekend I spent my Saturday with Sophie Hanneman, the daughter of my favourite teacher at Blönsdorf. We were talking in English to help her with her upcoming exam in English class. For a few minutes we managed a few things, but I spent most of the time trying to think of things to say. I guess with certain people, or certain times I just can produce anything worthy of sharing with the world. I blame my vivid imagination, which often beckons me to my internal world, which most other people don’t understand. When I am feeling extroverted sometimes I share some of these thoughts that occur in my moments of silence, they usually receive laughs or funny looks and only a few select people (like my buddy John Eicher) are able to roll with them and make me feel a little more normal. All this to say that after spending the whole day on the beach surrounded by naked babies and topless old women, I was spent on the external world. We had already talked about former jobs, possible future jobs, the weird hobby that is windsurfing and how nice the weather had been. All of these conversations were forced from my brain while my true thoughts were spinning pictures of past events. I sat in the passenger seat, attempting to stop thinking. ‘It’s a long and boring ride,’ I thought ‘so say something interesting to pass the time.’ After a few moments trying to think of something interesting, I realized I was stalling. ‘I’ll say something...now,’ I thought. Just as I thought the word ‘now’, however, my windpipes locked up. ‘Oh no,’ I thought ‘I’ve lost the ability to talk.’ And for a few minutes this was true. In a panic, wondering if I had spontaneously gone mute, I thought of something interesting, anything, to say. I attempted to begin my sentence, but froze like a child on the high dive, staring down the depths to the pool so far below. Finally I spit out something about school, it was so boring I don’t even remember what it was, but I rejoiced the reclamation of my vocal cords. Most of the rest of the journey passed on in silence.
After Scarlet (sorry Gary) was all finished, the mechanic (coincidentally Frau Hanneman’s Husband) and I took her out for a test drive. I told him about my lack of German speaking abilities, he said not to worry about it. He explain the problems Scarlet had had, and how he fixed them, and I nodded in recognition even though I wasn’t completely sure what he was talking about (car parts are not essential to my German vocabulary). We laughed at people who stared at us, and Herr Hanneman explained that the car was his son’s first Automobile. The test drive only lasted a few minutes, but we had a pretty decent, if not mostly one-sided conversation.
It seems that conversation is, as my father is fond of saying, a two way street. One person can’t really carry the whole of it, especially if that person is me. One thing I’ve learned during my time in Germany is to focus on what I can do, instead of what I can’t. The bulk of this lesson was delivered by my friend Dietmar Claßen, who told me that self pity is like peeing your pants in the winter. (I wrote more on that in December). His words left a lasting impression, especially the ones he said about learning German. ‘It is important,’ he said ‘to concentrate on what you can say, instead of what you can’t say.’ Thus far, those words have never lead me astray.