Tuesday, August 31, 2010

History Lessons

I caused a history lesson today because I'm an american.

Class started today, and I now get to enjoy sitting for five hours a day learning about intricate german language rules for the next two months. I know how exciting that must sound to you, because just writing that sentence was abhorrent enough to me that I wonder why I *chose* to do this. German is good, german is great, german is wonderful. That's better.

There are 14 students in my class, and I'm the single student from the americas, and the single student whose native language is english. I know, I was surprised too. Seven of us are male and seven of us are confusing, a perfect gender mix. Two come from Belarus, one from Russia, two from Italy, one from Romania, one from Hungary, one from Japan, two from Saudi Arabia, a couple of others undoubtedly come from great countries, bless their hearts ----- and I come from America.

Germans like to be in the middle of everything. Maybe the center of everything. I'm german and american AND a college student, and that mixture is potent enough that I feel like I ought to be the center of everyone's universe. (I kid?) In fact, even the very first germans, tribes like the Frankonians and Burgundians and Visigoths and Ostrogoths and Othergoths, decided when they first came down from the north that they wanted to be the center of Europe.

That's all very well and good, but sometimes that means little bits of other cultures slip into german. Now, I'm all for the spreading of german culture (a better word would be dissemination), but I get antsy and fidgity and defensive when people start encroaching on my fatherland's turf. It's the worst with the french.

Back in the 18th century the french were the cool kids on the block* and everyone wanted to be just like them. And by everyone, I mean the germans - who at that point had spent too much time philosophizing on what life actually means and how to be and raise good people and the like to stay in touch with Cosmo's latest trends. Therefore, the germans aristocrats who were important and monied and kept their 18th-century Rolls at their 18th-century summer home in Monaco started copying the cool french sissies in the way they dressed and spoke (Parlez-vous deutsçh?). Dark times, until the Brothers Grimm collected some fairy tales and made a dictionary and snapped zee germans out of it.

Here's where I come in. America's now the big kid with McDonald's and Nike and Bill Gates and t-shirts that say I <3 New York -- all the important things in life -- and it's crept into german. The german word for "downloaded" should be "heruntergeladen," but is sometimes "downgeloaded." I've heard girls say "gebabysitted" for goodness sake - what kind of nonsense is that?!

My teacher's name is Lothar, and is probably a late-50s man who comes across as extremely intelligent and even better spoken. He's good. Probably the best language teacher I've ever seen. And that's just in a day. He paints pictures with words, then expresses emotions with those pictures, and suddenly we all know exactly what a word MEANS. He's good.

Anyway, he asked what it means "jemand auf den neusten Stand bringen" - bringing someone up to date. When I said "jemand aktualisieren," he said 'I had a feeling the american would say that!' Because the word "aktuelisieren" is kind of like the english word "actual," it didn't matter that I gave a correct and concise definition and that I was the first to know the answer. You see, I'm an american. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a Big Mac to attend to before Family Guy comes on.

*And back east, the russians were probably the cool kids on the bloc. Aren't I clever?

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