Flyering

It’s the end of Edinburgh (FINALLY), but I’ve been wanting to writing something about this for a while.

There are a lot of grumpy posts about how people handing out flyers can be less annoying. That’s all well and good, however, I think it’s about time that we had a post in which people refusing flyers learn how to be less annoying.

So, without further ado… The Correct Etiquette on Refusing a Flyer.

When someone hands you a flyer with a big hopeful smile on their face:

1) DO NOT lower your face to the ground and run around me.

I know you saw me. You just ran around me. You can’t run around someone you can’t see. You’re just making things embarrassing. And when I say ‘making things embarrassing’, I mean, YOU are being embarrassing. I am embarrassed on your behalf. I am making apologetic faces to the people around me as if you are my very good friend, who we all know is *slightly* strange, but we all put up with it because you, I don’t know, make really good banana bread. Or something.

2) DO NOT look at the flyer, and roll your eyes/sneer/snort/generally act dismissive and derisive.

Yes. perhaps a university production of 7 Brides for 7 Brothers where all the genders are reversed may not be your thing, and yes, maybe it WILL get a ones star review from Lyn Gardner in the Guardian (but I doubt it, because she’s much nicer and more reasonable about bad theatre than most of the people who refuse flyers), but this is still SOMEONE’s baby and just like you wouldn’t ridicule an ugly baby in front of it’s mother (I mean, you’d at least wait until her back is turned and/or she’s in the kitchen heating up the little monster’s milk), don’t sneer at my flyer RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. Wait until you round the corner before you and your friends break into the peals of laughter reserved for the self-righteous and the critical who have never tried to put on a show at Edinburgh. Oh, I’m sorry, am I sounding bitter? Well, who’s the genius that decided to book a holiday to Edinburgh during festival time and then didn’t expect to get showered with flyers for improvised student musical versions of Hamlet? Oh, you live here? Well then take all my money for your little city economy and don’t walk through the centre of the city at festival time (I know you locals know how to do it – one told me that was what he does every August).

Ahem. Sorry. Number 3.

3) DO NOT look at the flyer in wide-eyed, open-mouthed terror.

It is not a bomb. It is not a Howler (though we ARE in Edinburgh). It is not a pit-bull terrier cleverly disguised as a flyer that will eat your hand the second you take it out of mine.

4) DO NOT give me excuses as to why you can’t take my flyer.

Especially don’t give me excuses that are’t excuses. ‘Oh, we’ve already got plans tonight.’ Oh yes? Have you heard that the festival goes on for 3 weeks? SO DOES MY SHOW, SO TAKE MY FLYER. Don’t open a can of worms. Don’t offer fancy excuses. Take the flyer or refuse it politely. Do you think it makes me feel better to know that you’ve decided to give your money and attention to another show? That if I had only found you earlier in the day and given you the right kind of pitch and also filled my show with hundreds of people in kilts playing bagpipes and have fireworks at the end that maybe you would have come to my show? No. No, it does not. It makes me resent the fact that I do not own a time machine to go back and time and give you my flyer before you bought your ticket to whatever stupid show you are going to see and also that I even if I HAD a time machine, I did not/do not have the wherewithal to feature the Edinburgh Tattoo in my one-woman show.

5) DO NOT sexually harass me.

Tourists liked my hair curlers. Dirty old men and stag parties liked my… hidden vagina? My covered up boobs? The fact that I was wearing make-up? Who knows. But apparently, this year, I was fair game for horrible men. No, I mean, OBVIOUSLY, I can see where they got confused. Clearly a woman with make-up on and standing alone on a street corner is begging to be the receptacle for all male sexual fantasies, rape jokes and/or bad beer breath. No, no wait, actually, sorry. I wrote that down wrong. I DON’T GET THAT AT ALL.

6) DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT IGNORE ME.

I just spoke to you, bitch! You may not want my flyer, and that is FINE, but, hey, I am a human being, sharing this slowly dying earth with you and the least you could do is look into my eyes and acknowledge MY EXISTENCE AS A HUMAN BEING.

Ahem. Yes, sorry. I think that’s my middle-class white girl privilege coming in contact with something it is not used to experiencing.

So, without further ado, how should you refuse a flyer if you do not want to bring the curses of unemployed actors down upon your shoulders?

It’s really quite simple. Here are the 3 steps:

Look into my eyes.
Smile (genuinely).
And say, ‘no, sorry’ or ‘no, thanks’.

Simple as that.

Or, you know, you could just take the goddamn flyer.

Really, I’ve got hundreds. THOUSANDS.

Just, take it and throw it away around the corner.

But don’t let me see you do it.
BECAUSE I WILL COME FOR YOU.

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Reviews, Reviews, Reviews

They say that ‘three’ is a magic number. A lucky number. Well, if that is so, I expect piles of leprechaun gold to be showered down upon me, rainbow unicorns to start flying out of my arse. My Edinburgh Fringe show, you see, has now been graced with five 3-star reviews. It has had so much mediocre fairy dust showered down upon it that I can only reasonably expect miracles to start occurring in each performance. The blind can see. The lame can walk. A wooden puppet turns into a real boy.
I apologise in advance for this massively self-pitying post, when there are many more dreadful things happening in the world. Gaza. Isis. Robin Williams. But, hey, what can I say. I’m a selfish c**t.
I am going on swings and roundabouts with the reviews. The first one devastated me and resulted in me sobbing for several hours before and after my second show. The second one I expected and so didn’t faze me, not really. It was actually quite nice. So nice, in fact, that several people have asked, ‘exactly why didn’t they give you 4 stars?’ The third was so completely inconsistent in it’s praise/condemnation that it’s barely worth mentioning, except for the fact that I’d secretly hoped it would be 4 and so it destroyed me anew. The final two I checked the star rating of and then didn’t bother to read. I don’t really need any more half-hearted praise.
Everyone says 3-star reviews are a recommendation. But they’re not. Not really. Certainly not up at Edinburgh Fringe, where EVERYONE has a 4 star or 5 star review plastered to their flyers. As a reviewer, when I’m giving 3 stars, it’s usually a bit like saying, ‘yeah, it’s a fine show. If you have any interest in [insert topic of show], you’ll probably enjoy it.’ Or, ‘if you’ve got nothing else to do that night, it’s probably worth paying some money for.’ It’s like one big ‘meh’. And after 5 of them you start thinking, yeah, pretty much all of my audience is watching me and going, ‘meh’.
It’s been happening for years, really. My Year 7 English teacher (the evil Mrs. Clack) had a similar reaction to the first piece of creative writing I ever gave her. She gave me the grade equivalent of 3 stars and wrote, ‘not creative enough’ at the bottom. As the years have gone on, I’ve realised what shit feedback that is and in no way useful for letting me know what she ACTUALLY wanted me to be doing or teaching me to become ‘more’ creative (whatever the hell that means). But, she was at least expressing a general feeling that I should perhaps have taken more seriously at the time. If only I had taken her feedback more fully on board and worked harder at maths and science, or some other kind of subject. If only I had realised then that ‘creativity’ was not the career path for me. If only she had spelled it out more clearly. If only I’d inspired enough strong feeling in her for her to forbid me to ever do anything creative ever again, then, maybe I would have gotten the message. Instead of just, ‘meh.’
I have, by and large, received very little support from people who might have been able to help me develop over the years. Like Mrs. Clack they saw so little potential in me that they dismissed me without even bothering to let me know why. This is the case from arts funding bodies, from development programs, from theatres, from artists a bit further along the path than me. I’ve had to try and make up most of this on my own. I recognise that some of this is due to my own lack of confidence, my inability to ask for support or assistance from people that I admire. But the majority is being rejected for most every opportunity that I apply for (unless it’s something I have to pay for – those are things people are MORE THAN HAPPY for me to be involved in).
The disturbing thing from my perspective is the frequency with which I get 3-star reviews. If you added up all the reviews I have gotten over my lifetime, it evens out at pretty much 3 1/4 stars out of 5. That’s not a ringing endorsement for someone who is trying to make a career out of this. I mean, 3-star reviews are fine, as long as someone, somewhere, thinks that what you are doing is fantastic, game-changing, speaking their language, speaking to their experience or whatever. I don’t really get that reaction. I’m kind of ‘meh’.
There are plenty of artists out there who think that reviews are not important. That would be easier to believe if I was making lots of money and having big audiences. It would be easier to believe if I was being supported by some kind of funding body. But, frankly, I’m not so arrogant to think that if I’m getting shitty reviews, it’s the reviewers fault. I don’t think audiences falling asleep or leaving the show is because they are crap human beings, or not smart enough, or not good enough, or not paying attention enough. It is my fault. I’m not doing my ‘job’. Certainly there have been difficulties with this show – the venue, for one, great, big, huge reason. I do recognise that I haven’t had as much time to work into it as some of the others that I’ve put on. However, the larger, bigger point remains, that if, after how many years of trying, I am still, by and large, inspiring a reaction of, ‘meh’, it must be time to reconsider the path that I’m on.
So, in summary, I am not enjoying this Edinburgh Fringe. When I wrote on the first day that I thought audiences would ruin everything, I didn’t really expect it to be so accurate. I mean, I know it’s not really their fault, but showing it to everyone has made me feel very differently about it and me than I did a few weeks ago. It might, eventually, be a good thing. It’ll be the final nail in the coffin of my so-called ‘career in the arts’.
Unfortunately though, my bro, Chris, says that I’m not allowed to give up theatre before the 24th. Which isn’t that far away, I know. But I am secretly (ok, not so secretly) thinking of deliberately spraining/breaking my ankle so that I don’t have to do any more shows. I know it is only 10 more shows, I know that doesn’t seem like much, but it’s like being a child again and being told you only have to eat 10 more Brussel Sprouts before you can have dessert. Or, just 10 more pages of homework before going outside. Or, just 10 more hours before you can open your Christmas presents. Or, only 10 more days before the school holidays.
It feels like FOREVER.

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Existential in Edinburgh

I’ve returned to Edinburgh for the Fringe.

And, despite my enthusiasm for my experience last year and despite my insistence that I should return, now that I am here, I am convinced I have made a huge mistake.

My show opens tonight and I do not do not do not want to do it.

I hardly slept last night. I hardly slept the night before. I felt so anxiously nauseous yesterday morning that I could barely choke down breakfast.

The strange thing is that I much more convinced of the quality of this piece of writing than I was of the show I took up last year. This doesn’t comfort me. It oddly makes me more reluctant. I feel like I’ve created this thing that is wonderful and I have no need to show it to anyone, as I do not need their opinions or reassurance. I know it’s wonderful. Last year’s show I wasn’t convinced of, so every time someone liked it I felt a bit better, but every time someone said it was slightly mediocre I secretly agreed with them, thinking, ‘I knew it all along, it’s no good and people have just been humouring me.’

Also, I don’t want to show it to anyone because I think they might ruin it. I don’t know how they’ll ruin it. By not enjoying it, maybe. By not understanding it. And I don’t care what they think because I think it’s wonderful and I don’t want them to ruin it.

So, my overriding desire at the Edinburgh Fringe is to not let anyone see my show. Obviously this kind of defeats the purpose of being here.

I also don’t want to show my show to anyone because I don’t see the point. I no longer think that I will make a living doing this. Even if the show goes well and people like it I have no allusions that this means a ‘life on the stage’.

Apart from not believing the industry will ever welcome me with open arms, I pretty much hate the entire theatre complex and do not want to be part of it. This is a strange feeling that has been building for many months. I cannot and do not want to be part of this hideous, competitive industry anymore. I do not want to have to constantly be selling myself, to be ‘on’. I do not want to be constantly begging for people’s adoration and praise, or more often than not, just their attention. They don’t want to give it – so why should I force them? I want to live quietly in a quiet house with a dog and a cat and people I love and who love me.

There’s a lie going around the internet that ‘creative people’ (whatever the fuck that means) are some kind of special, superior being. It’s a lie that makes unemployed, mediocre actors and writers feel better about themselves when no-one is paying attention to them. They can think, ‘well, at least I’m leaving a superior, special life to my cousin the accountant.’ They can think, ‘I’m just misunderstood,’ when no-one turns up to their opening night or their book launch, ‘some day they’ll all understand.’ It’s all bullshit. When you start realising that EVERYONE up here thinks they are a special and unique butterfly you begin to realise just how ordinary you are. And that’s ok. Ordinary is fine. Ordinary is good. Most everybody is ordinary. Ordinary deserves a good life (it sometimes doesn’t get it, but it deserves it). But if I’m ordinary (and I am) there is no reason to go pushing myself on to others. I don’t want to be shoving ideas and opinions and work down their throats. Why should I? I’m ordinary. I have nothing more to offer them.

Anyway, this is great mood to be in on opening night. I honestly do wish that I could have done the London preview and left it at that. It was a nice preview. It went well. I feel like that’s enough for me and my time in this industry is now done. It’s a free show so I can cancel it if I want. I’ll still have lost a lot of money, but, there are worse things in the world. Watch this space.

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By the Canal

After the carnival I walked home. Except I was so exhausted and sunned and dehydrated that I didn’t make it all the way home. I only made it to the canal. Where I collapsed in a heap for an hour and stared at the water.

It was very peaceful:

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Carnival of Culture


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The Carnival of Culture happens every year in Berlin and celebrates multiculturalism and generally having a good time with loud music and awesome costumes.

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It was 36 degrees or thereabouts today. I watched the parade and walked and danced for about 5 hours, from 12pm to 5:30pm. That is, the hottest part of the day.

I am too tired and too post-sun and too post-Radler to be able to describe anything. So, please accept these pictures as a small offering and taster of what it was like. IMG_0888

Dragon! Awesome Dragon!

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IMG_0883I do not know why this man is dressed as a lobster. I do not know why he has a golden ball with a smaller ball inside. But, boy does he look happy about it, so let’s not question it too much.

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If you want more info on who this awesome dude is (and learn a little bit about Berlin culture in the process), please watch this video here:  He’s totes a Berlin celebrity.

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I love how many men were in their feathers today.

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And also, there were many beautiful ladies in feathers also.

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But, mostly, I liked the men in their feathers. There are so few opportunities for men to wear feathers these days.

If, indeed, there was ever an opportunity for them to wear feathers.

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There was quite a bit of excitement (in costume form) for the World Cup.

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And there were swishy skirts in many different colours.

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There were also non-swishy skirts, and many different ways of keeping oneself cool.

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This is a way of keeping oneself cool. It was definitely my favourite. Because it was almost like a Hollywood movie about New York.

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Where everyone’s too hot, and they’re all walking around in their singlet tops and so the fire department has to come and hose them all down.

IMG_0927And then, this happens.

 

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And then it makes it all worthwhile…

I had a good ol’ complain earlier this week, didn’t I? Everything was dreadful and German was hard and I would never, ever, ever fit in here.

Well, just as you can generally expect to hit a wall at some point during a new adventure, things turn around just as quickly.

On my exchange in Norway in 2002 I struggled for the first few months. This isn’t unusual: most exchange students are told to expect the first few months to be tough. Of course, the main problem was my inability to communicate properly. Either I had to struggle along in pitiful Norwegian and feel embarrassed; or I had to force people to speak English to me and be a burden to them and feel even more embarrassed at my inability to be a successful exchange student (one who would, of course, pick up the language QUICKLY, NATURALLY and WITHOUT EFFORT OR EVEN BREAKING A SWEAT).

Because I wasn’t speaking Norwegian much and just switching to English whenever things got too tough, my language skills were, understandably, developing slowly. I was discouraged and felt like I’d never fit in properly. With few plans over my Easter holidays, one day I decided to borrow some cross-country skis from my host family and go on a ski on the hill behind our town. Despite the snow covering the ground, it was a sparkling, sun-shiney kind of day and I didn’t want to be inside. I was going to be a true Norwegian! One who would go out skiing the way other people go out walking!

Of course, not being a true Norwegian, I didn’t realise that the lovely warm weather we were having would affect the conditions of the skiing. It melted the top of the snow, making it incredibly hard for me to get any kind of traction and to progress forward faster than, say, hair growing. It was two steps forward, one step back, except more like two glides forward, three glides back. I was red-faced, furious and completely confused as to why I had suddenly lost my (recently discovered) ability to cross-country ski. I was also, by this time (a couple of hours in), on the middle of the track, and the only way to get home was to continue on, or to backtrack. Off the track was very thick snow (in my memory, if I had walked off the track, I would have sunk completely into a snow drift, never to be found again). I was completely disheartened and exhausted and stopped to consider my options, if I had any.

Behind me, I noticed an old man speeding up the hill. Not wanting to be out-done by a pensioner, I threw my 17 year old thighs into action on the small slope. When that didn’t work I started using my ski poles to dig into the snow and desperately drag myself up the hill, which worked until one slipped and I slid all the way back down and rear-ended myself on the old man’s skis. He was surprisingly upbeat about it. He started chattering away in Norwegian to me, asking me how I was going, if I was ok, if I needed help and a bunch of other things I couldn’t understand. I explained, in one of my only confident phrases, that I was Australian, that I was an exchange student here and that I didn’t speak Norwegian. He smiled and told me he didn’t speak English, making him one of the very few people I met that year that spoke no English at all. He started pointing at my skis and making a swiping movement. He repeated a word over and over that I didn’t recognise: ‘skismøring’. Eventually, tired of my blank stares, he grabbed my ski and yanked it into the air (with my foot still attached). He made an exaggerated gesture of understanding. Then, giving up on the pantomime, he started unbuckling my shoes, releasing them from the skis. Then, from out of his pack, he brought ski wax. He started applying it liberally to the bottom of my skis. As he did so, he started talking to me in Norwegian about his family. He told me he was a grandfather. He told me his grandchildren lived in Hammerfest. He told me that his grandchildren spoke English. He told me that his grandchildren would love to visit Australia. He talked and talked and talked and I realised gradually, amazedly, that I understood most of what he was saying. Of course, I couldn’t think quickly enough to reply, but I suddenly didn’t feel so badly about my Norwegian skills. When he’d finishing coating my skis in wax, he gave me a big wave and a smile, got up the hill in double speed and disappeared on the path ahead of me. I never once saw him again that year, which was remarkable, really, in a town of 6000 people, but I suppose we moved in different circles…

Anyway, whoever this was a magical little man was (over the years I’ve come to think of him as some kind of helpful snow elf and/or leprechaun), he gave a boost to my confidence at just the time that I needed it. I suddenly realised I wasn’t as hopeless, nor as alone, nor as far from fitting in as my self-pitying brain had thought.

Snow Elf. Artist's impression. Found at: http://imgur.com/gallery/W5NDX

Snow Elf. Artist’s impression. Found at: http://imgur.com/gallery/W5NDX

I had a similar little boost today. After a week of feeling low about my slowing rate of learning; a week of German lessons in which I struggled to make myself understood, made mistakes, didn’t concentrate and generally was terrible; a week of waitresses insisting on switching to English, I was feeling more than a little sorry for myself. Then, on my way home from school, I went to a ticket office to buy some concert tickets for next week for a friend and myself.

As I got in, I realised with a sinking feeling I hadn’t checked the German word for ‘ticket’. But, the gentleman at the computer was older and I decided I wasn’t sure if he would even speak English. With as much confidence as I could muster, I told him (in German) that I wanted to tickets to ‘Charity Children’. He looked it up for me. After a few minutes he asked (in German) if it was on the 10th of June? I said yes and he told me the tickets cost 13.90 Euro. I said that was fine. He then said something very quickly that I didn’t understand. So, in English he asked how many tickets I wanted. I asked for two and he repeated back in German, ‘two tickets, which will be 29.80 Euro. How would you like to pay?’ I asked (in German) if I could pay with my card. When he saw my card and I started to swipe it, he asked ‘Doesn’t it have a chip?’ (in German) I told him it didn’t. He asked ‘warum? (why)’ in an overly shocked voice. I said didn’t know and that it was an old card. He took it from me and said (in German), ‘Ah, ‘Commonwealth’- yes, the Commonwealth IS old!’

And THAT guys, is A JOKE. A JOKE TOLD TO ME IN GERMAN. A JOKE A GERMAN TOLD TO ME IN GERMAN. MOREOVER, A JOKE A GERMAN TOLD TO ME IN GERMAN THAT I UNDERSTOOD. BANTER, people! I had GERMAN banter! Laughing hysterically, I agreed with him that the Commonwealth WAS old and told him it was an Australian card. He let me swipe the card and asked where I was from in Australia and after I told him he said, ah, so you are spending the summer here to avoid the winter in Australia. I said no, I am here a year (because I can’t describe the future yet). He asked another question in German that I didn’t understand and he repeated it in English: ‘How long will you be here for?’ In English I explained I would be here a year and I had only been here for 4 weeks. His mouth dropped. No! He cried, in German. You’ve only been here 4 weeks and you speak SUCH GOOD German?? I went bright red. I said (in German) no, no, it’s not that good. I’m learning. He said, yes, it is VERY good. There are people who live here 5 years and they can’t speak any German, because they don’t want to give up ‘Mother English’. I said I knew and I didn’t like that. He said, yes, he agreed. He handed me my tickets and he told me in German, you are doing very very well, it is very good what you are doing, so if we have to speak a little bit of English with you, that is (in English): ‘No worries!’

And oh, my, did I ever laugh about that!

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Bilingualism: The Uphill Battle

I am a fan of bilingualism. I think people who can speak more than one language are intelligent, empathetic, funnier and just goddamn sexier than those of us confined to the monolingual.

I have made a couple of attempts at becoming bilingual in my lifetime. The first attempt was forced when my parents, in their constant, adorable quest to raise well-rounded super-human children, enrolled me (6 years old) and my brother (4 years old) in Japanese lessons. Proving they were not, in fact, fortune-tellers, my parents fully expected Japan to be the economic powerhouse of the 21st century and we were to be given a head start in our future business careers (HAHAHA, I mean, unpaid artistic careers) by learning Japanese early, when our brains were essentially sponges and just soak up and retain everything that they come in contact with, rather like tampons with that blue liquid in tampon commercials (I mean, that is my understanding of how a child’s brain works, and I DID take science classes RIGHT UP UNTIL THE FIRST MOMENT I was allowed to drop it at age 15). I often wonder if Dad looks back on those years of private Japanese lessons (in light of the 1997 Japanese economy crash and subsequent stagnation; and in light of the fact that all I can now say in Japanese is ‘My name is Jenny and I’m sorry, I don’t understand’) and, claps his hands together happily and thinks, ‘ah, yes, money well spent. Money well spent.’

The second attempt at becoming bilingual, when I headed to Norway for a year on exchange, was a little more successful. By the end of the year, I was amusingly forgetting the English words for things and demanding my hapless brother help me translate pølse (it means ‘sausage’, by the way). But my attempts to keep the bilingual dream alive have faded over the years, with my opportunities for practicing Norwegian few and far between and the dawning realisation that most of my knowledge of the language was confined to phrases appropriate for a night out and not, say, to the intricacies of climate change, philosophical debate on the Social Democratic state or even, say, what a good piece of music made me feel (beyond, ‘It was good and I liked it’). My skills were rather lopsided: I could listen and understand, I could read and understand (and if you ever need an alternative translation of Norwegian cartoon Nemi please don’t hesitate to ask), but attempting to speak my own thoughts and feelings in Norwegian (and I do like to speak my own thoughts and feelings, preferably in as convoluted and round about way as possible) is a whole other kettle of salmon.

Despite my happy little post a couple of weeks ago, I’ve gotten to that point in my German language learning where everything is suddenly getting hard. The first month is very exciting. You’re learning many things! You remember the things! You use them appropriately! The things make sense! Then gradually you start to realise: You don’t know many things. The things you don’t know far outweigh the things you do know. There are many, many more things much more confusing than the things you do know still to learn. You’re forgetting the things you did know to make room for the things you’re now learning.

On top of which, there are all these, incredibly sexy bilingual German people about, who insist on speaking English to you at the drop of a hat. Hey! It’s not hard! They cry. Look at us! We do it all the time! German-English-German-English! Whatever! Any language! It all means the same to us! Some of them are even trilingual! Oh, sure, I speak Portugese as well! Spanish, why not? Yes, I speak Italian, tra-la-la-la-la. Oh, look at you, you poor darling thing trying to speak German properly, I can’t even begin to understand you, why don’t we just switch to English? Because that’s not a problem for me, la la la la *skips away with a basket of flowers*

Look, I’m not saying they’re rubbing it in my face, but… well…

I think they’re kind of rubbing it in my face.

And, here’s the thing, you lovely, sexy, German bilingual speakers. I agree with you. You’re so much cooler than me with your many languages. I bow to you with your language superiority. I admit it, all us English-speaking monolinguals are ignoramuses. And we’re terribly annoying coming to your city and not learning your language. It must be terribly irritating to have us all stomping around and not spitting enough whilst we talk and ordering Cheese Kitchens instead of Cheesecake, but all I really want to say is, I’m never going to get to be a sexy bilingualist if you keep talking English to me. Yes, it’s probably not your job to teach me German and yes, it might take a little longer to explain things to me and maybe I’ll get the wrong end of the stick once or twice, but we can do it! Together! I swear! I know it doesn’t sound like I could possibly understand anything, but mostly, if you speak slowly and clearly I will figure it out! I promise! And the upside is, that the more you do this for me now, the quicker I will start to learn German and stop being a general pain in your rear-end. Besides which, the slow, simple speech and pantomime act can be quite fun if everyone enters into it in the right spirit. Let’s work out together how many words the other person can understand and how we can get them to understand!

It is always so devastating when someone hears you order something and then immediately switches to English. It is so disheartening. I understand why they do it and I know that pretty much everyone is doing it out of the goodness of their hearts and they probably just think I’m a tourist so there is no point in trying to help me learn the language if I’m only here for a few days, but when it happened on Sunday, the last time in a long line of, ‘let’s just switch to English, sweetheart’, moments, it genuinely made me want to cry. There’s a lot more in that then just my frustration at not being able to speak the language – general loneliness, feeling out of place – but, not being able to speak the language certainly contributes to those feelings. I’ve written before about my desire, as a tourist, to blend into a place and not have anyone guess that I’m not from the country I’m visiting. Imagine how much stronger that desire is when I’m actually living in a city.

I’ve had two bitchy waitresses over the past 4 weeks who have refused to switch to English when they’ve seen me attempting to force my mouth into German pronunciations. And I know that they were doing it deliberately (one served me tea with a biscuit swimming in tea – I had to spoon it into my mouth, it was so soggy) and attempting to make me feel like an idiot, but these were actually some of the happier interactions I’ve had. Because I had to listen to what they said and figure out what it meant. And I could do it. Yes, if they had started discussing the finer points of Marxism, I may have struggled, but ‘What do you want to order?’ ‘Where are you sitting?’ were all fairly easy to figure out. And, to be honest, continuing to understand what they were saying when they were attempting to make me not understand just added to the victory.

But don’t worry, I’ve come up with a plan. I’m going to learn how to say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t speak English. Do you speak Finnish?’ in Finnish so that the next time someone starts talking to me in English, I’ll just whip that phrase out and see what happens.

Of course, I could just learn the phrase for, ‘Could you please keep speaking German, I am trying to learn,’ but that seems less fun.

 

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