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:
The Carnival of Culture happens every year in Berlin and celebrates multiculturalism and generally having a good time with loud music and awesome costumes.
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.
Dragon! Awesome Dragon!
I 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.
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.
I love how many men were in their feathers today.
And also, there were many beautiful ladies in feathers also.
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.
There was quite a bit of excitement (in costume form) for the World Cup.
And there were swishy skirts in many different colours.
There were also non-swishy skirts, and many different ways of keeping oneself cool.
This is a way of keeping oneself cool. It was definitely my favourite. Because it was almost like a Hollywood movie about New York.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Ah, it always happens. Life is good, good, good until it is bad, bad, bad. And today was the bad, bad, bad.
Not for any particularly big reason. But for a lot of tiny, little nonsensical reasons, which I will now list:
1) A. went home yesterday after a lovely weekend
2) I am sick of walking the same way to school every day
3) I am sick of Kreuzberg/Freidrichshain/Neukolln and the constant circling I do of these places
4) I am sick of going to school every morning and writing every afternoon for Edinburgh. Things are going well and I feel like my script is getting somewhere. I’ve done a lot of other stuff done too for Edinburgh, like images and preview films and flyers and other admin-y type stuff, but all of it is now boring the pants off of me.
5) I am sick of not being able to communicate confidently with people (goddamn it, how long exactly does it take to become fluent at a language?)
6) I had many horrid dreams in which it turns out my mother had actually been alive all this time, but had just run away from the family and I had only just found this out because she had JUST DIED AGAIN (or, for the first time?) and I was informed as next of kin that she was dead, which I thought I already knew (oh, what a fun, fun, fun dream that was)
7) I am sick of cheese. This is a problem because pretty much every aisle in a German supermarket is a cheese aisle. Then, right at the end there is a little box of fruit & vegetables, fresh bread and meat.
8) Apparently I no longer enjoy cake. I keep buying it and eating it, hoping it will make me happy like it used to and it turns out it is JUST FOOD. JUST FOOD FULL OF NAUSEA-INDUCING SUGAR. Why didn’t anyone tell me it didn’t have magical properties?
9) I don’t know what I’m going to do for work.
10) I don’t know what I WANT to do for work.
11) I don’t know where in the world I want to live, but I’m not sure it’s here and I don’t know if it’s Australia and it might be the UK, but I’m not allowed back there.