Transcript S2E12: An American in Germany
Here is the transcript of S2E12: An American in Germany. You can read more about this episode on the episode web page.
This transcript has been edited for readability.
LG = Luke Green
DN = Dana Newman
LG: Moving to a new country and starting a new life there is no small undertaking. I would know as a Brit who moved to Austria almost nine years ago. There are some major changes that you can foresee, like having to get used to a new language, but there are so many smaller, day-to-day differences that you might not see coming and that can catch you off-guard.
In this final episode of series 2, I talk to Dana Newman, an American living in Germany who you might know from her YouTube channel “Wanted Adventure”. We talk about what it’s like to move abroad to Germany as an American, what culture shocks she experienced when she arrived, and all about her experiences with the German language as a newbie in a German-speaking country. We’ll hear about some of the things Dana found difficult to get used to, and what it’s like for her as an American to be married to someone who’s German.
But before we get started, I’ve started a little blog on the Yellow of the Egg website. There are a couple of posts already on there, and there’ll be more as time goes on, even between podcast series. So if you can’t wait for series 3, make sure you check out yellowoftheegg.com/blog for all your YOTE needs to see you through til the next series. I post on Instagram when there’s a new blog post, so follow me @yotepodcast, that’s Y-O-T-E-podcast, to never miss a blog post.
So with all that being said, and for the last time this series, let’s crack on with the show.
This is Yellow of the Egg, the podcast where we make the German language buy its own birthday cake. I’m Luke Green, and this is series 2 episode 12: An American in Germany.
DN: Hey there! I'm Dana, and I'm an American who lives in Munich, Germany.
LG: If you’ve ever searched for videos on YouTube to do with learning German or living in Germany, you might just recognise this voice. Dana Newman is the person behind Wanted Adventure, where she has hundreds of videos about the German language and cultural differences between Germany and the US. She would know all about stark cultural differences as someone who moved thousands of miles to live in a new country.
DN: Before moving to Europe, I was living in South Florida. And actually, when I first moved to Europe, I moved to Prague in the Czech Republic, and that's where I lived for about a year before moving here to Munich, Germany. So, I was living in Prague in the Czech Republic, and I came to Munich for about a week, and on the first day of my trip here, I went to an Irish pub, where I met a dashing German man, and yeah, as they say, the rest is history.
LG: This dashing German man is, well, German, and he speaks German and English. Dana, on the other hand, while she’s fluent now, she had barely any knowledge of German when she first met him.
DN: I could count to 10. [laughs] Oh wait, maybe even 12. But I think you see my answer is basically no. So, English is my first language, and I grew up hearing Czech in the household. So, my mom was the first generation born in the US. So I heard Czech spoken, my mom speaks Czech, but I never learned Czech. I mean, I learned a few words, I learned some songs. And then I also learned Spanish in school. So, I would say my language history is English, native language. Spanish, I feel like I used to be kind of going in the direction of fluent.
LG: But when she met her now husband, Stefan, her language priorities shifted.
DN: Ever since I started learning German, it's taken up all of the foreign language space in my brain, and I know the Spanish is still there because when I've gone to Spain, it's come back quite quickly. But yeah, German is really taking up that foreign language area. And then Czech. When I lived in the Czech Republic, I did study Czech and I learned some of it, but again, that's also kind of hidden now back behind the German language.
LG: Dana decided to move to Munich in Germany to live with Stefan. Her journey with learning German started before she made that move, though.
DN: One of the first things that I did was buy a German book, and it came with a CD, and I just started trying to teach myself some German. This was before I had moved to Germany, I was still living in Prague and I just thought, “Let's see if I can already learn some German before I move there”. And I started listening to German music. I tried a lot of things actually, some worked for me, some didn't. I tried listening to German while sleeping, and that was one of the things that did not work for me. [laughs] Yeah, I don't know, maybe it works for other people, but it did not work for me.
LG: I have to admit, I tried that too, and I can’t vouch for its effectiveness either. But when I started learning German, I also tried teaching myself with books and music before actually moving to Austria, and it gave me a good head start. The learning doesn’t stop once you get to your destination country, though. That’s where things really get going. There was a lot that Dana did to try and immerse herself in the language and learn it as best she could.
DN: In my apartment in Munich, I labelled so many things with tape and the name of the thing in German so that I could always see it when I looked around. I watched shows in German. Oh, one thing that I found really helpful for me was listening to something in German and reading that same thing in German at the same time. And I actually saw, Luke, that you have transcripts for your podcast, which- okay, this is not a podcast in German, so it doesn't help if somebody's trying to learn German, but if somebody's trying to learn English, they could do that. They could read the transcript in English and listen to the podcast at the same time, and I found for me that that was just really helpful with learning German. Oh, and I also took German courses, can't leave that out. [laughs] I took German courses as well.
LG: These are all things that you can probably do in your home country, too. You can label your things, or find YouTube videos, or attend German courses; you don’t have to be in Germany to do that. But having to use German in your day-to-day life forces you out of your comfort zone. Sometimes you can get away with speaking English in Germany, but sometimes you have to try and make yourself understood in German.
DN: There have been times when I've gone to a store, for example, and I was already nervous to ask where something is, or whatever I needed to ask the person who worked at the store, I was nervous to speak German. And so, there was a part of me that was hoping I wouldn't have to do the hard work of explaining what it was I was looking for in German, especially at the beginning. And sometimes the people did switch to English, but sometimes, I had to do the work of getting myself understood in German, which, of course, in the long run, was very good for my German, but in the moment, I was really nervous to have that conversation in German.
LG: There’s a nice German phrase that I really like in this context: über seinen Schatten springen. It means something like ‘to just go for it’ or ‘to take the plunge’. Learners of German who aren’t that confident with the language yet will at some point have to springen über ihren Schatten and just put themselves out there, go for it and just try. Which is easier said than done. This is probably one of the scariest parts about language learning for us introverts. One thing that’s great about having a German-speaking partner, though, is that you don’t have to force yourself to speak to strangers to practise; you can just practice at home! Which is something that Dana really benefits from… right?
DN: [sighs] There's a heavy sigh there, heavy sigh. Because I would really love for us to speak more German, but no, we speak really English-heavy Denglish. So, it's definitely a mix. I throw German words into a lot of my sentences, because I'm just too lazy to think of the English word or at this point, the German word is just more familiar to me for that thing, or it's just the word that comes to mind first for me in that moment. But yeah, we mostly speak English. There have been times in our relationship where we've tried to say, like, right before we got married, we were like, “We're going to speak German”. And for several months, we really kept that up. And then we got married and we went right back to speaking English with each other. It's just we met speaking English, that's the language that our relationship developed in, and yeah, it's just the language that feels the most right when we speak with each other in. I can't really describe it any more than that. Like, of course, he's still my husband in German and I'm still me in German, but somehow English just feels right.
LG: There is this thing about feeling a bit like a different person when speaking a different language. Sometimes, though, relationships to other people can feel different if you switch the language, especially if you meet in one language and only introduce the other language later on. Again this is something I and I’m sure many others can relate to. When there is a relationship where both people are fluent in each other’s languages, you end up with all sorts of code switching, that is, alternating between languages within a single conversation. If the two partners have different first languages, as is the case with Dana and her husband, there’s also the potential for some miscommunication, particularly when it comes to false friends.
DN: When it comes to misunderstandings, even though we're speaking English with each other, we're speaking the same language, there are still definitely misunderstandings there because we come from two different countries and then English is not his first language. And the thing with misunderstandings is that sometimes you have no idea, or at least sometimes I have no idea that I'm right smack dab in the middle of a misunderstanding until after the fact. Like I don't even know I'm in a misunderstanding. Like with the word eventuell and eventually. That eventuell means ‘maybe’ or ‘perhaps’ in German, and eventually definitely does not mean that in English, it means you're going to do it, but at some point in time.
LG: This is quite an important distinction. For example, take the sentence er wird eventuell für uns kochen. That means something like ‘he might cook for us’, not ‘he will eventually cook for us’. There are other similar false friends between German and English such as aktuell, which doesn’t mean ‘actually’ but rather ‘currently’.
DN: And so we had this misunderstanding where I said eventually, and he thought I was saying eventuell, but I didn't know that eventuell meant something different in German and he didn't know that eventually didn't mean eventuell, and so we were just very confused. And it wasn't until a while later that I learned the word eventuell and was like, “Oh, so that's why there was this misunderstanding”. So, yeah, you never know, even today, after being together for so many years, we still have misunderstandings with the language or with the culture.
LG: There is lots of opportunity for misunderstanding when it comes to cultural differences to do with the use of certain words. In general, there seems to be a tendency towards English speakers more readily using more intense terms for less intense situations. Think of the word love. English speakers are likely to say they love this or they love that, or they might say “I love you” to a friend. But this is very strong in German; ich liebe dich is very intense in comparison, while in English this intensity has been diluted. In German you’d be more likely to say ich hab dich lieb to someone who’s not your partner because ich liebe dich is so emotional and strong. This difference in intensity between languages is the case for a lot of words, and this can sometimes cause wires to get crossed. For example:
DN: When it comes to words like good and great and okay, I like to say that his good is my great. So, if he says he's doing ‘good’, I kind of translate that in my head that that means ‘great’. And his great is my amazing or fantastic. But it goes the other way too. So, if he says he's doing ‘okay’, that actually means he's doing okay, and that's, like, my good. But if I say I’m doing- if someone asks me, “How's your day going?” and I say, “It's okay”, that means it's not going that great. So, he kind of has to translate that as well. So, if I say okay, I don't mean his okay, I mean my okay. [laughs] And that's something that we still have to talk about today, like nowadays. I'll have to be like “wait, do you mean good as in my good, or good as in your good?
LG: It's like the scale of goodness is slightly offset. You could say that German nicht so gut is English ‘okay’. German OK is English ‘good’, and German gut is English ‘great’. It’s like either German speakers want to play down the goodness or English speakers like to play it up. There’s another set of words where something similar happens. You’ve heard of being stuck in the friend zone. Well, in German, you get stuck in the acquaintance zone.
DN: I have written down here “Bekannte forever”. In German, the word Bekannte could translate into the word ‘acquaintance’ in English, but there's a cultural difference here that I've noticed. In the US, someone is an acquaintance, from my experience at least, if you don't really know them. You haven't spent very much time with them, maybe you don't even know their name, or you met them very briefly at a party. Like, people don't usually spend a lot of time being your acquaintance if you hang out with them more. Like, once you hang out with someone a few times in the US and you like hanging out with them, then it generally moves into the friend category, like away from ‘acquaintance’ and to ‘friend’. Whereas in Germany, I have noticed that people can know each other for many many many many many many many many years, and still refer to each other as Bekannte, as ‘acquaintance’. So, that's why I have on here “Bekannte forever” – you can know someone for many years and always be a Bekannte.
LG: It certainly seems to be a thing that people generally show more overt distance to each other in German; closeness seems to develop much more slowly, at least in the language you use. In reality you could have a good friendship going with someone, in the English sense of the word friendship, but still refer to them as a Bekannter. This whole thing of closeness and distance is a big generalisation, of course. But if we compare this to how things are in the US, there is an unmistakeable difference. Dana’s husband Stefan noticed this when the two of them visited the US together one time.
DN: Like, one time we were driving on the highway, and we had to stop to pay the toll, and my parents said to the person who was working in the toll booth, like, “Hi, how are you?” And they looked at the person's name tag, and used the first name, because, ooh, that's also a cultural difference. In the US, the name tags of people working, for example, in a toll booth or at a hotel and at the reception area, or the cashiers at the supermarket, they have the first name on the name tag. And here in Germany, it's usually, I think, just the last name perhaps? I believe so. But anyway, so my parents said to the person, “Oh, hi, how are you, so and so?” And used the person's first name. And that person said something back, and there was like a quick little just small talk conversation as they paid the toll. And then when we drove through, Stefan was like, “How did you know that person?” And they’re like, “What? No, what? We didn't know that person.” “But you knew the person's name and you chatted with the person”.
LG: So even though you’re not actually close to this person in the toll booth, you’ve never even met them before, it’s custom to use first names and to engage in small talk with the person, without this necessarily being seen as a sign of closeness. In the German-speaking world, you’re much less likely to see this happening because it really is a sign of closeness to use first names and ask how people are. If you do this with strangers, you can get… mixed results, as Dana found out.
DN: Like, when I was in Germany, and went to the cashier and said, “Wie geht es Ihnen?” And then I came home and I told Stefan, like, “The cashier didn't want to talk to me! I was trying to be polite, and they didn't want to talk to me”. He was like, “Well, why would you ask that question?” And I told him, “Because that's what you ask!” And when he came with me to the US, then he got to see it first-hand how Americans ask: “How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you?” Everywhere! And he got to see that, and he realised, “Okay, yeah, I guess everybody does ask ‘how are you’ to everyone”.
LG: It's not that common for customers to engage in any kind of conversation with the people who work at a supermarket. Sometimes it’s fine, but sometimes you’ll probably get a funny look. Asking someone how they are in German is usually seen as a bit of a personal question as opposed to just a phatic expression, as it often is in English. Things are done differently in general when you go shopping in Germany and Austria when compared to the US or the UK, for example.
DN: So, I have made multiple videos on my YouTube channel about the cultural differences between grocery shopping in Germany and the US because there are just so many things. From the fact that if you want a cart here in Germany, you have to put a little coin in to get the cart out. Or I've noticed that a lot of people in Germany carry around like a little plastic token that they can use. So, that's already different, right at the beginning.
LG: We have that in the UK too, so maybe it’s more of a European thing? Can’t confirm this.
DN: And then the speed at which the cashiers scan the food here in Germany. I can see you Luke, I can see your facial expression, so I think it's the same in Austria.
LG: Oh yes!
DN: But it's just so fast! Even after living over a decade in Germany, I still am- I don't have 10 arms! I do not know how people pack fast enough with just, you know, anything less than 10 arms. I just can't do it.
LG: Again, a generalisation, but it’s my experience too that you have to be prepared. The cashier will put everything through the till at a rate of knots, and if you’re not done packing by the time you’ve paid and you have your receipt, the cashier will usually start throwing the next customer’s shopping in with yours. It’s all about getting customers in and out as quickly as possible.
DN: So I always feel like I'm just in the weeds down there trying to pack as quickly as I can. And then I had to learn at the beginning that if you do need a paper bag, you have to grab it beforehand. So, the setup in the US is that the cashier just kind of gives you a bag when they're scanning your items, but yeah, in Germany, you have to be sure to grab your bag. And if you don't, it can just become this whole big hassle. Because the bags are all the way down at the other end of the checkout lane, and then you have to ask people, “Hey, excuse me, can you pass me a bag?” And you have to do it in German, and it's just really embarrassing.
LG: It's a palaver. Especially for someone who wasn’t brought up in this culture, it can be super stressful when you end up holding everyone up because you’re too slow at packing or you forgot to pick up a carrier bag. But there is one thing that’s universally looked down upon. If you forget to do this when you’re at the supermarket, be prepared to face the contempt of all the other customers who have to wait in line behind you.
DN: Sometimes, depending on the store, you might have to weigh your own fruits and veggies. And if you don't notice that you are in a store where you have to weigh your own fruits and veggies and you get all the way to the checkout line and it's your turn and then you have not weighed your fruit and veggies, it's like, “Shame! Shame!” [laughs]
LG: The cashier will literally have to leave the till, walk all the way over to the fruit and veg section, weigh the stuff for you, and come back. You’d think they would have installed tills that can weigh fruit and veg there, but nope, many supermarkets just don’t have that here. In fact, there’s a lot that the supermarkets in Germany and Austria don’t have. If you’re coming from a different country, there are things that you’re just used to finding in a supermarket that you wouldn’t question. When it's not there, you can really miss it. I’m talking specifically about the food.
DN: At the beginning, when I first moved to Germany, or when I first moved abroad in general, I kept trying to recreate foods that I missed from the US. But sometimes you couldn't get all the ingredients. For example, brown sugar. I actually, when I moved abroad, didn't know what brown sugar was, but it seems to be in a lot of American recipes, especially cookie recipes. And when I came to Germany, I wanted to make something and I needed brown sugar and I went to the store and I couldn't find brown sugar. And so then I told Stefan that I couldn't find brown sugar and he was like, “It's at the store. I don't know why you didn't see it. It's right there.” And I was like, “Well, if you're so smart, then get some brown sugar from the store and bring it home”. I said, “I didn't see any”. And so, then he came home with brauner Zucker, which is something that I would call ‘raw sugar’. I have since learned that brown sugar, what I was talking about from the US, is actually white sugar with molasses. So once I learned that, then I could make my own, once I found molasses. That was also easier said than done, I had to go to a few different stores. But so, then I learned that I can make my own brown sugar. But that was a whole learning process. And, yeah, one big thing that I learned is, you can't always recreate everything from your home country, like all the foods that you're missing. Some of them you just gotta let go.
LG: For me, there are lots of things I miss. I miss crumpets, I miss gravy, I miss fish and chips. Yes, I know you can get fish and chips in Vienna, and no, the fish and chips you get in Vienna is not real fish and chips, ok? It’s not the same as the fish and chips you get on the British coast. It’s just not. And I refuse to believe otherwise! This is the case with so many other kinds of food. You think you’re getting what you’re used to back home, but these culture shocks creep up on you in sneaky ways. Take popcorn, for instance.
DN: When you think about popcorn, do you think about sweet or salty? Because in the US, when I thought of popcorn, it was connected with salty. Sure, you had other kinds of popcorn – I mean, in the US, you had caramel popcorn, chocolate popcorn, kettle corn, which was sweet, red popcorn, green popcorn, blue popcorn, you had all different kinds of variations of popcorn, but standard popcorn was salty. And then I went to the movies with Stefan, and he was like, “Okay, so do you want popcorn?” “Yes.” “What kind?” “You know, just like normal standard popcorn.” “Oh okay, so sweet popcorn.” “Wait, what? No, I want salty popcorn!” And so, then we started discussing, and I asked him, “When you watch a movie, and you see people in that movie eating a bag of popcorn, what kind of popcorn do you assume they're eating?” And he's like, “Sweet”. I was like, “No, if it's an American movie, they're assumed to be eating salty popcorn”.
LG: I asked people on the podcast Instagram whether they consider the standard for popcorn to be sweet or salty, and what country they’re from. Every single person who said they’re from Germany voted for sweet, whereas the vast majority of everyone else, including people from the UK, US and even Austria, said salty was the standard for them. Why is Germany the odd one out here? For me, I would agree with Dana, my standard would absolutely be salty, and my experience in Austria is that salty is the default option whenever I’ve gone to the cinema. So this might just be a Germany thing. But we’re not done yet with Germany being different when it comes to what people consider to be the standard for food.
DN: Let's talk about chips.
LG: For us Brits, these are crisps.
DN: So, as far as chips go, if someone said to me, “Hey, Dana, could you run to the store and just get a ‘normal’ bag of chips?”, and that’s in quotes, I would pick up a bag of salty potato chips. That's what I would get. In Germany, however, it's been my experience that the quote-unquote ‘normal’ or ‘standard’ bag of chips is not salty, but rather Paprika flavoured. And when I say Paprika, I don't mean ‘paprika’, I mean red bell pepper. Because on some of these potato chip bags is a picture of a red bell pepper, which really shocks me because I just wouldn't expect this really popular flavour of potato chip in Germany to be based off of a vegetable. I don't know. When I think ‘potato chips’, I just don't think ‘vegetable’. Well, now I do, actually. Now I do.
LG: We won’t talk about how Dana doesn’t think of a vegetable when she thinks of potato chips.
DN: [laughs] I just realised that doesn't make any sense. That is good, I’m really glad we got that. I'm really glad we got that for all of eternity. [laughs]
LG: I ran another poll on Instagram about this. About 80% of people who said they’re from Germany said they consider the standard flavour for crisps to be red bell pepper, the other 20% said salted. On the other hand, only 10% of those who said they come from other countries said their standard is bell pepper and the rest said salted. Again, Germany seems to be the odd one out with that one, it really seems to be on its own in having sweet popcorn and bell pepper flavoured crisps as their default options. Thanks by the way to everyone who voted on Instagram and helped with my very scientific study of standard flavours of popcorn and crisps. I got responses not just from Germany, Austria, the UK and the US, but from Brazil, India, Nicaragua, South Africa – thanks a lot for taking part. I have to say I don’t think I’ve ever tried red bell pepper, or Paprika, flavoured crisps before. It would probably make more sense to us non-natives if the crisps were actually paprika flavoured. This false friend of Paprika and ‘paprika’ can again lead to misunderstandings. Sometimes you get words in both languages and they have the same or a very similar meaning, like Party, but sometimes there are some differences which can catch you out.
DN: So, in English, we have two words, mail and email. And mail is ‘snail mail’. It's like the mail that you take to the post office, you put it in, yeah, you mail it to somebody. I don't need to explain mail, I don’t think. So, that's for me the word mail. And then we have email, which- I think we know what email is. But in Germany, people often referred to email, I have since learned, as Mail.
LG: What Americans refer to as mail would be Post in German, and usually post in many British English dialects too, as it happens. But even in the UK, if we hear “mail”, we would think of something being sent in the post, and not of e-mail. In German, Mail and E-Mail are pretty much synonyms.
DN: This has caused confusion for me, and sometimes it still does cause me confusion, because someone will say to me here in Germany, speaking English, “I sent you a mail” or “Did you get my mail?” or something about mail. And then I think that they mean that they mailed me something. And I'm like, “No, I didn't get anything, and also, why didn't you just send an email?” And they're like, “I did. That's what I just asked”. “Oh, yeah, I got your email!”. So, yeah, I have to try to remember that Mail in Germany means ‘email’.
LG: Even if you know this, though, it’s easy to forget. If you’re used to a word having one meaning in English, you often have to try to consciously remember that it has a different meaning in German. And this goes for a lot of aspects of language where it’s one thing to know something, and it’s another thing to remember it in practice. If we think of word order, we’re not used to the finite verb appearing all the way at the end of a sentence in English. And as much as we might know this rule in German, this finite verb can easily be forgotten by the time you’ve made it to the end of your sentence.
DN: I lose my haben all the time. So, if I'm saying a sentence and haben has to come at the end of the sentence, I will often just lose it. I usually do my Instagram stories in German and there are so many times when I re-listen to what I recorded and notice, “Where's my haben? Where’d it go?” And it's just gone. I don't think I do it as much if a verb takes sein. I don't seem to lose my sein! I don't know why, I can't explain it to you, but the haben is just like. “Bye, I don't need you!”
LG: To be fair, if it’s a long sentence, you can sometimes forget by the end of it whether you’re in a subordinate clause where the finite verb goes to the end, and you don’t know whether you’ve already said haben at the beginning. The whole finite-verb-goes-to-the-end thing can take time to get used to, but it’s not the worst thing about German. If you’ve been on the podcast website, you might have seen my least favourite thing about the language. There’s a lot that frustrates me about German, but probably nothing more so than the plurals.
DN: Yes. [laughs] The plurals in German. I mean, come on! In English, for, I don’t know, what, 90% of the time it's just an “s”. You just- it’s shoe-shoes, book-books. And in German, it feels to me just as hard to figure out how to say the plural of a word as it is to figure out whether a word is der, die or das.
LG: So often there doesn’t seem to be a pattern. Sometimes there’s regularity, like if a word ends in -ung then the plural is -en most of the time, like Lesung-Lesungen, or Testung-Testungen. But then you get plurals like Jungs, which is a colloquial word for ‘boys’, so nothing’s 100%. What I like to do sometimes with the plural is cheat a little bit. For me, the two types of plural I mix up the most are those that end on -e, like Tisch-Tische, and those that end on -en, like Bett-Betten. I try to find some way to make it so I say the word in the dative case, which would make all plurals that would usually end in -e end in -en, so mit den Tischen, mit den Betten – there’s no difference! The dative here effectively neutralises -e and -en endings in the plural. You can also do this with words ending with -l or -r where you’re not sure if there’s an -n; just put it in the dative and there’s an -n anyway! Problem solved! Well, there is Schal-Schals, so it doesn’t work all the time… Ah, German. Can’t even let me cheat properly. This cheat with the dative is probably not the best thing to be advocating. It’s always good to learn the actual proper plurals, but if I’m ever in doubt, I’ll try and squeeze in a dative to avoid making a mistake. There are other little cheats you can do in German to get around some of the grammar. For instance, if you don’t know the grammatical gender of a word, you can just substitute it for ‘thing’, Ding.
DN: Yeah, yeah, I use Ding a lot because I know Ding is das. So, das Ding. Everything can just be das Ding, ‘that thing’.
LG: So lazy but so useful in a pinch! With a language like German, you have to take what you can get. But for what German lacks in terms of grammatical simplicity, it certainly makes up for in lexical transparency. Remember when we talked about Stinkkatze before [S2E3: Texas German]? Literally a ‘stink cat’ as the Texas German word for ‘skunk’? There are plenty more brilliantly literal compound words in German, and some are just fantastic.
DN: I love the compound words in German. Sometimes they're poetic, sometimes they're just really interesting. I love how on the nose sometimes they are. Like, Rolltreppe, literally ‘rolling stairs’ for ‘escalator’. I just- ah! I just think that's great. Or Kühlschrank, literally cold… cabinet? Cabinet. Cupboard, cabinet, yeah, something like that. But it's a cold one, and that's ‘refrigerator’. Or Rathaus. Okay, you might think off the top of your head, “Wait, that one doesn't work because it's not ‘rat house’, but Rathaus is the town hall.
LG: Rat meaning ‘council’ and Haus meaning, well, ‘house’. So ‘council house’, as in the house of the council, not council housing in the English sense. It’s the building where you’ll find the council.
DN: Or Handschuh, literally ‘hand shoe’ for ‘glove’. Although I like to say that if you're going to be getting literal with it, I really do think it should be Handsocke because it is really more of a hand sock.
LG: Thank you.
DN: I like how serious your ‘thank you’ was, like, “Thank you, somebody has brought this up”.
LG: Honestly! Gloves are nothing like shoes. But I do enjoy the sentiment of a ‘hand shoe’. It’s still a great word.
DN: And then there are also German words that I really like to say, like etepetete.
DN: Ahh! Etepetete! I just love saying this word.
LG: That means something like ‘finicky’ or ‘fussy’, sometimes ‘overly prim and proper’. Great word. It doesn’t even sound like a real German word. There are a few theories as to its etymology. One theory is that it comes from the French words être, ‘to be’, and peut-être, ‘maybe’, so être peut-être. Sorry about the pronunciation. Perhaps in an attempt to sound all fake fancy, because French? Other theories are that it comes from the Low German öt or öte, meaning ‘prissy’ or ‘overnice’, which was unrounded to ete and then playfully or ironically reduplicated to make etepetete. Either way, great sounding word.
DN: Or, this sometimes makes Germans laugh, but Mülldeponie.
LG: Which means ‘landfill’.
DN: Mülldeponie. Oh, I just love it. Like, it's just such a beautiful sounding word.
LG: Since moving to Germany, Dana has got to know and appreciate a lot of German words not just for their sound, but also for their meaning. You start to use a word so much in your new language that you start to wonder how you ever survived without it in your first language. An example of this came up when Dana and I were writing to each other to arrange a time to record this episode.
DN: When I wrote you, I said that I really liked the ab in German in times. You can say, “Let's meet ab 15 Uhr”. Yeah, this is just one word in German. Ab. Two letters, a-b. And in English, that would be like, “I could meet any time from 3pm onwards”. And it just feels so clunky to say it like that. So, I do like the ab in German. And I also like und gut ist!
LG: An example of this phrase in action:
DN: “I'll just add a little sugar, und gut ist!” So, you're just doing a little something and that'll be fine, that's enough. But I like und gut ist literally means ‘and good is’. And so, I like to say that like, “Ah, it's no big deal, I'll just do this little thing and good is”.
LG: Which doesn’t really make that much sense if you think about it grammatically. And good is. Good is what? Good is it? Good it is? There definitely seems to be something missing there. As Dana often found out though, while it’s good to try and figure out the system and the logic behind German, sometimes it’s better to try not to get hung up on understanding why things are the way they are. Sometimes, they just are. And if you try to ask someone who speaks German as a first language to explain the logic behind the language, well, good luck.
DN: If I could go back and give Dana who was just starting out learning German some advice when it comes to learning German with Stefan, so having a partner who is a native German speaker, specifically Stefan, the advice that I would give myself is, if you have a question about the German language and you want to ask Stefan, ask yourself first: does this question start with why? Because if it starts with why, ehh, don't ask it. Just don't bother asking it. Because he uses the German language, but it's his native language and he's not someone who was particularly interested in languages. It wasn't a hobby for him to learn about the German language until he met me. He just used it, you know? And so when I would ask him, “why is it der Tisch but mit dem Tisch? He was like, “Uhh…” – well, he couldn't tell me, he couldn’t tell me why, it just was. And that was really frustrating for both of us, because I wanted to know why it was like this. Or sometimes I would learn a rule, like I would learn that you say, the Genitiv, that you say, des Tisches. And then he would say a sentence, and it's kind of common in informal German to use the Dativ instead of the Genitiv, but I didn't know that at the time. So, he would say a sentence and say, dem Tisch, and then I would want to know why, and he couldn't tell me why. So yeah. No why questions.
LG: If you think about it, learning a language isn’t just a learning process for you. It can be a learning process for the native speakers who surround you and accompany you on your journey. As you get to know the German language as an outsider, those who grew up with the language can get to know it all over again from a different point of view. Dana’s book You Go Me On The Cookie really shines a light on the parts of the German language and culture that are often taken for granted by people who were born and raised in Germany, but which continue to baffle outsiders. This can be a real eye-opener for German native speakers.
DN: You Go Me On The Cookie is a book about my experience as a non-native German speaker with the German language, and I hope that when German native speakers read the book, they get a completely new perspective on their own language. So, they can see some of the illogical and frustrating parts of the German language, but also some of the really beautiful and charming parts of the German language, from perhaps a point of view that they hadn't thought of before, because it's just their own native language. And then also, it's a book that I wish I had had when I was learning German. Maybe not right at the beginning because the book is written in German, but yeah, it's a book that I wish I had had so that I didn't feel quite so alone with the struggles of the language. But in You Go Me On The Cookie, I write about the experiences of mine that were difficult and challenging, but also really fascinating for me.
LG: And there really is no need to feel alone when struggling with the German language and culture. Whether you’re struggling to keep up with the rapid scanning at the checkout in the supermarket, or struggling to decide whether someone is a Bekannte or a Freundin, or struggling with those silly plural endings, it’s something all learners and expats go through. It’s important to keep learning and keep pushing forward, but we can’t lose sight of the beauty in the ridiculousness of it all. If we really want to enjoy German, we can’t get too hung up on getting things right all the time.
DN: When learning German, in addition to learning the language, I have also learned that for me, it's really important not to strive for perfection in my German. And that's not always easy. There are times when I'm sitting there, and I'm studying German, and there's this little voice in my head that's like, “Don't make any mistakes, you’d better get it perfect”. And I can look back on moments when I really wasn't enjoying the process of learning German, and usually I can see, oh, in that moment, I was striving for some kind of ‘perfection’ – and that's in quotes, ‘perfection’ – in my language. And that's why I wasn't having any fun in that moment. I have noticed that for me, when I'm striving for perfection, it just sucks the fun right out of the whole process of learning the language. And learning German has been challenging enough as it is. I need that fun in there to keep it fun. I need that fun. So, yeah, that's just something for me. I always try to remind myself, it's not about perfection. Languages are, in my opinion, about communication.
LG: And you don’t necessarily need perfect to communicate.
Thank you so much to Dana Newman for joining me for this episode. You can buy Dana’s book You Go Me On The Cookie at all good bookshops and online now, I’ll link to it in the shownotes. It’s a really fun read for both native German speakers and intermediate learners of German, I really loved it. Dana’s YouTube channel “Wanted Adventure” is all about getting to know German language and culture as an American, and there are literally hundreds of videos on there to get stuck into. And she’s on Instagram too, @wantedadventure, where she posts regular stories mostly in German about German and living in Germany, so definitely go and follow her on there. You can find information about all of this, as well as other projects of hers, such as her podcast “Germany, What Goes?” and her new, recently launched YouTube channel “Dana Undone”, all on the podcast website, yellowoftheegg.com.
Remember to follow me on Instagram @yotepodcast, that’s Y-O-T-E-podcast, Facebook @YellowOfTheEgg, and you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would really appreciate a five-star rating and review, and I’d love it if you could recommend this podcast to a friend to help spread YOTE far and wide. Thank you so much for your support.
So with all that being said, thank you so much for listening. This was the final episode of series 2. It’s been so much fun to make, I’ve learned loads from doing this, and I’m really really grateful to all of my guests for joining me and sharing their experiences and their expertise. I’m really looking forward to series 3, work has already begun, so keep your eyes out for that. For now, playing us out one more time are Euphoniques, this time with “Bring You There”. Check them out on Spotify, links in the shownotes. Enjoy the song, and I’ll see you soon for series 3. Machts es gut, servus aus Wien.
[Music: “Bring you there” by Euphoniques]