After spending the last year or so trying to learn German, I suddenly felt like this trip to Germany was my final exam. I was sweating as we approached the immigration officer in Customs after we stepped off the plane into Germany — I practiced it in my head 100 times: “Wir werden 5 tage lange bleiben.” – we will stay 5 days. The guy looked at us and stamped our passports in silence. Well, okay then.
After we got to our hostel, most of everything was in English. The staff spoke fluent English. They spoke better English than some people who live in North Carolina (correct use of the verb tense!). Every restaurant we went to had menus in English! I was disappointed. Granted, as a guest in a foreign country, it was so kind to be spoken to in my native tongue. But still, I was determined to speak to these people in their native tongue, so I did. Stupid Germans and their hospitality: I’d ask something in German and receive a reply in English. Seriously? Can you smell the Yank on me? The answer was yes. They did humor me a bit: I asked where to buy stamps and later figured out I had asked where I could sell stamps. Oops. I also ordered a glass of water and the waiter brought me white wine. Oops again. He was not as amused.
Eventually I gave up and started saying please and thank you in German. I have a long way to go to master this language. And it inspired me to take a German I at the community college next semester – it can only help. I need to practice talking with people – I think that’s where my biggest mistake was. Computers and people are very different when learning a language. Rosetta Stone was a great resource, but not everyone speaks with the clarity and e-nun-see-a-tion of someone who made callbacks for the recording session. All the language learning websites I read said just to go out and start speaking in the country – which I did – but I hate failing. I also need to be prodded to learn the grammar behind everything. I’m much more of a “oh, it’ll come with time” kind of person. German for me is going to be a lifelong project.