Apparently I massively erred by taking French in high school instead of German. (Or Spanish, although in my new life in Europe that does not come up as much as in the US these days.) I am heading off tomorrow to Germany for the third time in just over a year, all for professional reasons, and in all cases the professional meetings are unrelated. I have been to France exactly once, on a pure pleasure mission, and for the most part the French was only useful for the amusement of cab drivers. In Paris restaurants everyone spoke in English, and contrary to popular belief I did not at any point feel snubbed over my poor language skills.
I love languages, although I am a hopeless monoglot. I have actually studied both French and Russian but am not sufficiently skilled in either to be much use. I’m not sure that my increasing proficiency in British (and the differences between British and American) really counts to make me bilingual, although some days I feel like it should! I do harbour hopes that someday I will become proficient in a second language, and in order to live out this dream, I suspect I will eventually move somewhere populated by non-Anglophones to enforce total immersion.
In the meantime, languages amuse me. My sister is not amused when I ask her to speak Chinese and then laugh at her… but I can’t help it. Watching this white midwestern American girl of northern European ancestry speak Chinese just cracks me up.
Even better–and relevant given my journey this week–is my level of amusement and fascination with German words. If you know anything about the language but have not read Mark Twain’s “The awful German language” My prior Germany trips left me with a sense of unadulterated awe at the cleverness of the compound words and expressions. German words are notoriously long at times, but much to my amazement they are frequently just the combination into one word of multiple concepts, with or without additional prefixes and suffixes, that would be separate words (or at most, hyphenated) in English.
Regardless, this trip is sure to be remarkably painful for many reasons, my lack of German proficiency being but one of them. The conference I am attending is in the middle of nowhere (thus increasing the need to know at least a little bit of German!) and my travel plans look diabolical on paper, a 4 am taxi to a 4:40 am train to a 7 am flight to then have 55 km yet to travel to the venue destination. And my “performance” at the conference is that day. It will be a long few days and I may be away from communications. Anyone following my progress this week will note this is only my third full day since returning from Minneapolis, and as such the jet lag is killing me. This is certainly not going to help my German.