I am living in Austria nearly a year now and haven’t progressed very far learning my German. I’m not too bad at restaurants. I can order a small glass of wine, a large glass of wine, or a bottle of wine in German. So I’ve got the basics covered. I won’t DIE due to my lack of language skills, at least not right away. Though if I stay here long enough liver failure might become a problem. But surely by that time I’ll have at least mastered a few more language tricks.
Ich spreche Deutsch. Which technically is not entirely true. Ich lerne Deutsch. Slightly more true, but still a bit of a stretch. Ich lerne Deutsch langsam (I learn German slowly.) Getting closer to the truth here. Still, that sentence implies that I am adding to my German language skills bit by bit, which in turn implies I am working at it more than I am and from that you might infer I am simply too dense to absorb my lessons. Well, that last part is true anyway. I am not even sure if Ich lerne Deutsch is grammatically correct.
When I really want to impress I bring out the big guns. Entschuldigung, mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut. Which means Pardon me, my German is not very good. I say that so often that it is in the running, along with “I’d like a large glass of red wine, please” as my best German phrase.
When out and about on my own I try to do some mental exercises to hone my skills. But I usually can’t remember anything from my lessons. So I end up counting to myself in German.
Hey, it’s better than nothing.
The hitch is that I invariably end up counting out loud. And so I am the weird woman standing on the subway platform counting. I have become that unhinged lady that people shy away from; people glance at me nervously from the corners of their eyes as they edge in the opposite direction. Yeah, I have become THAT person.
The good thing about it is that almost nobody approaches and starts speaking German to me. Which is something you start to live in fear of when you are living in a foreign country and don’t speak the language. I am sure they are saying the simplest of statements like, “what time does the bus come?” Or “what lovely weather we are having!” Or “watch out for that unstable person mumbling to herself.” But when each of my inter-personal transactions is fretted over, practiced and planned for, when escape routes are navigated and pages dog-eared in my English to German dictionary…when all that is done before going out to pay my phone bill “what lovely weather we are having” is enough to send my spinning into a panic.
So now I just count out loud and sometimes even sway a little. If people assume I’m disturbed I might as well play along.
Just remember, if you pass a crazy person counting to herself at a bus stop don’t automatically assume she is deranged. She might just be learning the language.