Life Update

When I was a little girl and I dreamed of finding my Prince Charming and getting married, I never even came close to imagining how good it really feels to know you get to spend the rest of your life with your best friend and soulmate. Two months ago my husband and I celebrated our two year anniversary, and the longer we’re together, the better it gets. We often remark that we feel as though we’re still on our honeymoon. When we see each other after being at work all day, our eyes light up and we embrace and kiss as if it has been weeks since we saw one another. The love we have is…  I hesitate to find the right words to describe it. It’s powerful and life-changing.

And to top it off, our marriage gave me the opportunity to have the adventure of a lifetime. Life in Germany wasn’t easy at first. In fact, it was really dreadfully hard some days. There were times I felt utterly alone and times I absolutely hated this country. Slowly, Germany wormed its way into my heart, and no offense to the U.S., but I’d be much more proud to call myself German than I am to call myself American. To say “I love it here” isn’t enough. I feel protective of this country. It is my home and I feel a stronger need to defend it than the country I was born and raised in.

I have the love of a great man and get to live in a beautiful country, and my heart is so full that sometimes I feel it might just burst.

It also helps that I have a job I love and have made a new friend. I work as a substitute teacher at an international school. It’s 12 hours a week, and while I’m still taking German lessons, that’s enough to keep me busy. My new friend is from Estonia and teaches at the school where I work. I clicked with her the moment I met her. She’s so friendly and kind and we have a lot in common. She’s even a Christian which seems rather rare in Europe. And she’s not the kind of person who just says she’s a Christian, either. She’s the kind of person who has Bible verses printed and taped to her refrigerator, and this Bible college grad likes that! We also both feel that our faith is fairly private and not meant to be shoved down anyone’s throat or posted about all over Facebook so we’re a good combination. I have some really amazing girlfriends back in the States and had been longing for a woman to spend time with when I needed a little girl-time. Finding my lovely Estonian friend was perhaps the biggest blessing I’ve gotten all year.

Life almost couldn’t get any better…. almost. If I could learn German in…like… a day, that would be super cool. The thing about learning a new language is that it’s a looooooonnnnng process. It’s practically never-ending. Recently, we went to a dinner in our old village with all our former neighbors. One of them asked me several questions in German; “Do you have a job? What grades do you teach? Do you like it? Do you drive or take the train? Do you like Germany? How is your German coming along?…” After the very first question, I started to turn to my husband to have him translate, but I wouldn’t allow myself. I thought, “No! You’ve got this. You can do this!” Not only did I understand all of her questions, but I answered them all in German as well. Later, I asked my husband, “How was I? Did I say everything the right way?” He practically got stars in his eyes and said, “Oh, honey! You were PERFECT! You’re grammar was perfect and your pronunciation. It was all perfect! I was so sure you wouldn’t understand everything. Some of her questions were too difficult and I just knew you wouldn’t get it, but you did and your answers were perfect. I’m so proud!”

But even after all the progress I’ve made, I still get overwhelmingly frustrated with myself and with the language. My teachers always tell me, “Sheri, you’re too hard on yourself. This stuff is difficult and everyone struggles. Give yourself some time.” But I just want to know it already. I want to know it so badly. And sometimes I get tongue-tied over the dumbest things. Earlier this week, I needed a price check on an item at the grocery store. I meant to scan it before I got to the register, but forgot, and when I had to ask the cashier how much it was, I communicated like a monkey. It’s not difficult to ask in German, “Can you tell me how much this costs?” but because I wasn’t prepared for the conversation, I stumbled over my words and mucked up the whole conversation. It’s also easy to say, “Yeah, I’d like that, please.” but I couldn’t even say that properly. When I’m caught off guard and have to speak German, my mind goes totally blank sometimes and I hate that!

I know it’s a process, and I know it’ll take time, but I’m impatient. I recently talked to a lady from Columbia who has lived in Germany the same amount of time as I have and she described living in a foreign country where a different language is spoken as being both deaf and mute, and she’s so right! When I couldn’t speak any German, I was completely deaf and mute in this country and that is a horrible feeling. Now that I can understand and speak a little, I want it ALL! I don’t want to stumble and fail and search for the words. I just want to speak for myself dadgumit!

At the same dinner a few weeks ago where I made my husband so proud, later in the evening the same lady started asking me about my favorite food. I told her Mexican and she asked if we’d tried the Mexican restaurant in our town. I told her yes and that I didn’t like it, but then came the tough question… “Why?” And I couldn’t tell her why. I didn’t know how to say, “It’s not really Mexican food. It differs from real Mexican food in nearly every way. It’s a different spice pallet, different sauces, different dishes, different everything. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not Mexican food.” I couldn’t say any of that. I stumbled around trying to find the right words and felt like such a failure. It’s so unbelievably frustrating to understand what’s being said and not be able to respond. It’s heartbreaking, really, when you want to be part of the conversation but just can’t be. So I guess the more I learn, the more I want to learn. The more I learn, the more I realize how much left I have to learn. It feels like a never-ending process and sometimes it is truly overwhelming.

But I should go. I have another online German class starting soon and I should prepare. One 60-minute class at a time… that’s all I can do. One step at a time.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Keep in mind I’m a realist (therefore I’m not going to tell you pretty lies)… I have been learning and speaking German with varying grades of intensity for 34 years. For 14 of those years, I _taught_ German. I still stumble, get tongue-tied, and sometimes just don’t have the word(s) I need. Just today I spoke with my former host mom, and at one point while I was answering a question she’d asked, my brain said, “Nope, you’re done” and I had to finish the sentence in English. For most of the rest of the conversation I was spilling out imperfect but comprehensible German like a pro.

    Don’t worry! I actually think most Germans realize how blinking difficult their language is – especially compared to English. We’ve got one “the” and one “a/an”. We don’t have to care about cases (nominitive, accusative, dative, genitive) because most Americans can’t tell the difference anyway (for instance when to use “me” and when “I”). I have no doubt that the Germans you’ve spoken with are impressed with and appreciate your efforts. It’s huge that you could have taken an easy way out but forced yourself not to.

    I enjoy your updates, and I love your determination to learn German. I’m glad you found a job you enjoy.

    1. I’m totally a fan of directness! No need to tell me lies. Give it to me straight! 🙂

      As much as I hate it for you that sometimes your brain just digs its proverbial heels in the ground and refuses to let you speak German, it’s actually quite comforting. I think a big portion of my stress right now is my upcoming, legally-required B1 exam. I haven’t scheduled it yet, but I need to have it completed by mid-October. I think once my legal obligations have been taken care of, I’ll be able to relax and enjoy learning German again. Because I do enjoy learning. As difficult as it is, it has been one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve ever had.

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