A collection of grievances, memories, occasional musings, and everyday happenings

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Lost in Übersetzung

After returning from my German-filled retreat back in September, I began sessions with my language exchange partners. Language exchange partners are people who speak the language you want to speak and are interested in speaking the language you speak. So obviously in my case, I’m learning German in exchange for them learning English. At the moment I have 3 and it’s nothing less than wonderful. I meet with each of them separately, and depending on how much time we have, we speak one language for a certain amount of time then switch to the other language for the remainder. While I did just say my German is improving, I think if you heard one of my sessions with my language partner, you’d laugh and claim I must be kidding myself. I can sit and listen to my partners’ speak English a long time without correcting a word or reconstructing a sentence for them. When I speak, it’s every like, 4th word or so. But it really is great, and all 3 of them are so encouraging and helpful. It’s nice to have a native speaker tell you “I understood you, and what you said was right, but here is how an Austrian would actually say that”.


In addition to language partners, we’ve started up our German classes again – two hours twice a week through mid-December. Plus, our English-learning programs have started (which means a lot of German speaking children), church is entirely in German (it always has been but now we’re actually understanding what’s being said), and our fabulous supervisors are starting to speak to us in German more and more. While this is all extremely positive practice, I have to admit, I’ve lost my language identity a little. Whenever I learn a new word and Will asks me to spell it for him, and the word contains a /w/, I always have to respell it for him because I start off saying “Wenige. V-e-n-i-g-e”. Or sometimes I switch it, like DWD instead of DVD. Or like the other day when Will and I were at someone’s apartment and I saw the VHS of Die Hard. Despite the fact that Bruce Willis’ face was RIGHT THERE on the cover, I said “Hmmm. Die Hard…?” as in “die Katze” or “die Brille” (pronounced “dee”), not DIE Hard as in Will DIES laughing whenever I make these mistakes in front him, always followed up with “Oh man. I can’t wait to tell my dad.” – my least favorite response.

Nora working on her Me Book at English Kids Club

It’s crazy how mixed up I feel sometimes. English is German and German is English. Sometimes I don’t even know what language I’m thinking in because my thoughts are so tangled up. In fact I’ve started dreaming in German pretty frequently which is personally exhausting as I tend to be a very detailed dreamer. Last week I had a dream I was at McDonald’s and ordered the biggest meal of my life without ever giving the cashier the last verb. There are two problems with this dream. One, I was at McDonald’s. If I ever find myself ordering the biggest meal of my life, I want to be at Buffalo Wild Wings, stuffing myself full of hot wings and potato wedges, not McDonald’s. Two, I never gave the cashier the last verb. The issue with that is often the last verb in a question is the determining verb, the action verb, meaning it tells whoever you’re talking to what it is that you need, want, or are doing. Example:

Könnte ich bitte einen Hund _______?

Can I, please, a dog _________ …what? Can you please have a dog? Buy a dog? Hug a dog? Who knows; not me, because you didn’t give me the action verb, so thanks for leaving me out in Curiosity World. Normally it’s not a huge deal, especially if the person you’re talking to knows you’re not a native speaker, so 9 times out of 10 the person can guess what you should’ve said. Aside from my dream, I’ve only actually done this once (that I’m aware of), and I saved myself by attaching the action verb on at the last minute. I needed to send a letter to the US and had to actually speak to a human to do it instead of silently slipping my letter into a box. I rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed my one line all the way to the Post Office, and when the nice man asked if he could help me, I fumbled through my response and left off the action verb. He nodded his head like he knew what I wanted, and in a way I had with my “Um, I would like this letter to the USA”, but still I spoke broken German, and upon realizing my mistake I nervously shouted “SCHICKEN!” – the English equivalent of “SEND!”. Luckily I was the only person in the store at the time or I’m sure other customers would’ve assumed I had Tourette’s.

I’ve been assured many times I can do this. I know I can do this. Learning a language is a process, often an embarrassing one, but nonetheless a fun one, and one day very soon I’m going to have an entire conversation with my husband auf-Deutsch in front of our non-German speaking family and friends about something totally random – like the weather or how awesome it would be to be a Jedi (we’re currently on a Star Wars kick). Hopefully this week will bring on continued understanding and speaking. I would love to be able to function in both languages without getting tongue-tied, but until that day reveals itself, I may be lost in translation just a little while longer.


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Thoughts on Purse Theft

Part of me hopes that whoever stole my purse did it with good reason, kind of like how the Grinch stole Cindy Loo Who’s Christmas tree. Remember? She asks him why he’s taking her Christmas tree away, and he tells her that there’s a light out, so he’s going to take it to his workshop to fix the light and when he’s done he’ll bring it right back. Granted the Grinch was lying when he said those things, but still. I know that the front magnetic button on my purse was broken and ripped underneath, so maybe the “thief” saw it and was like “Hey! I’m a professional button-fixer. It would give me joy to fix her purse, but I don’t know how to introduce myself so… I’ll take it to my workshop and bring it right back to one of the 23 Lost and Found locations in the area. It’ll be great”.Image

Honestly I’m just glad that the thief picked a day that was mostly insignificant in my life to steal my purse rather than my birthday like the last time my purse was stolen. I was a senior in high school working on my birthday as a mat-maid for the varsity wrestling team (it was a dignified job, I promise). We were in a gym for a huge wrestling tournament, and I had to be on the mat to keep score so I left my purse stuffed underneath all of my team’s bags in the bleachers. When the tournament was over I went to fetch my purse and it was gone. I was frantic and threw the wrestlers’ bags all over the place trying to find it. I ran to security who made an announcement over the microphone describing my purse in case anyone spotted it before leaving the gym. In a way it was a small birthday gift to myself because suddenly all of these hunky wrestlers from different schools came up to me and asked me questions about where I was when I noticed it was gone, where I had put it, if I had seen anyone suspicious, how I was doing in this moment of crisis. I may have done some hair flipping and eyelash fluttering, but still I was too upset to do any real damage.

Finally someone found my purse – ON THE FLOOR OF THE BOYS BATHROOM. I was so grossed out. It was on the floor! In a stall! Whoever found it brought it to security who then called me over to him. My purse was wide open – cards, receipts, pens, lady things were scattered in a giant mess. Every pocket had been opened and searched. The thief left my phone, license, and credit cards, but took my glasses, mini iPod, my friend’s mini iPod, 7 gift cards ranging from $25-$75, and all of my birthday money. In all I probably lost close to $800, the large portion of that being of course the Apple products and my glasses.

GA Wrestling Tournament

But, you know what? Those were all just possessions, and one by one I did end up getting some of those things replaced. My birthday still rocked and I met like 50 muscular wrestlers that day, so, win-win! This time around, my husband came running (by U-Bahn) to my aid and I only lost 7 euro or so (which I’m pretty sure the police officer judged me for). The only other things in my purse that I can think of were my special Altoid container I made with Tamika, my last bottle of Dramamine, some pens, my keys, and my BIPA card (a card that gets me discounts at my local BIPA store). So, he or she can enjoy my broken purse and next-to-nothing in it. The credit cards are shut down and Will and I have been going around Vienna to get my necessary cards replaced, like my transportation card, ÖBB card, etc. Oh and my Zoo Pass was in there! Ughh that’s frustrating. The pass gets me into the Zoo for free which WAS fabulous. Guess we’ll be heading to the Zoo this week too. Happy Thursday friends, and hang onto your belongings – there’s thieves afoot!


Mental Cruise Control

Man. German was not a friend of mine last week. I felt like everyone I talked to was the teacher from Charlie Brown and spoke in  “wah-wah’s”. I even had issues in class when our teacher asked me a very simple question, a question that normal functioning Holly would have understood just fine, but for some reason psycho non-functioning Holly was the one who showed up to class that day. Not only did she repeat her question to me, she explained it, and explained it further, and even my husband jumped in on it and tried to explain the question to me in ENGLISH, and I just…existed. They could’ve been speaking Chinese to me for all I knew and I doubt I would’ve realized it. It almost felt like a weird out-of-body experience, which yes, I stand firmly by my belief that I have had one of those before.

I think it’s safe to say that last week was a result of language-learning-overload. I didn’t feel overwhelmed, or feel like my brain couldn’t hold anymore new vocabulary words or one more reflexive verb (they are mind-boggling though), but I guess my mind had had it and put itself on cruise control. In my mind’s defense, we’ve been through a lot together lately. In September, I attended an annual retreat called Frauenfreizeit in Filzmoos, Austria.

This retreat is for women in German-speaking Europe to come together for 6 days in the beautiful, quiet, mountainous countryside of Filzmoos in order to learn from one other, have some free time to themselves, and spend time in devotion with the Lord. While I did learn from the other women, have a ton of free time to myself (I got sick halfway through and was in bed for 2 days), and spend time in devotion with the Lord, these 6 days were an unreal, near unimaginable workout for my German. The sad part is I totally thought I could handle it. I’ve been here for 4 months… Go to church with Austrians… Go to the store all the time without wanting to hide… So not a big deal. Weeeell, nope – It was so a big deal.

I sat in class wide-eyed, anxiety-ridden, and clueless. Hochdeutsch (High German) was nonexistent and in its place were dialects from Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. Occasionally I would grab a “leben” or a “lieben” or “Gottes”, but other than that, nothing was getting through. At one point in the week, two of the women, one in her 60s and the other in her 70s, started arguing in front of the rest of us as class began. Their voices got higher and higher, and they started yelling at each other and pointing this way and that until they both were on their feet, yelling in each other’s faces until one of them stormed out of the room.

I don’t have to tell you that I was freaking. out. during this intense time of sweet grandma vs. sweet grandma. They were so angry and it all happened so fast and I couldn’t figure out why no one else seemed to be concerned. Within seconds, the lady who stormed out came right back in, smiling enormously while the other women burst into laughter and applause. Turned out the two ladies were putting on a play as a way of leading into the “Vielen Dank für Schwierige Leute” (“Thank You for Difficult People”) lesson. Everyone knew it was a skit and I’m here thinking these two older women really need to get some issues sorted out. A similar instance happened during another lesson when one of the women started to cry while she told a story. All the other ladies were dabbing their eyes and blowing their nose, and there I am, No Feelings Holly, dry eyed and frantically thinking “What’s wrong?! Why is everyone so sad?? What’s going on?” Thankfully she was just telling a story which happened to be especially touching.

Hopefully this week will bring about more understanding and better speaking. Auto cruise control has always made me nervous, and being in mental cruise control is even worse.

In other news, my purse was stolen about an hour and half ago, so there’s that. While I am extremely miffed, I survived the whole ordeal without being aware it was even taking place!… which I guess isn’t necessarily a good thing. My purse was around me, then it was not around me. Will and I have taken all of the necessary “my stuff was stolen” steps and will spend the morning getting all of my Vienna cards back. Hooraaaay.

So I’m going to eat a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches, and you can enjoy this drawing I did while Will was on the phone with the credit card company. It’s a sad face holding a sad umbrella shielding him from the tears of the sad face surrounded by sad clouds, accompanied by two other crying sad faces. I haven’t actually cried during this ordeal – just my pen.

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Every new language learned gives us the chance to mess up royally and sort of get away with it. Not that we necessarily want to, although I did recently watch a well known TED Talk in which a 35 year old talks about his fluency in 10 languages, achieved because he approached each language with the idea of making at least 100 mistakes a day. That thought alone is brave and commendable, and I’ve even tried to implement this rule into my own German learning each day, but by the first mistake I fumble for words then laugh nervously when I come up without a save.

Will and I have had a few great laughs over something we’ve done or said, or haven’t said, during this time of figuring out day by day how to converse in German-speaking Europe. Thankfully, thankfully, we haven’t said anything offensive, or if we have no one’s told us about it. We haven’t told anyone we have a hangover instead of a male cat, nor have we accidentally, I don’t know, asked for a bra when we meant to say glasses. Bra and glasses aren’t anywhere close to the same words but hey, weird things happen when you’re not speaking in your mother tongue. So yeah, luckily we haven’t done those things, but we have definitely messed up – two in particular that probably could’ve gotten us arrested or at least detained by security.

If you follow us on Twitter, you may remember the constant sorrowful, fairly aggravated tweets about us being at IKEA for hours upon hours while we moved into our new apartment. That was during our second month here, so at that point we were without German classes or much experience in the outside world. During that stretch of IKEA trips, we made one trip to OBI – a store similar to Lowes or Home Depot. Will had his backpack with him because we had come directly from work but neither of us realized this would pose a problem for the store. While we were checking out, the cashier muttered a spew of words that neither of us understood. In cases such as that, which happen often, our rule is to just say “Nein” because we don’t want to accidentally agree to something we don’t want like a lifetime membership card or a subscription to a magazine. The cashier, still looking down, mumbled her sentence one more time since neither of us had responded the last time she spoke. We looked at each other, totally lost, and Will said “Nein”. The cashier shot her head up and looked at us very intently and said “Uh, ja..” then motioned to a sign behind her. That didn’t help us because we couldn’t read the sign, so Will said “Nein” to the frustrated cashier one more time, picked up our purchases, and we left. It wasn’t until much, much later that we found out it is a requirement in most stores for one to open up his or her book bag for the cashier in order to show nothing has been stolen. So, translated, Will’s conversation with the cashier sounded something like…

“Open your book bag please.”
“Uhhh, yes.”
“Mmm…no thanks. Have a nice day.”

A similar thing happened to me at IKEA, only I was alone and there were 6 or 7 other customers waiting behind me as I paid. Whenever I’m alone and in a store, I have to plan out what’s going to happen once I get to the register because, if you’ve never been to a store in Austria or Germany, checking out is a race against the clock. No one bags anything up for you and there’s no such thing as a slow cashier, at least that I’ve encountered. So prior to checking out, I plan out how it’s going to go: Ok. Money’s in my pocket, coin section of my wallet is open, grab 3 blue bags and send them down the belt first, pots and pans will go in one bag, bathroom stuff will go in another, and sheets will go in the last one. She’s going to ask me if I have an IKEA Family card, I say no, then I pay, have a nice day, and run. Let’s do this.

My plans never leave room for spontaneity, meaning if something I’m not ready for happens, it’s probably the end of the world for the next 3 minutes. During this IKEA trip, I decided not to pay with cash and instead paid for everything with my American debit card. I put my card in the little device and waited for everything to go through. The device made a loud beeping noise and the once bored-looking cashier then looked very alert and slightly concerned as she whipped my card out before I could even think to get to it. She asked me a question and I heard “karte”, so I said “Nein” thinking she was asking about the Family IKEA card, you know, going along with my plan. “Nein” was the wrong answer because suddenly she was on the phone with her manager eyeing my card, me, my purchases, and the line of angsty customers. She asked me a different question that I didn’t understand. I asked her auf-Deutsch if my card wasn’t working for her since that’s what I thought the problem was. She stared at me for a second then her face softened and she gave me a “Oooh… you’re not from around here are you?” look as she realized I had no idea what the problem was. Still on the phone with her manager, she flipped my card over and pointed to the plain white strip and said “Kein Unterschrift”. I hadn’t signed the back of my card which is a big no-no in Europe. All at once I realized how our conversation had been playing out:

“Is this your card?”
“This card doesn’t belong to you?”
“Uhh… no.”
“So this card doesn’t belong to you?”
“Is it not working?”
“……ah. There’s no signature.”

I pulled out every card I had with my name, signature, and photo I.D. on it. The cashier was no longer concerned and believed me. She comforted her manager by saying I had a photo I.D. and something about me speaking English. I had to sign my card in front of her, sign the receipt, and I was good to go. I was mortified to say the least.

We haven’t denied a book bag search and I haven’t tried to look like a thief since those events. We’re to the point in our German where we can actually hear and understand 80% of the time what a cashier is saying to us. And if we don’t, we know better now to just admit that our German isn’t great but we would appreciate it if the question could be repeated, please. We’d much, much rather look silly in a store and succumb to mild embarrassment by admitting our Deutsch is “nicht so gut” rather than phone one of our church members from jail, though I’m sure that would be an amusing conversation.

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