Diary of an Expat, Part 54
Getting better at English :D
I don't really have a good way of following up on last week's extensive diatribe so, uh. I won't.

This is my second German fall, and it is proving to be a cold one. The past forty-eight hours have been warmer — warm enough that I made the mistake of leaving my windows open last night◊ — but in general they've been cold enough that the bike to work in the mornings leaves my fingers unpleasantly stiff.

◊A "mistake" because it meant that I woke up at "hammer the fuck out of some boards :D" o'clock in the morning, which is seven.

There's an interesting thing about light in the northerly latitudes, which is that in the fall evenings it seems to have a very grey sort of cast to it. The effect, as with summer and winter in general, is to magnify the effect: there is a decidedly "winter" feeling to the light, which makes the time of year more or less unmistakable.

I find that I enjoy it enough, however. Germans seem to do well with fall — not as well, perhaps, as the Americans, who have adopted it as their season of choice (it being when school starts, when squash is delicious, and when Thanksgiving bids us to indulge in protein and pumpkin pie to feats of marvelous gluttony.

There's not as much wood smoke as I'd like, but as a civilized people perhaps the Germans have shunned burning wood in favor of something more futuristic. Fusion, maybe, though I don't know what that smells like.

I might be able to ask, but I'm not sure. After more than a year in Germany, minus a month or two spent in various other countries, my command of German still remains... let's go with "modest." I am generally able to make myself understood, which is almost always better than my conversational partner manages.

And I apparently have crossed that threshold at which "I don't speak much German" simply means that you should try harder, increasing your volume and speed a bit to really drive home how forcefully you disbelief the assertion. This happened twice today alone.

But it works out well for all that. I went to Conrad, which is the German equivalent of Radio Shack if Radio Shack were not a shambling zombie reeking of despair and uselessness. I did this because I wanted to get some grease suitable for a rubber gasket. There, having failed to find this, I engaged one of the clerks in conversation:

Me: "So, I don't speak much German, but do you have any grease?"
Him: "Grease?"
Me: "Yes. It's for something that is made of plastic and rubber, so... silicon grease?"
Him [rolling his eyes]: "Yes of course we have that" *leads me to the part of the store where they keep soldering irons, pointing to the one remaining tube of grease, which is shoved partway back into the darkness*

I then got a vague lecture about how to apply it, through which I nodded in what I hope was an understanding fashion. Similarly a friendly old woman at the laundromat today kicked off a conversation by saying "excuse me," followed by "have you ever used one of these machines before?"

She was smiling enough that I am not entirely certain it was really meant so passive-aggressively, and in any case her way of doing laundry would save me a couple euros next time (basically she said I was using the wrong settings on the machine). But all of the instructions followed me saying, twice, that I didn't really understand what she was talking about.

The trick may be to try saying that in English?

For my money, the most illustrative point of this subtle transformation came at my favourite restaurant in Berlin, Zum alten Tor, which is permanently frozen in time in 1992, which is one of my very favorite years. The food is good, the soljanka is better, the beer is wonderful and I have only ever seen one person there, a friendly, super-German looking old dude who sort of looks like if a cartoon basset hound decided his best option in life was opening a pub.

He floated around the table for awhile, periodically checking in, and over the course of my meal we had a series of brief conversations, all in German. Ordering the food: German. Ordering drinks: German. Discussing how good the food was: German. Asking for the bill: German.

Then I asked to leave a 20% tip or so, and he said "oh, thank you, good evening."

Because that's how we Americans roll, I guess.
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