Friday, July 2, 2010



(Get it?)

Unrelated, I had a subtle linguistic breakthrough earlier today. I ordered a coffee (in German, but this is no big deal), and the guy asked, "Zu mitnehmnen?" I replied without thinking, "Ja, bitte." For that moment, I did not do any mental translating and simply knew the answer was yes. But then I started thinking, "What the hell did he say? What did I say? What did it all mean?" While he was getting the coffee, it came to me: "zu mitnehmen" means "to go." Simple as that, and hardly on par with understanding a Wagner opera or anything.

But here's why it may be remotely significant: for probably the first time in my entire stint in Deutschweitz, I reacted instinctively to a question in German (as opposed to turning it over in my head like a thorny crossword puzzle), and my instinctive reaction was right. Given the slow rate of progress and my limited chances to practice, the likelihood of progressing too far is slim. But hey, little victories.

Two slightly related linguistic notes:
--Germanoswiss people seem to have no problem with referring to us Americans as, well, Americans. In Spain, for example, this is a big cultural issue. People will argue til they're (literally) red in the face about this, and insist on referring to us as "Estadounidenses" despite very compelling arguments to the contrary. Germanic types seem completely indifferent to this, and actively use the term "American" (or, more accurately, "Amerikaner" when identifying us).

--One of the great things about being in Switzerland is that it's been weeks now since I've heard anyone use the term "douchebag." A few years back, for reasons that remain opaque to me, a massive norm cascade caused this term to be the insult of choice around the States. I found the prevalence of "douchebag" gross and overused when it first happened, and I still do. Blessedly, this term has not yet crossed the Atlantic, and I've been enjoying life without having people refer to lurid feminine hygiene objects every ten goddamned minutes.