Hallo! Ich heiße Margaret. Ich bin Amerikanerin. Ich spreche kein Deutsch.
Hello! My name is Margaret. I am American. I don’t speak German.
These phrases are a small sampling of the many things I’ve learned in my first few days in Germany. From language to culture, it’s been a whirlwind of new experiences — which is why this is my first blog post since arrival. In my defense, I’ve been prioritizing sleep which I think we can all agree is a worthy cause! I’m still fairly exhausted though, so my apologies if the writing isn’t quite up to snuff. I’ll add lots of pretty pictures to distract you :)
Rather than take you through the details of each day I’ve spent here, I’ll give you the SparkNotes version and then get on to my impressions of German life and what I’ll be up to in the coming days.
- A chaotic arrival at Samuel’s after having gotten on the wrong train, discovered this issue, returned to Frankfurt, gotten on the correct train, and finally reached St. Wendel two hours later than planned.
- A lovely dinner with my host family after which I went directly to bed.
- First day of German school! Important things to note: I leave for school at 6:50 AM, I may have only attended one class (and it was English), and there is a coffee shop/bakery in the school. It’s possible the tiredness led to a slight lack in motivation…oh well.
- Met up with Natalie, her German student, Laurine, and another American named John. We went to Laurine’s house for a bit before heading back into town for dinner with more of our group where I had my first traditional German food — currywurst!
- Early to bed, once again (I do not recommend jet-lag).
- Wonderful excursion with the American GAPP students to Heidelberg, one of Germany’s oldest towns.
- Toured a beautiful castle and the old town, wandered into bookstores (I bought a German phrasebook!), and ate a “Schneeball” (snowball) which is a delicious pastry made of a pie crust-like dough with yummy filling and icing.
- Got stuck in horrendous traffic on a bus with broken air conditioning for many hours.
- Birthday celebration for my host brother, Finn! I met Samuel’s grandma, uncle, and cousin — it was so much fun!
- School! And I actually went to classes this time.
- Attended a French class, a German tutoring session for Syrian refugees which Laurine helps teach, and English class. Both Samuel and Laurine had this seminar-class-thing during the last two periods, so Natalie and I went downtown to explore. It’s such a cute little village! No pictures yet, but surely many to come.
- Had lunch with Samuel and my host mom, Silke, before Samuel and I headed out on a bike ride around Urexweiler, our village, and a run on trails in the forest. It felt so good to be active, especially after all the traveling, and the countryside here is stunning.
- Dinner with Leah, her German student, Sophie, and some of Sophie’s classmates at a Chinese restaurant in town. In case you were wondering, German Chinese food and American Chinese food are pretty much exactly the same :)
- TOOK THE BUS HOME FROM ST. WENDEL BY MYSELF AND DIDN’T FAIL. It’s a 1/2 hour bus ride, so this is an accomplishment.
So now that you have an idea of what I’ve been up to, let’s get into the good stuff. Admittedly I have been very tired these first few days (do I sound like a broken record yet?), but I’ve still been trying to squeeze everything I can out of every opportunity.
One of the things which has made me the most excited and the most nervous is language. For the past few months, I’ve been using an app called Duolingo (highly recommend!) to learn some basic German phrases and words. While I can by no means communicate effectively, I have found myself able to read signs, or at least decipher them. It’s been so fascinating to be in a country where I don’t speak the language at all — my previous foreign experience is mostly French where communication isn’t a problem. My brain has been bouncing all over the place, from French to what little Spanish I know to my extremely limited German and even to my Hindi, in an attempt to create something that works. Of course, that is completely useless seeing as no one here speaks Hindi or Spanish, very few speak sufficient French, and I speak no German. However, I can definitely feel myself picking up more words and phrases every day. There’s no way I’ll be able to even hold a conversation after only two weeks, but I’ll have enough to show off and annoy everyone back home ;)
This may sound ridiculous, but the cultural difference which has affected me the most is water consumption. Germans do not drink water.* If you know me, I drink at least three 18 ounce bottles a day, so the lack of water fountains in this country is appalling to me. I have, however, already figured out that the ladies who work in the bistro at school are very nice and will fill my bottle for me, and that the bathroom sink water is very cold and good to drink. While I’m getting by fine, I’m definitely feeling a bit of dehydration — and no, sparkling water is not a good substitute. On the other hand, I have been able to drink tea with breakfast every morning which is simply wonderful.
*yes, this is a gross generalization but it has dramatic effect in a paragraph. Let me live my life.
That brings me to food. I haven’t been particularly hungry these first few days (if you don’t believe me, ask my host family), but I’ve noticed one distinct German food staple: bread. Bread for breakfast, bread with a little bit of sandwich fillings between it for a snack, more of the same for another snack later, maybe a pretzel in case you’re hungry between snack #2 and lunch (which may or may not involve bread), etc — Germans love their bread. I’m certainly not complaining, after all who doesn’t appreciate good bread, but it’s also a significant adjustment from my usual protein, fruit, and vegetable-heavy diet. When in Germany, right? Though everything I’ve had has been good, the highlight was probably spaghettieis, which I had on Tuesday. I don’t feel like explaining it (see the many comments about being exhausted above), so here’s the Wikipedia definition: “Spaghettieis (German pronunciation: [ʃpaˈɡɛtiˌaɪs]) is a German ice cream dish made to look like a plate of spaghetti. In the dish, vanilla ice cream is extruded through a modified Spätzle press or potato ricer, giving it the appearance of spaghetti. It is then placed over whipped cream and topped with strawberry sauce (to simulate tomato sauce) and either coconut flakes, grated almonds, or white chocolate shavings to represent the parmesan cheese.” Need I say more?
I could probably write another 1000 words about little observations I’ve made, but it is 10:20 PM and I have to get up at 5:45 AM. So I’ll save those for next time. Tomorrow, I’m joining some of the other Americans on a trip to Metz, France! The 5th grade class is going and has generously agreed to let us tag along. I’m so excited! Saturday is a trip to Europa Park, an amusement park about three hours away, with a few of the German and American students. Samuel is on a class trip tomorrow through Tuesday, but the other German hosts are being wonderful about including me in their plans. There are so many more adventures to come and I can’t wait to share them. Until next time, tschüs!