Saturday, June 20, 2009

Spricht Deutsch

Dutch and German (having separate languages, people, and countries), like Americans and Canadians, should not be confused one for the other.

As far as speaking goes, both languages are throaty and harsh, and, depending on the person speaking, can be beautiful to listen to or a better-avioded spit-bath. Dutch wins the top prize in my book for being easier to understand, singularly sexed (there are no feminine/masculine changes like in the more-difficult ein/einer/eina German language), a bit more soft, and (I'm playing favorites here, of course), part of my heritage.

Because the two languages are very much alike, mistakes are easy. A great example can be found by looking at the name of both languages. The German language is called Deutsch (doy-ee-ch), which can be easily confused with the Nether-language Dutch. On top of that, (and much to Heidi's dismay), I couldn't help but not only confuse the two and often speak the little German I know in front of her, but also to mistakenly occasionally refer to Dutch people as Germans. Yikes - big difference, Wen.

The the similarities between both tongues is striking, though, as both sound alike in their vocabulary and accent. It was interesting to find that, this morning on my flight from Amsterdam to Munich, the flight attendant began by speaking Dutch and English (repeating all messages in both), but that by the end of the flight (and as if the passengers on board had magically changed nationalities), had politely switched to giving both messages in German and English instead. Although funny, nobody seemed too put off by it - most Dutch speakers can understand German, even though they have difficulty speaking it. It would be my guess that Germans are the opposite, and have no problems hearing or speaking the much-easier Dutch.

Getting around and needing to use it, though has not proved difficult thus far. As the first of our flights took us through Germany on the way to Amsterdam, then back through Germany on our way to Athens, we were immersed in both languages almost immediately. I quickly remembered that I had begun to study a bit of German before leaving for New Zealand 3 years ago. I know about 20 German wrods, including greetings such as 'guten morgen' (good morning) and 'auf wiedershein' (goodnight), helpful phrases such as 'vie ist dast weither' (how is the weather?), as well as common vocabulary words such as Mercedes and Hermes. So, I was prepared (and excited) to use a little bit of German while passing through Frankfurt after our first flight from Japan. That morning, approaching the first customs agent in the airport, I gave a hearty, 'Guten tag!' (good day!), to which he, almost as enthusiastically replied, 'Hey! How're you going!?' So, lucky for us, so far as we've gone through this part of the continent, English has been everywhere.

I have also found that less-common Asian languages, such as Japanese, do not get me very far. Nobody seems to understand 'Sumimasen', and the habit of saying as a common, every-hour phrase has not yet parted crowds, nor summoned an omni-waiting waiter to my table as much as it has just drawn me awkward looks. People are so-far very kind to be interested in hearing about Japan, though, and they always think my little purse washcloth (for drying my hands) is very cute.

So I'll go on my way, continuing to figure out languages one country at a time. For now, though, as I head to Athens, I look forward to another non-Roman alphabet, and figure it will all be Greek to me.

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