Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 12

For those of you who may be unaware, my wife is Austrian, and therefore part of the contractual obligation to dating and ultimately marrying her was that I learn German. This prospect was initially exciting as it meant I had a valid reason to learn a second language I would actually use (apparently saying “kop-khun-krub” to the hotel staff in Thailand doesn’t count).

What I didn’t realise and therefore didn’t factor into the whole equation was how much having a strong grasp of a language empowers a person in their daily life. When it comes to English, it’s not going too far to say that I have a passing competence in its use and don’t really give a second thought to composing emails, phoning a stranger, or writing long-winded blogs about my life. 

But learning German snatched me right back to the start and suddenly, at thirty, I was having to learn everything again. This is no easy thing. Having to stand in a bakery and ask your wife to order you the donut like a kid having a day out with Mum is a humbling thing. I have been guilty of listening to our four year old nephew, Lorenz, going on about his favourite TV show and feeling flush with jealousy at his proficient German skills. I have sat and read children’s books with Lorenz and been suffused with pride that I could read the whole book. A book aimed at four year olds. Trust me, friends, learning a language will keep you modest. 

But, given that I chose to move to this country where the native tongue is German, learn I must. And given that I now find myself locked indoors with my wife who has nowhere to run when I ask her questions about German semantics, what better time is there to continue to build my language skills. And, lastly, as teaching what you’ve learnt is an excellent way to consolidate information, and given that you’re also locked in your homes and have nowhere to run, I thought I’d teach you all some German nouns to occupy your minds until the world turns back on again. You lucky, lucky things.

German

One of the first things you’ll notice is that German is a very literal language. As a novice, this facet is advantageous as the mental connections required to actually get a word to stick to the inside of your brain are already there. Let me give you an example to show what I mean. 

Say you’re an Australian visiting Austria in the winter and you discover that winter in Austria is rather cold, which is to say extremely bloody cold to an Australian to whom winter usually means wearing a jumper with the sleeves rolled down. You realise as you wander through a Christmas market that you are putting yourself at serious risk of frostbite and so set out to buy some appropriate accessories. You wish to let the shop assistant know you would like to purchase some gloves but can’t remember the German word. You can work through the following association exercise to quickly and easily arrive at the right word:

“Gloves. What are they really? Why nothing more than shoes one wears on one’s hands. In essence, they are just a pair of hand shoes.”
Gloves = hand shoes = Handschuhe.

Created with GIMP

Now, say you are a Franz Joseph and Sissi nut (who isn’t, am I right?) and you are keen to see Sissi’s zoo. You arrive at the Vienna zoo and are suddenly exposed to an assortment of animals which you need to identify using only the German names. A daunting task, no doubt, but armed with the word for animal, “Tier”, German has you covered. Just walk through these logical and natural steps and you’ll soon find yourself speaking like a native.

“The sloth. It’s barely moving. My god, they are lazy, aren’t they? I heard they only come down out of their trees once a week to poop and they can lose a third of their body weight when they do finally defecate. Nothing more than just a lazy, lazy animal.”
Sloth = lazy animal = Faultier.

Faultier

“No way, the platypus. Cute little thing. Mad to think that it’s a mammal with a beak. Yep, that beak is a key distinctive feature of the platypus. It’s like some sort of beak animal.”
Platypus = beak animal =
Schnabeltier.

Created with GIMP

“Check out the hippopotamus. Boy, are they big. Anyone else get the urge to ride them? Just saddle up and swim off into the horizon? I’ve always said they’re basically a horse. But, like, one that lives in the river. You know, like a river horse.”
Hippopotamus = river horse = Flusspferd. 

Flusspferd

Next, maybe, you venture into the mountains for a hike and while doing so discover the ancient remains of a hiker. You call the police and are trying to explain that you found the corpse when tripping over the skull, only, and hasn’t this happened to us all, you can’t remember the word for skull! Not a worry, just put one logical foot in front of the other and you’ll soon be arriving at the correct answer.
“Ooh, it’s like a head. Only a creepy head. One that is, like, proper dead. Like a creepy dead head.”
Skull = dead head = Totenkopf.

Totenkopf

Lastly, let’s pretend you’ve had a lovely night out on the town and finished it off by getting seduced by a local (it happens, trust me. They’re very seductive, these Austrians. They invite you over to their country and the next thing you know you’re married to one of them). The next morning you realise that in your passion you failed to use any contraceptive products. You find the nearest Apotheke (pharmacy) and need to ask the pharmacist for the morning after pill. But what’s the word? Easy, just think to yourself:
“Anti-baby pills”. And that’s it. This one’s pretty self-explanatory.
Antibabypillen = anti baby pills = the morning after pill.

Antibabypillen

It is no small thing taking on the learning of a new language and it requires accepting that you have to leave your ego at the door and look foolish from time to time. But through creating associations and using the literal nature of the German language to your advantage, soon you too could be talking as fluent as a four year old. 

You’re stuck indoors, what else are you gonna do?

Tomorrow: Cuisine.

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