When I left the street-art-filled-city of Berlin with Nataly, my new friend from Runneburg, we visited family friends of hers out in the village of Werneuchen for a few days. It was the sort of travel experience that only comes from not having a set schedule and being open to accepting strangers’ hospitality (more on that strangers theme in a few days!).
We gathered around our hosts’ kitchen table on that first afternoon: Nataly, myself, and about four other adults. I quickly learned that I was in the minority as the conversation became more animated. I sat there, listening to a mix of Russian and German, and felt completely lost. During our three weeks at the castle, I had certainly picked up plenty of German words and phrases. I knew good morning (guten morgen), good night (guten nacht), apple juice (apfel saft), pharmacy (apotheke), forbidden (verboten), where is the bathroom (wo ist die toilette), and of course things like please, thank you, and I love you (bitte, danke, Ich liebe dich).
But at the castle and during our subsequent week in Berlin, English was everywhere. I learned what signs meant pretty quickly and was quick to ask Sprechen sie English? to service people, but I almost never had to worry about the fact that I couldn’t carry on a conversation in German. This was different. I felt alone and intimidated and more far away from home than I had during my whole Europe trip. I wished I could disappear, or call up one of my sisters, but I couldn’t. I listened for any recognizable words, observed facial expressions and gestures, and generally tried to ignore my growing feeling of anxiety.
In more recent Europe trips, I’ve been to England, France, Italy, and Spain, all with languages I was either completely comfortable with or could adapt to easily. That afternoon in Werneuchen, Germany stands out for me as its own isolated example of culture shock. It’s one I’m sure I’ll recall in future travels, when I hope to visit places like India, Thailand, and South Africa.
Isn’t language a fascinating thing? I marvel at how much power it has over us, how it has the ability to tear us down, inspire us, confuse us, make us feel more or less alone. Have you ever been surrounded by languages you knew nothing of? Do you have a favorite language? (I know the most Spanish, I took two years of Latin in high school and love having that background, and I’d love to study Italian more).
This post is part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Today was G for Germany. I love discovering so many new blogs through the challenge, and hello to all of my new readers!