Little miss Greek me

So I’ve spent 3 weeks in Greece. I can’t talk about being back at Uni in Freiburg. My brain hasn’t quite come back from Greece yet. I have so much to write in here, but I doubt I will get to half of it. I wanted to write during the seminar in Corfu, but I was using the bf’s old computer and it was so slow, and I was so tired, that I kept falling sleep before I managed to type up anything.

Where do I even begin? I don’t want to discuss the seminar, except to say it was a huge waste of time. And the people at the Greek university that I was hoping would turn into helpful contacts ended up being disinterested and a major let-down. I have a 15-page paper to write and I have no idea how to do it. That PISSES me off. It also certainly comes as no surprise that a group of young (21 year old) students from Athens and Saloniki would be stuck up and think they are better than me because my Greek isn’t perfect yet and that the co-ordinator of the program was busy enough to be unreliable and insincere. But oh well, my Greek improved. And I don’t care what strangers think of me. If that were the case, I would be much less honest here.

But I am not so inexperienced and immature to let a few stupid narrow-minded people upset me and ruin my whole trip. Outside of the (often 8+) hours wasted at the university everyday my time in Corfu was amazing. And I want to talk about Greece.

My friend Giota and her mother have told me a number of times that I am more Greek than many Greeks, or Greek-Americans. How weird it is for me to belong somewhere where I don’t belong. When I am in Greece, I am home. Period. End of story. I am more at home there than in Germany, and dare I say it, even America.

I mean I define my American identity as part of the counter-culture that resists the lull of complacency and technology that distract us from changing the system and tearing off the chains of student debt and political apathy and consumer loyalty that enslave us. Am I American, yes, but I resist almost every label that comes with it. Is that option part of America, of course. I have many like-minded friends, but when I go home I see people that care, but feel powerless and when I am home the influence of my own culture slowly seeps in, until I too begin to go with the flow and stop questioning whether small decisions can indeed change things. I am much more comfortable away from “home”, looking at things with a critical eye and knowing why I don’t belong anymore. I guess some would call it being a europhile snob, but I think I get so angry because I care. All the things I was told and believed in good faith during high school and college turned out to be lies. I am disillusioned with my country. But I will still defend to all the bastards, (sorry but I’ve lost my patience) I meet here who think that just because they’ve learned English in school and have studied abroad during college they know it better than me. (Oh the next time I will have to write about how infuriating it is to belong to a country and mother tongue that the rest of the world thinks they own claim to, but that’s enough for now, before I get too far off topic.)

In Greece I belong. Not in a naive way. I lay no claim to it, like all the Greek-American friends I have. I didn’t choose it. I resisted it, but it always found a way back into my life. Greece chose me people. Don’t try and tell me otherwise unless you want to spend a whole day listening to my whole life story. Because in the end you will have to agree with me. I am not trying to “be Greek”. I am Greek. When I taught the kids, I let them discuss America and hid how much Greek I understood. I was a good teacher, not because I was American, but because I was like a Greek they spoke English with. Some traits we didn’t share. I am my own person, but because their culture was my culture, it was easy to understand each other, even if they never realized why. I asked them about their dance group for instance, and they never realized their teacher had been dancing these dances before they had been born.

And that’s when I knew it was too late. I wasn’t trying to prove it, I didn’t have to show it off. It was a part of me and maybe it was always meant to be that way. That’s another reason this Corfu seminar was so funny. I think the group of students were waiting for me to come up and beg them to talk to me cause they were so cool and I was trying to learn the language, but I wasn’t bothered, because I (no longer) don’t have to befriend every Greek person I meet, especially those I think are spoiled brats and behave rudely.

Here I am then, with so many ties to the land, the culture, the language, the food. I think I underestimated the influence of growing up in the Greek church. I mean for goodness sake, I taught myself the Greek alphabet at 8 years old, so I could follow along in the liturgy and I learned these sounds myself at 10 when I starting singing them in the choir. This language, while not modern Greek was imprinted onto my heart and soul. In Corfu I went to a Wednesday night lenten service, which I was never able to attend in Nbg, because I always had to work, and even after so many years of not attending, I still knew all the words to the psalms/chants, which surprised me even as I was singing along.

Did I grow up speaking the language fluently? No but I grew up hearing the sounds  on a regular basis and it makes sense that these sounds are part of my identity in a way that German never will be, even if it’s not the same sounds that you might hear on the streets of Athens. Just like I grew up as “Greek-orthodox” as all the rest of the 3rd generation grandkids did too. I had adopted Greek yiayias. I danced at Greek fest, dropped out of Greek school, sung in the choir, went to Sunday school, ate and cooked Greek food, was part of youth group and had about 100 Greek words that we used for certain things. My church friends were normal Americans with this Greek thing that we all did together. I didn’t grow up in New York and mostly I was spared from the insecure exclusionary closing of rank that sometimes persists in certain Greek American cultures until I was nearly an adult. After that I swore to never marry a Greek boy and I placed my faith above the culture and that was that.

Even in my first trip to Greece in 2005, I stayed mostly focused on my faith, and not worried about my identity. But it was then that I realized Greek Americans were more than anything else, American and Greeks in Greeks were far more diverse than people at home had led me to believe. And so I became curious to find out who these people really were, that it seemed I’d spent my whole childhood learning about.

For instance on this trip I wanted a spanikopita. I asked a woman at a rest-stop. She made no sound, no movement, but simply rolled her eyes. I was so shocked, I thought, “how rude!”, but by the end of the trip I discovered that an upward jolt of the chin and a rolling of eyes means “no” and doesn’t even require a sound. But if you don’t feel like saying, oxi you can tsk with your tongue and that alone can mean “no” too. Oh how far I’ve gotten in my life with this head movement. I tsked no to the kids all the time. It saved countless hours of useless discussion. I’ve been using it now since at least 2009. And btw “yes” is similar, a slow nod down to the right.

And so I traveled and lived in Greece, made Greek friends, went to the Greek Church, and finally, accidentally got my job teaching Greek kids, met the most hilarious caring guy who happened to be Greek and I guess sealed my fate into this culture.

When I was a teenager I used to be mad at my dad for making my life needlessly complicated and forcing me to be the outsider. It would definitely make things more comfortable for me if I looked the part, or could just say that I am Greek American. Sometimes in Greece when I don’t want to discuss things, I do. But usually I try to keep things honest and short. I can now choose from 3 explanations, or even 4 depending on my mood. My dad’s a priest, although that normally ends with them frustrated that at least one of my parents isn’t somehow Greek. That my boyfriend is Greek, which is the one I use mostly now, since it’s the shortest and most logical explanation. The third involves me being a teacher for 3 years. Sometimes I just say I like the language and my bf tells people I just like Greece, which I hate the most cause it simplifies things too much. No one really ever gets all 3 unless I feel they can be trusted to listen carefully enough to understand it.

This trip was different in so many ways from all the other times before it, because this time the language we used together in front of others was nearly exclusively Greek. It was also coming back to Crete, the place where I fell in love with Greece, the place where I decided belonging to Greece could be a good thing. The first time I ever felt a part of the Greek culture and not just a part of the church.

My boyfriend has always listened to me and accepted my childhood and identity for what it is. He has never passed judgement or made assumptions about the situation I grew up in. He is the first and only man who got to know and fell in love with me for me, and not for what he assumed or hoped I was like. Our love for Greece is a huge part of our relationship. It’s a place we both feel at home. *Funny aside though, the only thing that he didn’t expect was a few years ago, when we were on the island of Skiathos and I bought all my ingredients in a market and made my favorite Greek dishes without any help or recipe. I think he had never dared to hope I was so Greek in that respect.*

Being in Crete was amazing. I hardly need to say it. I showed him all the things that I found so, well magical those many years ago. The lemon and orange blossoms were blooming. I’ll never be able to smell those without thinking of Crete. The tinkling of sheep bells on top of the mountains. The weathered Cretan men who look like they’ve come from another time period. The accent. The snow-capped peaks as you sit on the beach with your toes in the water. The blue of the waves. The soft Cretan cheese. The mountain greens. The chilly evenings. The Cretan folk music guiding you around the dangerously winding roads, hugging the sky. The hawks soaring above the mountains. The shaggy goats coming out to greet you. The Venetian-styled cities. The rocket fuel called raki.

When I am in Crete I think in English and Greek prose. I have so many poems about Crete. All terrible, but who cares.

If one day you never here from me and you think I am dead, go to Crete, up to the mountains and ask someone where the crazy American is, and you’ll find me alright.

We spent the whole week talking about what we wanted for the future. But not about the “romantic us”, about the practical stuff like the values we wanted to hold onto, about the difficulties each country would bring, about how we could make our careers work in each other’s best interest, about the difficulty of raising children in two languages, about where we wanted home to be. Because two people who both don’t belong to the country they choose to live in, visiting the country they both most feel at home in awakens a longing that is hard to explain to anyone who has not experienced something like that themselves.

I would give up so many things to live in Greece, my bf would not. But we haven’t completely given up the possibility either.

But Crete wasn’t all. I spent two weeks in Corfu (Kerkyra). The people there were so friendly. I had so many nice moments where people patiently let me speak in my slow Greek, sincerely helping me choose gifts for my niece and nephew in a warm fashion. The neighborhood priest told me the time for liturgy. The women in the church got an extra candle for me to hold during the service when I was standing without one. The shopkeepers called me “my girl”, “my doll”, “my love”, “my beauty”. (Sure it’s like the dear or hun in America, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it!) The people in the neighborhood smiled back when I was smiling. I made jokes about my bad Greek that were sometimes funny. I got to speak to adorable little kids running around without their parents giving me dirty looks. I found a great place for vegetarian pitas, where the owners made me and the German girls I brought with me feel welcome. I found homemade pita place for breakfast where the sisters running it got so flustered that I wanted to bring my plate in. I started recognizing the people there in the city. I had long conversations with a man in a gyros stand, waiting for my fries about the crisis, and later in the week when I passed by the shop, he was standing outside and waved to me as I walked by. (This might seem normal to Americans, but in Germany it’s normal to sort of ignore people on the street after one interaction). I also had a long conversation with a man in the student cafe who told me about good dishes to try. Both were just friendly normal conversations that I miss so much in Germany. In the student cafeteria, the woman offered to serve up the lenten octopus dish when at first I only wanted some beans. The woman in the bakery gave me an extra little bit of bread every time I came in.

I had at least a hundred little stupid conversations, which weren’t always friendly or nice, and I had to be really active in making sure all these interactions took place in Greek. But every interaction brought my language skills further, and even though the people spoke far to quickly for me at times (the accent on the island is sped up, popularly attributed to the Italian occupation) they were not arrogant when I asked them to slow down or repeat it. I felt welcomed and at home by the people of the island. I feel at home in Crete, but that’s sometimes despite the people.

I got stuck in Crete one extra night because of all the strong winds and I laughed because Crete wasn’t ready for me to leave just yet. Then I went to Corfu and was blown away by the people and shocked by how quickly I had settled in in two weeks. You can put your body on an airplane and take it where ever you like, but your heart follows different rules.

Saying goodbye to Irakleon

Saying goodbye to Irakleon

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A little Euro-work never hurt anybody

Edit

Re-reading this again, it seems that I think only European women are capable of being catty. That is not my opinion at all. It’s just an example of how my normal American strategy of being nice no matter what, is ridiculous here. If I’m nice, I’m a pushover, and possibly incompetent as well. My teaching can speak for itself, but if I want to be respected as a person, I need to vocalize my observations in a way that as an American I would normally try to avoid at all costs. Nor am I trying to put a value judgement on either case. Both of these systems have their merits. I simply  wanted to remark on how behavior as an ex-pat changes little by little.

Edit

One thing that is certainly different from life in America vs in Europe, is compliments and advice. Both are doled out with a bit more forethought than in America.

There are times certainly when I miss the easy-going exchange of compliments between acquaintances. Usually a quick, hey, nice dress! makes the day just a little bit more pleasant.

On the other hand when you are on the receiving end of them here, it certainly means more.

The other day I got a compliment from the maths teacher at the Greek school. I’ve been doing my best recently to say a few things whenever I see him, cause the first year we just awkwardly greeted each other since his English is non-existant , and he’s friends with my bf’s friends. I also hate when I’m causing something to be awkward, but also he really gives a lot of himself for the kids and I respect that, as well as in the beginning we both laughed about our language struggles: my Greek and his German. Maybe for that reason he would always listen patiently and speak slowly, which God knows is rare enough with the Greeks

At any rate while copying, he told me: Your Greek is perfect! I remember when you came here, you couldn’t speak one word.

Ok so the Greeks use perfect to mean wonderful, wicked, fantastic, but it’s still feels great to hear it!  And I could read the alphabet and order in a restaurant/cafe two years ago. So it wasn’t nothing. But he’s right, it wasn’t that much either.

But I knew he wasn’t just saying that from our stilted conversations. He’s been listening to the kids speak to me in rapid-fire Greek when the door is open, and he’s been listening to what the students tell him (Goodness knows they never shut up with their gossip).

I don’t want to be dramatic, but I’ve been working towards that compliment since I started. So that at the end of 3 years, I can look back and say look how far I’ve come. I didn’t even say thank you, my brain was working so hard to think of something correct to respond with.

I’m such a perfectionist. I mean here I am chatting and communicating, however imperfectly with the bf’s parents and friends and my co-workers and kids, and meanwhile I’m still beating myself up for my Greek.

This stage is the hardest stage to realize I think. You’ve been learning and learning and listening and listening, and even once you’ve grasped all those grammar concepts you’ve still got a long road ahead of you memorizing all those verb forms. And a few embarrassing mistakes keep your mouth glued shut, but despite all that, one day you realize that coming out of your mouth is a string of words, that actually make sense and no one is laughing at you. Suddenly you’re singing along to the Greek songs without realizing you know all the words.

I suppose very soon I’ll stop ending every Greek sentence to my bf with, that was correct, right? and kicking my feet with glee.

Anyway that little well-timed compliment breathed more motivation into my Greek studies and just made my whole week a little bit nicer.

It’s funny how with some people you don’t really need to say a lot to know that you respect each other and that you’re on the same page.

It’s totally not that way with my other co-worker. I won’t waste too much time except to say two things: one, she is completely unobservant at work. At the beginning of the year, she wasn’t sure if I spoke any German. I’m not expecting her to memorize my major, but dear God I speak it with all the classes we share, and in front of her all the time. Secondly, she’s incapable of seeing her own mistakes.

So I’m only mentioning this to get to a story about my very European, sometimes more catty than I’d like, work-life.

Good we share classes, and in every class, we mark down, what has been done and what the homework is for the next lesson. I’d have enough money for a weekend-trip if I got a Euro every time my lovely coworker, forgot to either write a page number down, grade the vocab, print out copies, at times, lose the whole sheet, misplace the notebooks, etc,etc.

The first year, probably because I made such an effort to be friendly looking back now, she just didn’t respect me. But fine I’m younger and she doesn’t think I know my own grammar, like other native speakers.

The second year I tried to joke about her tendency to lose things. She looked at me like I was a UFO. After my blood pressure sank again, I decided I was going to go about this differently.

My first instinct was to go to my boss, but that wouldn’t fly, and I’d be an idiot to jeopardize the respect my boss has for me. The nice American needed to be suppressed. So I just verbally expressed my irritation when her poor work performance affected me, called her out for losing things and ignored her look of surprise, stopped saying sorry, or please, or thank you and just in general let her know that I saw her mistakes and it was irritating me. Because it was.

See, for better or worse, in America I’d be nice. I don’t like being catty. I don’t like stupid passive-aggressive notes that the Germans all seem to be experts at, because none of them are EVER wrong EVER.

I got a little too wound up, by her behavior and she definitely made the connection that I was irritated in her presence. So I snapped out of it. It’s not healthy. Everyone makes mistakes. I love what she does for the kids. I think she’s a great role model. I think she speaks great English and I would have liked to be more friendly with her.

BUT this week written in my course sheet, I see the note, pls write everything done in lesson.

So I can’t just read it and say nothing. I ask what I missed. Just 2 activities on a page, whoops mistakes happen. If she’s gonna to write notes like a child *ahem* German adult, she’ll have to deal with my reaction too. I can’t take it lying down, or we’ll be back to her not respecting me anymore. We American women really need some extra prep lessons, should we ever chose to live abroad.

Then today, I asked for my notebook for my next class, which she had been keeping in her room, I get it, glance at it, it looks fine, but once the lesson starts, it becomes clear that she has merely written arbitrary numbers on this sheet. Not having the chance to look at it any earlier, and not being able to recognize that book revision had been completed last time, I was unable to make the revision copies that we actually needed for the lesson, which was her job anyway.

Look the kids think it’s weird, they would like me to be totally confused and not check any homework, but I’m an old pro now. It’s no big deal. I’d rather just ignore this, sweep it under the rug, we all make mistakes. But that’s the thing: in my co-worker’s mind, I make mistakes, she doesn’t see hers.

So I write a note and loathe myself at the same time for doing it. On the way out, I confirm that I’ll need another lesson book for my early extra class tomorrow, so I’m not stuck, locked out of her room and improvising. Meanwhile she let’s me know I have writing to look forward to. She doesn’t want to admit it, but she can’t grade writing that quickly, which I think is normal and have told her she’s welcome to give me extra writings on occasion, but she can’t admit that, so instead practically every single class and every single unit, I am doing the writing. Joy.

Case in point, this is my work life in Europe, and dare I say it, but we are pretty much getting along even. I don’t like being so petty. But I’ve got the more experience, plus it is my native language, so I had darn well get some respect, at least for not losing everything I take home.

By the time I get to my 30’s, compared to my American counterparts, I am really going to be a piece of work.

You know all the things I would do in America, that to me mean absolutely nothing, except, hey we’re sharing the same room at the moment, let’s make it pleasant, can be too much here. I mention something to my boss, and she’s known me for awhile, but if it is even leaning in the direction of maybe being about my personal life, she dismisses me and ends the conversation.

It’s not like I’m finding out about this for the first time, but really it does surprise me, how much I constantly have to repress in emails and phone calls and classes, because no one wants to hear it.

However, were you as a woman to wear, what some would consider, an inappropriate shoe choice, you will be stared up and down all day, followed by a scowl, a smirk, or an eye-roll and I tell you, as an American if that isn’t more personal and more offensive than telling your boss the name of the town you visited on holiday, I don’t know what is.

Oh but hey, it’s their country and I’m just living in it. I’ll take the good, ignore the bad, and ain’t nobody better underestimate this face of mine as being young and a pushover.

Debunking the Myth of Language Perfection

Surely to say Dec. was busy would be an understatement. Ever since I’ve embraced the European lifestyle more-or-less, I’ve done my best NOT to drop the “I’ve been so busy” excuse in every conversation. The sort of thing I used to hear and say without a second thought in Ami-land, with the sort of casual, oh I’m just so important undertones, thinly disguised with some insincere humility and fake irritation. In Europe (or at least away from the major cities) there’s no value in being busy for busy’s sake.

But visiting friends, deadlines, school prep, German coursework, gifts, decorations and packages to be sent. You know the drill. I was hardly the only one, but I tell you I was struggling in the end to hold out for my two weeks. I could feel my fried brain trying to stay on top of everything, until quite embarrassingly for me, it gave out, just when my guests arrived. I couldn’t find the right words in English when speaking with them, and my brain got fed up with German and refused to help me out during lessons with the kids. And you better believe that Greek was completely out of the question! Everything came out in a mishmash.

I didn’t mind mocking myself with my guests, and bf, but didn’t feel like setting a poor example for the kids, so just ignored German in my lesson and tried to muddle through it and I started wishing I only had my bf to deal with, who would understand all the words I was spewing out.

There’s been many things meanwhile I wanted to mention and comment on. Even though it’s still the same ole’ routine, things change slowly and subtly. But that’s all yesterday’s snow as they say in German. I can’t comment on the happenings of a whole month in one go.

I did manage to hold out though and had the most relaxing weekend I’ve had in a long time. Plus the bf got 2 extra days off, for a total of 4 in a row, which got him off his swollen feet for a while. Of course we spent time with his family, and they invited me to stay over as long as I wanted and relax, but that involves more planning and I was happy to have no responsibilities and hang out on my sofa reading and watching Christmas specials together, when we’d made the requisite visits. He’s back to work today, but I’m going to further ignore all responsibilities until Saturday, and then I’ll start being a good little productive member of society again.

I was so relaxed, I even surprised myself with how good my Greek was with the bf’s family after having basically done no Greek since August. I’m so tired of feeling mentally half-aware and capable. But it seems that with enough sleep, enough mindless reading and letting my hands work the stress out through lots of knitting, my brain is more than happy to chatter away in Greek. It’s all up there in my brain, even if it never comes out right when I want it.

That’s the frustrating thing about a language: it goes away the moment you neglect it, despite all the hard work you’ve invested.

On the other hand though, I guess it’s like anything in life. How many things could I use to do well, that I’ve since forgotten? Play the flute, sing, pottery, even the basics of knitting before my little brush-up talk with a friend.

Reading more is helping, at least I can picture the word I want before I decide how it could be pronounced. And my 5 weeks have helped make me more aware of how I can express myself more succinctly in German and fit my vocab to the occasion.

We watched an extremely interesting documentary about a Japanese woman who left her home in the 70’s for a Cretan sailor she had met. Quite a rare story in Greece, especially in that time.

She said a few things and I knew exactly what she meant. Like when she went back when her mom was ill, she was watching the news together in the hospital and instead of talking about all the serious things she wanted to say, she simply told her mom (in Japanese mind you) that she didn’t understand the news broadcast. And she didn’t. And her mom couldn’t believe her. And from the sofa, I was saying, I got you girl. The fact that I sympathized with the daughter, not the mom was amusing.

Her brother and sister came to visit and though they spoke in Japanese, she spoke too directly (i.e. Greek) and they thought she was egoistic and were in fact so offended that they stopped talking to her when they returned. She had to drag her and her son all the way out to Japan to clear things up, saying: I make mistakes in Greek and I can’t speak Japanese the way I should, and shaking her head in frustration. She’ll always be a foreigner in Greece, but she’s not much better in her country of birth. I was riveted.

Sometimes I look up the expressions I say in German to remind myself what they are in English. About 10 times during my phone conversation with my family tonight,  I spoke to my dad in German or said expressions that I couldn’t quite remember exactly how they were in English and my dad filled in the blanks. Were it not for the internet and skype and my whole teaching English gig, I could easily imagine losing chunks of my English that I didn’t use everyday, especially over a 30 year isolated span.

Impossible, you might say. Well not for good. Just it would get sorted to the back of my filing system and covered in dust as the years went by.

We watch other shows about Germans who emigrate to the US and then listen in horror to German spoken with the broadest hokiest accent by someone who’s never been to the land of their parent’s birth. Or the broken German they speak translating the words they’ve learned word for word, from English, but never having to have thought in this language they can’t express themselves properly.

At least are my thoughts mother-language-like, when not my accent. (Exactly translated.)

So my English swings back and forth sometimes and my teacher accent takes a week or so to lose when I return home, but I don’t care. When I lived in London, I adopted this stupid phony British lilt, and I had to make myself understood in a noisy pub and I don’t care. Saved me time and talk.

The Germans who go live in France have a slight French accent in their native tongue. It’s ridiculous but true.

It must be the first thing we do as humans and I think it’s a damn good survival mechanism, being able to fit the current situation and sort useless information to the back of our brain. I also don’t think an accent is a permanent situation. It just takes muscle re-training in our mouths. My friends have done it and it’s next on my to-do list for German. It was fun for a while, but now I’d just like to be taken a bit more seriously.

I don’t know what the future will hold. I hope it’s a long happy life with the bf, family and friends amusing myself with language self-improvement projects and stretching my abilities as far as I’m able. But I’ve decided I can’t take the whole scenario so seriously anymore. I can’t wear a chip on my shoulder as the American who always has to prove herself. If my brain feels like peacing out and ordering a rabbit coffee instead of a little pot, I’ve just got to roll with the punches. It’s in there, whether the waitress believes me or not is her problem.

We’d all like to lie to ourselves about our abilities, but a language is just simply not something that can be done perfectly and I think I’ll just enjoy this new acceptance while it lasts.

Merry Christmas from the Christkindl City to you and yours. I wish you all a good slide into the New Year!

This little Ami can German.

Language is such a power struggle. It can bring about such complicated control-issues in the dynamics of a relationship.

I remember when we were all studying abroad here. We always elected one person from the group to do our speaking for us in the beginning. It was the most language confident individual. Then of course we naturally deferred to these people in other group decisions. And wrongly at times, resented them for the situation we ourselves had put them in.

Later in our fits of jealousy we would all get catty with each other about who was most correct, who had the most correct accent, who had the most correct turn of phrase, who understood the most. I remember in fact being relieved when all but 2 left before the 2nd semester, because it meant, like it or not I would have to take on a more active role in my learning.

My German has highs and lows. I’ve neglected it, I’ve abused it, I’ve been obsessed with it, I’ve been embarrassed by it, I’ve used it to show off, it seems that just when I need it most, it fails me but then again out of the blue I’ll amaze myself with my competence.

Now let me share something slightly shocking with you: The rest of the world does not really expect any Americans (or English speakers) to manage to speak a language whatsoever competently.

And at times I think it’s double so hard, because when your accent is still raw and not worn-in every European thinks it’s their job to take away your precious chance to spit out a few correct sentences and cut you off with their unimpressive school English. Often times this is accompanied by an over-inflated sense of how fantastic their language prowess is and you have to fight through their accent, poor grammar, their ego and very frequently a few rushed sentences about how they either want to or have been to America to get to the point of the matter.

A few examples: I needed a new DVD-drive, went to the computer store to see if I could just buy the part. He told me even though it’s the exact same computer I have to buy it in America. Fine I was ready to go, but he needed to tell me his personal thesis on why American service is better. It is, but they’re all either corporate slaves or tip-whores and it’s not free either, esp. in the HP world of laptops. Plus he’d never lived in America and he was speaking only from his limited experience travelling. He couldn’t help me. I wanted to go. However at least it was a German convo.

Another time, I was buying somethings in the city center. An extra bottle of water somehow got scanned with my stuff. I told her the total seemed a bit high. She switched over to English, but was taking twice as long to explain the situation. I switched her back over and we were both relieved.

A really nasty example was my eye doctor recently. She was speaking way too quick for me and using complicated scientific eye terms on purpose. (I know at times it sounds all very suspicious that I meet so many bitches, but they really are. I am not exaggerating. If anything it’s the opposite! I meet plenty of nice people too, but as this is how I feel people should behave it doesn’t strike me as unusual.) She wanted to send me out quickly and didn’t care if I understood everything. I asked her what this eye-net thing was she was talking about it. She switched over to an icy-tone and said it in English. I looked it up later. You can say Retina in German. I don’t need to learn every single word in the German language. Most nice people just explain it in one or 2 words. But I guess if you want to show people you think they’re an idiot you switch over to their native language in the most condescending tone you can muster. I kept on in German anyway and left with no intention of going back.

When I was studying abroad I went into a bit more expensive shop cause I always liked the clothes even though I could only afford maybe a shirt. I was just poking around, when the young uni-aged shop assistant came to help me, he spoke English and I decided I wasn’t going to play around anymore. We spent 5 minutes chatting, he in English and I in German. I was very proud of my stubbornness and my new phrase in the pub was, Ich habe mein Ticket nach Deutschland gekauft. Du kannst selber nach Amerika reisen, wenn du dein English auffrischen willst.

Basically bugger off, we’re in Germany.  

I’ve worked on my accent tons. But it still gets noticed, especially in Starbucks, but usually then, only by those really intent on showing off. Normally I make my order nice and long in German just so that it’s clear I’m not a tourist and they don’t do what this girl did to me this weekend. I said tall –soya– latte. And then she turns to her coworker who wants to know my drink order, sighs and says wait it’s so hard to translate all-the-sudden, in German. I nearly said I speak perfect German, but we can do it your way. But I bit my tongue. It’s Starbucks I get it.

These are the Germans and they’re nice, they like Americans and they like English, but it’s hard to constantly feel like you have to convince them that THIS American can speak German! It’s a reason to work on my little mistakes, learn more authentic expressions and tighten that accent up a bit.

I don’t want to speak German well for an American, or a foreigner. I want to speak it well. PUNKT

Most Americans give up, or don’t push themselves cause the English offensive is so strong, there’s no point.

The Greeks are especially hard. I’ve been laughed out outright, told to give up, asked why I’m learning, told it’s like totally the hardest language in the whole world, so I’ll never be clever enough, told that all Greeks speak perfect English, so there’s no point. In general I’ve been criticized more than encouraged.

No one learns modern Greek fluently expect maybe Albanians and some misc. Eastern Europeans. They think an accent is the most hilarious thing they’ve ever heard. For this reason I have hammered my accent into near native speaker perfection. No stranger I spoke to in Greece this summer guessed I was American. And it was like entering another world. They all wanted and expected me to speak Greek and to continue improving. They told me what a beautiful language it was.

I agree. It’s the language of my heart. I love Greek music, Greek poems, Greek dance, Greek food. I love all the funny expressions they use constantly to make the same stupid jokes over and over again. I love all the sounds. I love the long words. I love the sing-song questions. I love speaking Greek to my BF and seeing his stupid grin cause we’re both thinking on the same wavelength. I love calling everything mine: my child, my love, my eyes, my girls, my time (on time). I love the diminutive form. I love telling the kids to go well, to always be well, to say, happy week, happy month, many years, well met (welcome), good winter, good summer. I love how they greet me and make sure to say bye when they leave.

I love how they tell jokes in Greek, explode into laughter, try to translate in English, it makes no sense, I have them explain slowly in Greek until I start to giggle too. I love how when you learn the root in Greek you automatically know or can very nearly guess the noun, the person, the adjective and the adverb.

But no adult Greeks made it easy for me. It was all my goofy kids, who made fun of me still, but corrected me with respect and admiration.

Here’s my wish and I guess to sum up. I wish we English speakers could band together and be a little bit more of a pain in the butt for all these foreigners making a mess of our 3 future tenses, using will for everything. Goodness knows the French do it well enough and people still bother learning it. People have to learn English. Why do we have to be so frickin’ nice about the terrible state of their prepositions and their total and utter neglect of the present perfect tenses. Why can’t we tell the French to pronounce the H and the Germans that it’s THE not dza.

Which of you English speakers have been so nice and giving these idiots compliments they don’t deserve so that I am inflicted with pompous guys whose English is far worse than my German, but still insist on making fun of my inability to consistently pronounce ü.

Man if someone’s English is crap could maybe we please tell them that for once instead of lying to their face with this stupid, oh it’s not so bad, shit. Trust me the rest of the world constantly returns the favor to all us ex-pats and on top of it, moans about how none of us are capable of learning a second language, really anyway.

Come on guys, do it. Do it for me. Do it for the time we all wasted in 9th grade Spanish and never learned anything. Do it for our mother tongue, which now has more non-native speakers than native.