Blown Cover

Ah, Germany. Most of my day-to-day interactions at this point go fairly smoothly. I can get in and out of most normal situations without incident, and only occasionally end up with two extra slices of bread (Brot) instead of two more beers (in that case, Rotbier) in a crowded and loud restaurant.

Tuesday was not one of those days.

A stand in the Fürth Market

When I came up into the Farmers’ Market in front of the Fürth train station, I was already a little bit out of sorts. I’m currently dragging myself out of bed at 6:30am on Tuesdays for one class. Though I do like the group quite a lot, it hardly seems worth it on those cooooold winter mornings. This Tuesday was especially frigid, and so on my way home I decided to go the long way around, taking a bus to an U-Bahn to another U-Bahn to my train back home. My thought process was that this way I would at least be in a vehicle the entire route, rather than taking a bus directly to my train. That would have meant at least 15 minutes of pacing the train platform in order to keep my feet from freezing while waiting for that train.

Got all that? No? Clearly, my overtired self didn’t either, as I completed neglected to realize that would delay my arrival home by 30 minutes. *headdesk*

Anyway. That finally occurred to me as I was ascending the escalator in Fürth and noted the time. Like I said… very tired. This is all a very long way of saying that my head was not functioning at this point in time, and I was already fairly confused (not to mention feeling like a dummy).

I figured the best course of action was to at least do something useful while I had a few minutes at the station, and I headed over to the market. I knew I needed broccoli and cauliflower for dinner that night, and circled around the market until I found my favorite stand. Naturally, they weren’t open.

The next stand appeared to be open, or at least stocked. However, there was still quite a bit of the blue tarp covering up one end, so I tentatively wandered around, wondering if they were still setting up for the day, or if that was just to block out the wind.

I was still in my slight daze when I was surprised to find the woman at the stand talking to me. Sometimes you can just walk in and help yourself, but if they aren’t busy, they do help you collect your goods. She asked me what I wanted and I completely blanked.

What do I want?


What’s the word?

Oh God. Rosenkohl? No, that’s brussels sprouts… shit. What is it?

Not cauliflower.

I stammered and sputtered as I walked closer to the veggies, not even seeing the stupid cauliflower. I spotted the broccoli and though, yes, that too! Broccoli! I know that word!

Of course, what came out of my mouth was a very-American sounding version of broccoli and not Brokkoli, which sounds very much how the Count on Sesame Street would pronounce the word (minus the ha-ha-ha afterwards).

The woman was just finishing grabbing my head of broccoli and turned expectantly to see if I needed anything else.

My head was still rattling through different versions of Rosenkohl when I finally saw the cauliflower. I wasn’t able to read the sign but something clicked into place and Blumenkohl finally flew out of my mouth mid-stammer. But the damage was done.

“Where are you from?” she asked in German.

America, I replied.*

“Ahhh, the best land,” she replied, in English. Knock me over with a feather.

“How long?” she asked, in German again.

Huh? Did she just ask how long? Or did I mishear her and did she ask if I want anything else? Oh God, she’s staring at me and I am such a spaz today what is happening?

“Sechs Jahre,” I venture.

“Sechs?” she looks confused. What?

Apparently I need to speak up… I repeat years.

She then asked if I was in language school, or just learned by speaking. By speaking, I answer. I would hope that actually having had lessons would have avoided this complete brain malfunction. But, who knows?

She wished me a good day, and I did the same, hustling towards my train.

Though she was perfectly friendly, I still spent the whole rest of the day kicking myself for being so tongue-tied over a perfectly normal human interaction. Everyone forgets words, right? In your own language as well as a foreign one… these things happen.

I spend a good majority of my time here trying to blend in. As much as I enjoy visitors, I hate speaking English on the train because I feel like everyone is listening. When BV and I are out and about, we tend to speak a lot more German than we do at home, specifically for this reason. Anytime I feel like my cover is blown, I feel a bit like a fraud. I’m all about pretending like I belong here, and it’s all fun and games until I open my mouth.

Blumenkohl. I had better not blank on that one again.

Whomp, there it is.

Have you had a super-simple brain fart? Tell me about it in the comments, it’ll make me feel better. Danke! 🙂


*Also not the best answer, I know. But it’s reflexive and comes out much easier than USA or Vereinigte Staaten, both of which I completely mangle the German pronunciations of.




31-Day Challenge: Day 8

“Hey, if you’re going into Spare ‘Oom, can you grab my sketchbook out of the arts and crafts box?”

Sure, but what is it?”

“It’s a book that you sketch in? A sketchbook…”

“Okay, and what does it look like?”

“It looks like a notebook, spiral binding, white paper, full of drawings?”

BV returns to living room

“This thing?”


“And why don’t you call it a drawing book?”

“Because it’s not called a drawing book. It’s called a sketchbook. As in, a book that one draws quickly, or sketches.”

“Alright, I’m going to go make more spreadsheets. You too.”

I will fully admit that my explanations on what exactly I meant by sketchbook were not particularly descriptive at the beginning of tonight’s exchange, but these things happen when you live with a non-native English speaker and this teacher is off the clock.

While we have been trying to speak more German around the house, I will fully admit that if we had tried to have had that conversation in German, I may have gotten half the bookshelf in the office before we got to the sketchbook I actually wanted. Or just huffed and puffed and gotten up to get it myself.

In my defense, I was deep into a Google search of a few things that we had been talking about after-dinner, regarding vacation plans and when I’m juggling tabs, listening to anything else becomes a challenge. While though the internet is a wonderful and useful tool, for me it has major limitations. Mostly it limits my concentration abilities and memory of what I was doing 30 seconds beforehand.

In fact, the reason I sent BV on the quest for the sketchbook is that today I decided it was time to brush off my trip-planning and map-making skills. When the internet makes me nutty, I turn to paper. I don’t love to plan every day down to the minute, but I am definitely a visual thinker and need a way to lay out all the possibilities. I have done this before with various online maps, but I always end up clicking in the wrong place and throwing the whole thing into disarray and making myself crazy. Plus then I get all cussy and the cats don’t like that much.

Instead, I’m going to take the approach I used when we planned out the Cinque Terre trip in 2015. Map out some routes on paper, and then compare and contrast. We’re working on a much larger scale this time around, but I really need a general idea on paper to wrap my head around it all. Here’s hoping that works out as well this time as it did then!


Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.


Building Donkey Bridges: Harry Potter Edition

Edited to add: this is a spoiler-free zone!

It’s been quite some time since I had a decent donkey bridge for something in German.  But before I get to that, I have a bit of a ‘minor differences’ story to tell.

(Side note: if you don’t know what the heck I mean by a donkey bridge, please see this.)

I had an extra spring in my step yesterday morning, and after I taught my early class and stopped by the office, I made a beeline for the big Thalia bookstore in the city center. For it was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child day!

Marry die Katze inspects my prize (after completion).

Marry die Katze inspects my precious (after completion).

Okay, technically Sunday was the release day but since this is Germany, all the Potter enthusiasts had to wait until stores reopened on Monday. The struggle is real.

I had originally wanted to reserve a copy, but never got around to actually doing it, so I was pretty much hoping for the best as I dashed up the three escalators to where they’ve stashed the English books. On my way up, I saw at least three other people wandering around the store with copies, so I was both hopeful that they had it, and worried that they hadn’t ordered enough.

It was hard not to remember the release of the last book,  when I went with my sister and a friend to pick up our books at midnight like the good nerds that we were are. After waiting in the line that wound through the store, everyone was ushered past the counter with stacks upon stacks of the Deathly Hallows to claim their prizes.

In Germany? Minor differences.

I expected at least two stacks of the new book (if there were any left, of course), but when I reached the English section I found four copies left. The stack had clearly been higher but still? Only one stack on the table? In fact, a girl had just picked the book up and then PUT IT BACK when I came around the corner. Who puts the new Harry Potter book DOWN on the DAY IT COMES OUT? What is this world?

Her loss, my gain. I snatched up a book (possibly thinking ‘my preeeecious’ as I did so), did a cursory round through the section, and hotfooted it back down to the registers.

After paying, I headed for a good spot where I could both read and await my friend with whom I had a lunch date. She was a bit late, and I was able to power through the the first few acts before we got our falafels.

With lunch over, it was off to my next class and another good 25 minutes of reading on the train. Two more classes out of the way, and it was back onto the train for more reading. As we approached Fürth, I finished my chapter, and stood up near the door. Since I had about 20 minutes to wait for my next train, I didn’t bother putting the book in my bag because I figured I’d read on the platform in a minute, so I just stuck my finger in place, and got ready to go.

Nope. Not putting it down.

Nope. Not putting it down.

This seems fairly standard, right? Okay, maybe, but first a little background information on why this donkey bridge moment will be memorable for me…

People say that the Franconians are unfriendly. On the whole, I disagree with this, but I’m also forced to interact with them in my classes on a daily basis. In the real world though? People do not talk to each other around here. There is almost no small talk in lines, at the stores, on the trains, none of that. Sometimes it’s a bit different on the weekends, but on commuter trains during the week? Nope. No chit-chat amongst strangers. Therefore, when someone does talk to me, I’m inevitably confused, surprised, caught completely off-guard, and probably look like a total weirdo because I’m so off-balance that I can’t come up with an answer in English, much less in German. In fact, I should probably start mentally preparing for my Christmas trip to the States now or I’m going to run and hide from everyone who tries to make small talk with me.

Back to the train…

A middle-aged gentleman who was sitting a few seats away also got up, and disentangled his bike from its place. He pulled up next to me, looked down, saw the book, and said “lohnt es sich?”

Me: “ummmm, jaaaaa?

I had no idea what the fuck he had just said. No clue. But common sense told me that it was some variation of “is it good?” And I was close. “Lohnt es sich?” basically means “is it worth it?”* so hey… at least my answer made sense, even if it wasn’t very convincing. But in my defense, I was only three-quarters of the way through the book so I guess my opinion was not fully formed yet.

So thank you, Harry Potter, JK Rowling (with John Tiffany & Jack Thorne**), for ensuring that I will never forget the reflexive verb sich lohnen. No guarantees I’ll use it correctly, but let’s fry one fish at a time. Not since the drive-by Snaping incident has Harry Potter proved so useful at helping my Deutsch skills.

*Shout out to, and BV for confirming when I got home. 🙂

**Who can all feel free to send me tickets to the play. Would love to come and I ♥ London.



BV Bros Down

One day last week was particularly lovely, so BV and I took the opportunity to wander over to our local Gasthof for a pre-dinner beer (and fries… dinner was small, I promise!)

While there, we chatted about a recent debate on theater-going that had happened in one of my classes. One of my students had gone to see the ballet ‘Sleeping Beauty’, and while she had really been looking forward to it, she wasn’t crazy about their modern interpretation. While most of the others had visited various productions, or even traveled to Hamburg to see a (very far off Broadway) musical like ‘The Lion King,’ none were too interested in ballet, modern or not.

Being the open-to-new-experiences sort of guy that he is, BV said that he’d really like to go to the theater to see a show sometime. Maybe not a ballet, but he felt a bit bad that the last time he was in a real theater was when he took part in an elementary school production that was put on in the Schauspielhaus (playhouse) Nürnberg.

We talked about different options to look into, and decided that going to a show might be a good excuse to get out of town and go somewhere like Stuttgart or Munich, as they might have more choices. Nürnberg has a playhouse, an opera, and other venues, but there isn’t a ton of variety, and most of the shows are in German. BV said that he’d like to see something classic that he hadn’t seen before, like ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ but if it’s Shakespeare, he wants to see it in English.*

That somehow led into us joking that we weren’t fancy enough to go to the opera in Munich… especially since most trips to Munich leave me feeling like a country mouse already.** I told BV that I was short of ball gowns, so not sure what I would do. And what would he wear?

BV: “A suit. And I’d have to wear a bro tie.”

H: “A what tie?”

BV: “A bro tie.”

H: “… it’s a bow tie, not a bro tie.”

BV: “Why not a bro tie? At a wedding, the broom and his bros wear a bro tie!”

H: …… cries laughing….

I’m just going to go ahead and blame ‘How I Met Your Mother’ for this one. And incidentally, if you google ‘bro tie’ there is some really weird stuff that comes up. Not counting the actual company, because of course that exists.


*Thanks, honey!

**Dirndl– wearing trips excluded of course. Munich’s population is well-dressed, if you haven’t been there. Most of the gents appear to have come directly from the shoeshine stand.

Playing Favorites

When you start teaching English in Germany, you immediately become familiar with a few key words. One of those words is Streber (or Streberin, for ze ladies), which translates to “teacher’s pet.” This word usually gets trotted out when some students feel that one of the others has overdone it on the homework front – or God forbid – requested more homework.*

"I am NO teacher's pet; only a little bit." Via

“I am NO teacher’s pet… only a little bit.” Via

Any excuse for a reference to The Office. Like most teachers though, I look at it less as a case of someone being a teacher’s pet, and more like this…

“Hey, I asked you all to do something, and someone actually did it! Let’s all mock them now!”

On the whole though, my students and groups are pretty well-behaved. And last week, one of them became my official new Streber, without doing a darn thing.

I was already pretty excited about my new Thursday groups, strictly based on location. If any other teachers out there are not based directly in a city, you might know what I mean on this one. My old Thursday commute involved three trains to get to my final destination, and my new commute is right off of my main line. Now it’s just ten minutes on the train and a 2-minute walk. For someone who lives in the ‘burbs, this is nearly unheard of, and therefore fantastic.** But then the deal got even sweeter.

Our first lesson was pretty much a getting-to-know everybody kind of thing, and of course the students wanted to know where I was from.

“Wisconsin,” was met with the usual blank stares and assumptions that it is in the U.S., somewhere in the middle. Which is more or less accurate. Oh, to be from New York, California, or Florida… how much easier life must be!

But one guy had a very concentrated look on his face, and when I asked him if he knew anything else about my home state, he responded with four little words…

“the Green Bay Packers!”

My response to that was a fairly undignified, “OH MY GOD YES! How in the world do you know that?”

So it turns out that the first NFL game he had ever watched was a Packer game, and therefore he is a big fan. And just like that? Instant Streber.


*It happens more than you’d think. Overachievers.

**So amazing that I am extra motivated to make sure they love me. Or at least, like me a lot.

BV on Aging

Last week, BV and I were driving home from lunch with his parents and we were discussing the idea of maturity levels. I was saying that today, at the ripe old age of 32, I do not necessarily feel like the same person I was at age 18 (and thank goodness). While some things have not changed, in other ways I am a vastly different person. Whether or not I’m more mature is debatable, as I still laugh at videos of people falling down, or the occasional dick joke, but in other ways, my worldview is miles away from when I left home and went to college a week after I turned 18. Also, I’m crankier in crowds.


This is how I feel when I ride the train at school times. Via

I went on to say that I would imagine that most  people feel somewhat the same way, and I anticipate feeling different at 60 than I do today. In the next 28 years, I fully expect to learn things that will affect the way I look at and feel about life, and those experiences will continue to mold me (at least to some extent).

In response to this rambling speech, BV thought for a moment and responded,

“I don’t know. I was always premature.”

After I stopped laughing myself nearly into an asthma attack, we then got to have a discussion about ‘premature’ vs ‘mature for one’s age,’ which is of course what he meant. Hopefully telling him that ‘premature’ is usually tied to either babies or ejaculation, he can remember the difference.

I recounted this story to a fellow English teacher friend of mine at lunch yesterday and after she finished laughing, she had to tip her hat to BV’s flawless use of logic in coming up with premature to describe the way he felt at 18. If you think about it, it should make perfect sense in that way. Buuuuut, as all of us English teachers know, that is not the way our lovely language works.

So… did you also feel premature? Or do you think we always change? Let me know in the comments!


Monday Quiz Day

A frequent ‘hobby’ for BV and myself is having quiz-time. Usually one of us (okay, I do) finds a quiz online and we then give it to the other person. Quite often these are horribly stupid, for example, ‘Which Full House kid are you?,’ but every once in a while, there is something that’s actually interesting.

After dinner tonight I was scrolling through my Facebox news feed and saw a link to a dialect quiz on Spiegel Online, one of the German news outlets. Since this is a subject that comes up A LOT around here, I thought it would be a good idea to put BV to the test, to see if he is a true Franconian. We started the quiz, and it immediately became clear that my usual tactic of reading all the questions/answers out loud to him was really not a good idea. For one thing, my pronunciation skills were not nearly up to the task, and for another thing, some of the questions had an absurd amount of possibilities. Example: question 22 asks what you would call the end of a loaf of bread. I just did a rough count, and there are at least 50 possible answers.

50 words… for bread crust.

Hey expats and other German learners?

We are screwed. Sorry to have to tell everyone.

We finally finished the test, and it gave five possibilities for the origin of BV’s accent. There was a little bit of range, but overall it would seem that he is a good little Franconian. I just re-did the quiz, and I think I answered a few differently than he did the first time, but you get the idea on the map.

germanyIf I remember right, when we did it the first time, Donauwörth was first, and Fürth was fourth. Nürnberg didn’t appear at all on our first try, so I guess that means I am more of a Nürnberger than BV is. But since we technically live in Landkreis Fürth, it’s probably more important to have Fürth on the list.

I remembered doing a similar test for U.S. dialects a few years ago, and handily the Spiegel article linked to it as well. I did it again for kicks and giggles, and apart from getting Salt Lake City as my third city, it’s pretty damn accurate.

usConsidering one of the questions was about what you call a water fountain though, my fate was sealed. It’s a bubbler, in case you were wondering. But mostly only in the greater Milwaukee area. Minneapolis/St. Paul makes sense as well though, since I spent a few years in northern Wisconsin at university, and there’s a lot of Minnesotan influence there.

So readers, put yourselves to the test… or your significant others, and let me know in the comments if you agree on the accuracy. Linguistic fun for the win!


Alpine Tips: Saying Goodbye

As many other bloggers have noted, the German language is a beast with many heads. This is particularly true here in Bavaria, where it seems that the dialect changes from village to village. Going to the mountains brings a whole new set of phrases and expressions that you probably don’t hear too often in the Hochdeutsch bastions of Hamburg and other northern cities.

Local lingo is also useful when choosing a bathroom.

Local lingo is also useful when choosing a bathroom.

When we were down in Ettal recently, we were out to dinner on Sunday night in a restaurant that was about 30% full, and clearly primarily locals as many of them were chatting to each other across the room all night. One large group included a few small kids who spent most of the night toddling about from table to table, occasionally being chased by Papa, but mostly being looked after by the room at large.

The group finally got up to leave, and most of them said goodnight to the restaurant owner and his wife, who were holding court over a few Hefeweizen at a table in the middle of the room.
The oldest of the kids, who was maybe 3 or 4, came over to say her goodbyes as well, and piped what sounded like “Ferdi!”, as her mom zipped her into her coat.
“Ferdi?” I said to BV… “what the hell is that?”
“Not ‘Ferdi,'” he replied, “‘Pfiat di.’ It’s Bavarian, like ‘Grüss Got.’ They say that instead of ‘Tschüss’ for goodbye.”

Then we got into a whole conversation of how the phrase breaks down. ‘Pfiat‘ comes from the verb ‘behüten‘, or to protect/look after, and ‘di‘ from ‘dich,’ or you, so it loosely translates into our ‘take care of yourself.’

Ah yes, Bavaria. The magical land where ‘ck’ turns into ‘gg,’ b turns into p, and if you can tell the difference between ‘d’ and ‘t’ in some words, you deserve a medal. I really enjoy learning these little differences, particularly when we venture into the mountains but it does not make learning German any easier. Just when you think you’ve got something figured out, you end up confused by a small child. Good thing that kids speaking other languages are cute.

Next time you find yourselves in the Alps, keep an ear out for and let me know if you hear anyone saying my new favorite expression. And of course, until next time,”pfiat di!”

Fun With Duolingo

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about some German words that make me nuts. I’m not sure if they’ve improved or not via this little exorcism, but I’m hoping. I also mentioned that I’d been using my Duolingo App, and I’m happy to say that I’ve been really good about it lately. Having said that, sometimes it’s pretty hard to take seriously. So on this Monday morning, have a laugh at some of the ridiculous things that my app has had me learn. When these will be applicable I don’t know. I’m a little scared to find out. Enjoy.

IMG_3484 IMG_3485

Well, at least the cook isn’t serving the horse to the general public. And most daughters have a father, one way or another, so that’s good news. I’m hoping this comes in handy when we get a new TV and I can watch some sort of German version of Maury Povich.

IMG_3488 IMG_3489

Ohhhh, someone’s having a bit of a lover’s quarrel.

IMG_3656 IMG_3487

Some people really love their pets. So much so that they enjoy studying with them. So what? There are an odd number of animal sentences used in the app though. Apparently pets are a hot topic of Deutsch conversation.

IMG_3669 IMG_3654

Seems like an odd way to describe family dynamics. Why not “the man doesn’t like his mother”? Is he one of those crazy vegetarians that is so hardcore that it becomes his only identifying characteristic? I have so many questions. Luckily, someone’s wife knows all the answers. I just have to find her now…

IMG_3513 IMG_3490

Again with the animals. They’re always getting into something whether it be a dog drinking from the toilet (fairly standard), or a bear playing dress-up (wait, what now?). Silly critters.

And finally, we have what I like to call “cutting to the chase.”

Hopefully this gave you a little taste of why I have a hard time taking my German learning very seriously. However, I do enjoy a bit of competition so if anyone else out there is playing, look me up on the app with the usual handle @heatherinde

I just got to level 10, so let’s race!