HOW TO NOT BE THE ABSOLUTE WORST: THE “TALKING GERMAN TO A NON-NATIVE SPEAKER” EDITION
Note: This was first published in VICE in German. If you’d rather read it in German, head here.
Don’t Be A Subconscious Mimic
Me: Hey, kannst du mir bitte Bescheid geben, wann der Raum verfügbar ist?
Them: (in exaggerated British accent, half under their breath) Hey, kannst du bitte mir Bescheid geben, wann der Raum verfügbar ist?
Me: Excuse me, what? Did you seriously just do that?
Them: What? Huh? What? Huh?
It doesn’t get much more bizarre than this reaction. A whole multitude of humans have done this to me (from colleagues to friends of friends to people in shops), meaning that I’m, like, oooooh, 95% sure it’s not people just being assholes.
As far as I can tell…Germans in Berlin are so little exposed to non Germans speaking German that a fair few native German-speaking Berliners will, without even being aware they’re doing it, do an impression of you speaking German back to you. To your face! While you’re standing there! It’s pretty nutso. This happened at work a couple of times and I escalated it to HR, because, obviously.
But the perpetrator was all “Oooh! What? I’m super liberal and I looooove non-Germans. I would never do that! I hate Pegida!” Yeah, yeah buddy. Tell it to your subconscious.
Add A Little Sugar To Your “Call It How You See It” Vibes
Me: Hey, ich hätte gerne ein Halloumi im Brot. Mit Erdnusssauce, natürlich. Und das war’s.
Them: Hahahahahaha! LADY, YOUR ACCENT IS SHIT.
This is genuinely a thing that once happened, nine months in. Still: so much less offensive than anything else on this list, cause you know what? I haven’t mastered a German accent yet! I may never master it!
The guy who laughed at me was from Sudan and, no word of a lie, his English accent was incredible. Syllable perfect. I thought he was from South London. So, whatever, respect to him for being king of accents and respect to me for complaining about the extra sass with my sandwich and getting it for free. Win-win.
Don’t Do That Whole “My English is more swag than your German” Thing
Me: Hiiii, ich bin Sophie! Seit wann bin ich in Berlin? Naja, seit ein paar Jahren…
Them: Oh hi Sophie. So nice to meet you. Where did you say you were from in England?
Me: Ich komme aus Manchester…OK, eigentlich aus Cheshire, aber in der Nähe von Manchester und ich habe auch in Manchester – in Withington – studiert. Und selbst?
Me: Nee, natürlich, das weiß ich schon. Aber ich meine: aus welcher Stadt?
Them: Well, I mean, I was born and grew up just outside Hamburg, but I really identify more as a Berliner. I guess…Hamburg’s so uptight and I really feel like I have more of a punk vibe.
<15 minutes later>
Me: Hey. Pass auf. Ist es in Ordnung wenn wir nur Deutsch reden? Ich finde es ein bisschen komisch, wenn ich Deutsch rede und du antwortest auf Englisch.
Them: Oh really? I’m just trying to be polite.
No, no, no, no. Stop. Seriously. Does anyone genuinely believe this? Is there anything less polite than a person making an effort to speak another language over an extended period of time and getting responded to in English? Let’s shut this down immediately.
Fact: you’re either speaking English to me because you want to practice, which I get – it’s fun speaking another language – or you’re speaking English to me because you think it’s hella hipster and makes you seem mad international.
Either way you should probably own up and stop pretending to be some philanthropic Mother Teresa type for blessing me with your English. Your English is not a gift to the world. Neither is my German. Let’s accept that and speak in one language to each other.
Don’t Tell Other Adults They’re Adorable, It Makes Me Want To Throw Up
Scene: House party. We’re all sat around a kitchen table.
Me: (to a friend) Hey, wann willst du losgehen?
Stranger: Awwww! Awwwwwwwwwww! Woher kommst du? Du bist SO PUTZIG.
Me: Err…aus England.
Them: (stroking the top of my head) Awww! Dein Akzent ist SO süß!!!
Just because I’m a smiley, diminutive woman with a peppy delivery doesn’t mean I want to be treated like a puppy dog or a toddler. I’m an adult human being on planet earth: please treat me as such. This reaction shouldn’t be so terrible because it’s clearly not malicious – but this happens roughly three-four times a day. Gets a little tiring. Also, the patting head thing is weird. Zzzzzz. Wake me up when Berlin gets chiller about weird accents.
In Summary AKA A Potted Guide To Not Being An Asshole:
- Treat expats speaking German like adult human beings
- Please don’t do impressions of us speaking German to our faces. Personally, I’d much rather it was behind my back.
- If you want to practice your English, just say so!
Written by: Sophie
Images by: Coco