Much has been written about the German language and how difficult it is to learn. It’s all true. One needs to go no further than Mark Twain’s classic ‘The Awful German Language’, at the back of his hilarious A Tramp Abroad, to get an idea from a very smart man of how ‘slipshod’ (his word) it is. I would completely concur with him and everything else that’s been written about German except I lived in Kyiv, Ukraine, for a year. The Ukrainian and Russian languages somehow make German seem so much easier. Hell, they make every fucking language in Europe that much easier. Except Hungarian.
The first three sentences I learned weren’t necessarily because they had simple grammar structures (they do), or a lack of letters, as some German behemoth words do. Only in German can you find five different ideas tied into one word, which when broken down into its parts does little to help explain it to the learner. Think differential equations.
The reason I learned these three vocal jewels is because every German says them often, no, make that always, and whenever I said them I always got a chuckle. I still do. I’m not sure if the chuckles are aimed at me or in the same direction I am targeting, but anytime you can get a German to laugh you have to take it as a moral victory.
The first sentence I learned in German was ‘Es kostet Geld’. Yessiree, ‘it costs money’. Everything in Munich costs a pretty penny, except for food in a supermarket and a university education, which are two examples of those strange contradictions that cloud German society and keep expats on their toes. Fortunes are spent on health insurance, mass transportation, parking, owning dogs, and are but a few. The list is endless. Every time I go back to the States all my German friends implore and grovel for me to bring a smartphone back for them. I would, too, if my suitcase wasn’t full of aspirin, cold remedies and other comforts to get me through the winters, and autumns, and springs, and ‘kostet viel Geld’ in Munich. Maybe that’s why they drink think tea is a cureall.
The second sentence I learned, and it’s as true as the first if not truer, was, ‘Alles ist verboten’. And it is. You’d like to have a bit of a different name shield for your office on the building? Forget it. Listen to music on your mp3 while riding a bike. Uh-uh. Vacuum on Sunday? Nope. Most things you think would be OK, normally aren’t. There have even been court cases pitting neighbors against neighbors who’ve had the audacity to snore too loud. It’s true. Germans have rules for everything.
The third sentence I learned was ‘Das ist mir Wurst’. It means ‘I don’t care’ in the ‘it doesn’t matter to me’ sense, but any electronic translation will give you something else entirely. The sentence has become increasingly popular since Lothar Matthäus, a god of German football (soccer) but a horrendous butcher of the English language, translated the phrase literally. Then it means ‘that’s my sausage.He probably had looked it up prior to an interview in the UK or something, and thought the silly Brits would have a similar saying. Anyway, it has nothing to do with sausage.
The good thing is, even if I never learn another sentence in German, those three arrows in my communicative quiver are sure to get me just about any and everything I could possibly need here in Munich. And a chuckle or two. That is, if the chortles don’t me cost too much and there’s not some unwritten rule forbidding it.