The Saxons Are Coming, Run for the Alps!

The Saxons are coming! Miners from the coal mines. Photo: Wikipedia

The Saxons are coming! Miners from the coal mines. Photo: Wikipedia

My German sucks. It’s not as bad as my Russian, but it’s pretty bad. You’d think that after spending the better part of a dozen years in Munich, I’d have picked up a few more phrases beyond ordering beer and food in a restaurant. Priorities. My biggest problem (excuse) in learning German is that I’ve always been paid for my English language skills. Nobody has given me any compensation for my German skills. (And if you’ve ever heard my German skills you’d say the money should have gone to them, not me.)

It’s so bad that often when I go to a bakery, the nice assistants tells me how much I owe her in English (and they always mix up numbers like 34 and 43). WTF? And then they normally ask if I’m from England. And then Scotland. They are normally shocked (and I’m pleased, believe me) when they find out I’m from the USA. Well, I’m from California but grew up in Florida, so neither is considered mainstream America. Because of this, I tell them ‘I’m almost from America,’ which confuses them and pleases me even more.

I want to improve my German: please speak to me in German. We live in Germany, for Pete’s sake. I sincerely believe that many Germans, who ALWAYS say they speak ‘a little’ English (and can understand BBC or CNN as well as I can), are simply looking for a free English lesson, which they will then use on one of their infinite number of holidays to some foreign land where English is understood more than German.

These costumes are from an indigenous Slavic minority near Dresden, the Sorbs. Never heard of them? Neither have most Germans and as for the Bavarians, they'd like to keep it that way. Photo: Wikipedia

These costumes are from an indigenous Slavic minority near Dresden, the Sorbs. Never heard of them? Neither have most Germans and as for the Bavarians, they’d like to keep it that way. Photo: Wikipedia

The statement about living in Germany isn’t exactly true. I live in Bavaria. Bavaria is a separate country-just ask any real Bavarian. And though my German sucks and my wife’s is very good, I can understand the Bavarian dialect much better than her. She’s got me by a mile when it comes to Hochdeutsch, but I’ve got her beat here in Bavaria, or even Baden-Wurttemberg. I will admit, however, that I have no fucking clue what the people are saying when we are in South Tyrol, but I hear that goes for everyone not Tyrolean.

Now, most of those shop assistants in the bakeries and butchers are real hard to understand. Like, impossible. You see, they speak a very special dialect of German, that sounds real funny to us who have lived in Bavaria so long. The biggest difference is how the Saxons say the ‘ch’ in words like ich (I) or dich (you). The Saxons butcher the ‘ch’ worse than the Berliners. They’ve managed to make the pronounced ‘ch’ less sensical than Berliner Weissbier, a beer with fruit syrup in it, yes, FRUIT SYRUP!

So, what should be one of the loveliest sentences in German, ich liebe dich (I love you), sounds like ‘ish liebe dish’ straight from a date night with Nag and Nagaina, the two cobras from Kipling’s Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.

I have adopted Bavaria (not Germany) as my new home. Or to be even more specific, Munich, that world city with heart. And in doing so, I’ve also learned that for Bavarians, the Saxons are the butt of more jokes than any other German speakers, except the Austrians. And I think I know why.

Saxony, like Bavaria, is a Freistaat, a free state, which means absolutely nothing except it makes the natives of those two states prouder and more likely to say that they can secede from the Republic of Germany anytime they so desire. Pure rubbish, surely, but I simply nod and take another swig of beer whenever I hear it from a Bavarian. (It’s more often than one might think.)

This picture sums up succinctly how the Bavarians feel about the Saxons from Dresden. Photo: Wikipedia

This picture sums up succinctly how the Bavarians feel about the Saxons from Dresden. Photo: Wikipedia

So why do Bavarians have such a prickly feeling when it comes to the Saxons? Some of it probably has to do with the Saxons’ communist roots. A bit more, possibly, has to do with the Saxons desire to boil pig knuckles rather than roasting them in the oven. Also, as I’ve said, the Saxon dialect is strange. But the biggest reason (I think, no, I hope) has to be the fact that after the Fall of the Wall, so many Saxons moved to Bavaria and stole their women. And jobs.

One of the nicer areas of Dresden. Nothing can compare to it here in Munich. Photo: Wikipedia

One of the nicer areas of Dresden. Nothing can compare to it here in Munich. Photo: Wikipedia

The Saxons keep coming. The economy around Dresden, the capital of Saxony, continues to idle while the one around Munich hums. There are many jobs to be found in Munich, so the Saxons come to take them. They may not be the highest-paid jobs but they are secure jobs, with future potential to move up the food-chain. And while the Saxons are moving up? They get a chance for a free English lesson if I patronize a bakery, butcher’s or boutique they just happen to be working at the right moment.

My First Three Sentences in German Unrelated to Beer

German words can confuse and confound, yet be so logical

German words can confuse and confound, yet be so logical

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.

x^2 \frac{d^2 y}{dx^2} + x \frac{dy}{dx} + (x^2 - \alpha^2)y = 0

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.

German House Rules Photo: Germandeli.com

German House Rules Photo: Germandeli.com

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.