October 22, 2005

THE NEED

Amritas writes about how the need for a foreign language can be an indicator of success (I'm really oversimplifying his post here; it's much more interesting in its entirety). One of my friends emailed me last week. We haven't talked in a while, which became obvious to me when she said, "I imagine your German's probably awesome by now!"

Before I moved here, I couldn't understand how people could be stationed in Germany or Korea and come home not speaking the language. Now I completely understand this. Until you see how a military community operates, it's hard to really imagine it. My Swedish friend bought me a German paperback book as a gift when she came to visit two years ago. At the end of her weekend here, she apologized for giving me the book, saying that she didn't realize how American my life still was, even though I was smack dab in the middle of Europe.

We speak only English all day long. We spend dollars at our stores, where we can buy 110-volt appliances and Region 1 DVDs. My husband and I don't have any German friends except for a few wives, most of whom speak English quite well and sit around moaning about how they'd rather be in Kentucky where they could go to Walmart at 10 PM. We don't need to speak German.

That said, we try to speak it whenever we're out on the town. We do just fine with our restaurant and department store vocabulary. Sometimes we get the Rolled Eye Treatment from German shopkeepers who'd rather conduct business in English anyway, like last weekend when I started giving someone my address in German and she looked at me like I was speaking Chinese. I sighed and repeated the exact same thing in English, at which point she finally wrote it down. The Germans in our area don't want us to speak German, so it's an uphill battle with the girl in the train station who begged, "Can you please just speak English so this will go faster?" when I tried to purchase a train ticket in German.

We're perfectly capable of learning German. I learned French and Swedish just fine, and my husband taught himself basic Arabic, for pete's sake. But the motivation just isn't there, because the reward for speaking German on the economy is rolled eyes and groans. So why bother?

(This is not to excuse those people who rave on and on about how much they loooove living in Europe but don't even bother to learn how to order food from a menu. I hate when we run into those types when we're out on the town. If you want to homestead here permanently and be a Squatter after you retire, then learn freaking German, you boors.)

Posted by: Sarah at 06:35 AM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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1 It's like that in Korea, too. There are fewer English speakers the farther you get from post, but if you're not the adventurous type, you can get by with just English. I did two tours, a rough total of 2 years, in Korea and I learned a miniscule amount of han-gul. I didn't try hard to learn Korean, but I also didn't try hard not to learn Korean. There just wasn't a compelling reason to learn the language. A soldier can easily spend his year in a highly Americanized environment - think of a Chinese immigrant who lives his entire life in a Chinatown, except all his public services and employment are provided in Chinese, too. And heck, when this immigrant travels away from Chinatown, he even takes an independently functional mini-Chinatown with him. Tactically speaking, I thought the GIs in Korea should have been strongly encouraged and facilitated by Command to pick up a basic level of Korean and local familiarization. Even in peace-time and 50-plus years of USFK, it's not always easy to operate outside the gates. A troop can get lost and isolated in a hurry, and that's a scary feeling. If we went to war with nK, I could see American ops breaking down quickly at the tactical level with troops not knowing the language, area and people and trying to operate in a chaotic foreign environment.

Posted by: Eric Chen at October 24, 2005 07:04 PM (3Nllw)

2 I hate it when they start speaking in English on you. I just ignore them and keep speaking German. I took the time to start to learn the language so I am going to use it damn it! I am not perfect at it but at least I try. I work with Germans so I am exposed more to the language and if you want to know if you are being talked about you have to learn some. ;-) It actually worked well when I was in Czech with a friend and her mom. It was the only mutual language the hotel staff and I knew. HH6

Posted by: Household6 at October 26, 2005 05:33 AM (T+Tkq)

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