How Learning German Can Change Your Life: Part 1
For some people, German truly changes their lives. I know it did for me--I had never actually learned to speak a foreign language before and it opened up a whole new world of experiences, literature, travel, media, music, and more. Learning to put that verb alllll the way at the end of the sentence helped me think in larger, more encompassing thoughts, which changed how I planned what I wanted to say.
A lot of my clients have had life-altering changes by learning German and I want to share a few of them with you. I also want to hear how German has changed your life (or how you want to or will change your life by learning German!), so be sure to submit your story via the contact form!
So, los geht's!
Understand your German partner/spouse/friend so much better.
1. Have fewer fights with your German spouse.
Long-term relationships are hard. A Long-term relationship with someone who has a very different understanding of the world can be even more challenging, especially if you are married to one and you are not familiar with cornerstones of German culture, one of them being routines.
Routines can be very helpful for structuring your week, helping you ensure you get things done, and giving you a sense of normalcy, no matter what is going on in your week. But what if you don’t have many routines? And your spouse keeps saying, “No, I don’t want to go do XYZ on Saturday, I want to stay home for breakfast and then I want to run errands.”
How would you react?
One of my clients did not understand why her (German) husband wanted to do the same thing every Saturday. She asked me, “What is his deal?! He eats the same thing for breakfast every Saturday, then he reads the paper, and then he runs the same errands every week. Is this just him or is this a German thing?”
“Well,” I said, “it’s probably partially him, but it’s really typical for Germans. They love routines and a lot of Germans will do the exact same thing every Saturday, or their weekly routine is the same for every day of the week.” This opened up a whole new understanding for her husband's weekly routines!
Germans are into routine. Not all of them get up at the same time every day, but a fair amount of Germans have a solid routine that they follow on work days and on the weekends, too—because remember, everything is closed on Sundays. Routine has to do with how Germans raise their children, how they plan their week, and how they plan their lives.
Here's what K. says now:
I cannot stress enough how much learning German has helped me get to know my mate! Language reflects culture and creates a framework on which we hang experience, creating our unique personalities. German is a very ordered and detailed language. My husband is an orderly and detailed thinker. He likes precision - gee, wonder where that comes from? ~Client K.
2. Understand why your German friend doesn’t smile ALL THE TIME
How often have you women been told to smile—on command? It’s like everybody expects you to smile to make them happy, no matter what your emotional state is. How many women get cut down because they aren’t pathologically smiling 24 hours a day?!
People usually comment something like this:
“SMILE, pretty lady!”
“C’mon, the world is SO BEAUTIFUL. SMILE, and YOU’LL be BEAUTIFUL TOO!”
“She doesn’t smile. She only has resting b*tch face.”
[Nicole takes a long, slow breath to reinstate her patience.]
One of my favorite parts about German culture was not being told/expected/commanded to smile. ALL THE TIME.
You can walk down the street and see people with totally normal expressions on their faces. They’re concentrated, they’re cranky, they’re perfectly fine or maybe they’re excited about a new job/life/love prospect. They're going about their business, getting things done and in a very efficient manner. They're not being filmed for TV...they're buying toilet paper.
Only once in the five years I lived there did anybody tell me I should smile. And I can honestly say that guy was weird and perhaps also high as a kite, so I told him to leave me alone.
(This is closely related to not asking people “Wie geht’s?” all the time, which I highly recommend you read.)
3. Stop expecting her/him to live in the world of the superlative and the completely, totally, endlessly exaggerated absolutely everything all the time
“OH MY GAWD, THAT WAS THE WORST WEEKEND EVER.”
“YOU ARE NOT GONNA BELIEVE THIS—I AM, LIKE, LITERALLY GONNA DIE.”
“THIS IS TOTALLY THE WORST DAY OF MY LIFE--EVER.”
Remove these things from your vocab when it comes to German.
Because when you look at human emotions as a spectrum, you can visualize most Germans living in a much more centered position, not on the extremes. In the US we are bombarded with the lowest, the highest, the most spectacular, the most awesome, the "killer" everything--all the time. Weather that was normal 30 years ago is now considered "extreme." It's exhausting!
And it's like the boy crying wolf.
Words repeated over and over tend to lose their meaning, so if you don't respond any more when you hear "the most, best, perfectest thing ever," you might have Extreme Fatigue. It was nice, living without Extreme Fatigue in Germany. "Gut" means "good" and "Sehr gut" means "very good." Likewise, "schlecht" means bad. It's not fun to hear your work or your project was "schlecht," but it's honest. Sometimes the truth hurts. But it does get better.
So imagine everything is simply toned down a bit for a German. “Sehr gut” actually means “very good” and not “totally awesome and spectacular!” In your mind, translate “Totally awesome and spectacular” to “sehr gut” and practice that for a few weeks. Sie schaffen das! It might feel good, recover a bit from Extreme Fatigue.