Archive for September, 2011

One Wearing a Clown Costume
September 16, 2011

If you’re sitting in an American diner in Berlin, listening to an Iraqi and an Iranian argue metaphysics in German, you start wondering if it was just one wrong turn you took in your life, or a series of ill-conceived choices that led you here. And yet there I was, celebrating the end of another German course, Salman insisting he doesn’t waste his time in toilets, Kasra taking God’s überallness slightly more literally.

The great thing about studying German in Berlin is that my classes are full of other foreigners, most of whom enjoy butchering the language as much as I do. Take Ahmed for example, who looked at me entirely seriously one day and announced: “I am hunger!” I found Ahmed’s language cute until I finally asked him why he had moved to Berlin from Syria: “I’m just here for an internship,” he told me, “I’m a doctor and I’m practicing at a hospital here for a few months.” He said he communicated with patients using his (limited) German as well as hand signals. Besides, people get the idea pretty quickly when you get the needle out and poke it into their arm, he assured me.

The next day we compared cultural metaphors in class, since in German one is as dumb as donkey (Dumm wie ein Esel), and our teacher wanted to know what animals other languages used to express stupidity:

-A doorknob! said I.

-A Cypriot donkey! said Syrian Ahmed.

-Dumb as the police! yelled Somea, representing Albanian Macedonia well.

“Perhaps we should move on to another exercise?” suggested our teacher.

“Let’s tell dead baby jokes again” I proposed, having already told my colleagues about Canada’s refined sense of humour. It turns out the Spanish also have a taste for the macabre, as Mallorcan Andres asked the class what’s funnier than one dead baby (see title for answer).

Andres also provided amusement after class today, as I complimented him on a lovely story he had written for class. The words for story and face being similar in German (Geschichte, Gesicht), Andres beamed and thanked me for noticing the extra care he had put into shaving.

As to the argument as to God’s place in the toilet, it was ended when the Iranian’s wife, who had been listening quietly throughout the entire argument, finally looked up at her husband and the Iraqi and asked: “Why do you keep referring to God as He?”, bringing everything to a beautiful, and if not entirely satisfying, end.