It suddenly dawned on me last week whilst tucking into yet another currywurst that I am becoming a little bit German, though mostly unwittingly. Living in another country for a few months you seem to pick up the habits of the locals, whether it be eating the food, picking up various words and peppering your vocabulary in your own language with them or following the local way of doing things. There are also things you do in your ‘adopted’ country that you would perhaps not in your own country, rather as you might have a different personality when speaking the local lingo.
Though I have been in Hamburg for only 4 months, the German way of life is certainly rubbing off on me. The phrase ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans’ certainly rings true here, though for the most part the ‘German’ things I do are mostly subconscious, other than drinking beer and eating too many sausages. Of course, exploring the local cuisine is a great and, in my opinion, necessary part of the living abroad experience.
One thing I do differently here, bizarrely, is crossing the road. Of course, I have to look left then right as opposed to right then left (being British, we drive on the ‘other side’ –, but I now find myself waiting obediently at traffic lights for the green man along with the patient (and law abiding) Germans. This may sound a little odd, but in Germany (at least in Hamburg) you rarely see people jaywalking. This could have something to do with the extraordinary speed at which people drive here, and could be a safety precaution, however very few people set foot in the road before the lights have turned red and the green man appears, even when the road is entirely clear of cars. In England people are not especially fond of waiting for traffic lights, so jaywalking is a common occurrence.
Since living in Germany I have also become a cyclist, something I thought would never happen. This is predominantly because if you take a bike out in England you take your life in your own hands as you generally have to cycle in the road. Cyclists are generally viewed as a pain in England, especially the ones on the road, but cycling here is taken VERY seriously, and the cyclist is king. Woe betide any pedestrian that steps onto the cycle path (they are red, so fairly obvious) in front of a cyclist. It is funny how I now have the cyclist ‘mentality’ and ring my bell furiously at pedestrians who are on the cycle path.
There are also financial benefits from going native in Germany, as I have found out. If you take your empty bottles back to the supermarket you get 25 cents back per bottle when you put them in the crusher – what a way to encourage recycling!
Though I have not gone entirely native and do not speak as much German as I should, I now find myself thinking of German words first before the English equivalent. I also drop into conversation German words; for instance ‘shall we mitnehmen’ as opposed to shall we take away. The same is true of interjections when I ask, na? (well) to an English speaking person or put, oder? at the end of a sentence instead of ‘don’t you think’, or ‘isn’t it.’ There are lots German words like these which are extremely versatile as they don’t have a ‘fixed’ meaning, so you can just drop them into conversation. The same is true of the famous German swear word Scheiße. I do, I have to say, find myself saying the S word quite a lot here. The nature of the word means it can be used as a prefix on most words, for example scheisswetter, meaning terrible weather. This is a particular favourite in Hamburg due to the fact it rains. A lot. Somehow it is much less offensive than the equivalent S word in English. I have also noticed in my written English that I have recently started to capitalize my nouns as the Germans do (all nouns in German are capitalized). It’s probably just as well I am going back to England in a few weeks as soon no-one would understand what I was taking about!
Perhaps you have also experienced the same phenomenon in your ‘adopted’ country. We’d love to hear your experiences!