Thursday, July 7, 2011

Conversations with Cats

Is it weird to use a hashtag at the end of a face-to-face conversation? …What about in a conversation with your cat?
Lately I’ve become, somewhat disturbingly, aware of the increased conversational frequency I have with my cat. Before moving to Germany (…looks down to count fingers) eight months ago, I spent roughly 9 hours a day, five days a week surrounded by other humans in a florescent-lit place commonly referred to as Work.

Today, however, I spend less than a quarter of that time attending a German language class so that I can eventually learn enough to go back to spending most of my time at Work.

So what am I doing with all this extra time? For starters, my apartment has never been cleaner (except for that mysterious, weird smell dwelling in the refrigerator. But that doesn’t count because its origins are currently, well, mysterious.) And there’s studying German, of course, drinking Weinschorle, scouring Munich for tofu products and getting lost (although the regularity of the latter has declined in recent months).

But my social life?  Is there an international onomatopoeia for cricket sounds?

Okay, so I’ve always considered myself a bit of an ab und zu (roughly now and then) extrovert. But since moving here, I’ve been a lot less ab and a lot more zu. While I have made a few friends here, my circle is considerably smaller than in previous cities.
I, too, will get my social groove back, just like this happy little guy.
My self-induced, quasi-mountain hermit…ness is certainly not for lack of social opportunities. Yet no matter how many people I meet, I haven’t been able to shake this odd, sideline observer feeling. And until recently, I haven’t been able to figure out why. But having lots of extra time gives one the opportunity for deep self-reflection…and to eat a lot of wasabi peanuts.

So what’s holding me back? No, it’s not wasabi peanut breath. It’s my personality in German, or more accurately, lack thereof.

Almost all of my day-to-day conversations with friends and new acquaintances are in German (apart from a few). And while I can chitchat with a sufficient degree of competence, I lack the linguistic dexterity required to make refined, meaningful or witty contributions.

Even in those rare instances where I manage to formulate something untextbooky, by the time my brain transfers it to my lips, the conversational moment has passed. Timing is everything, and unfortunately the translation app running in my brain is slower than a Mississippi drawl. And despite the fact that most of the people I meet are also foreigners, sharing in the struggle to master this language, I’ve refuse (aside from the aforementioned exceptions) to slide comfortable into English.

So where does this leave my social life? In a bit of a rut, until my German improves anyway.

On the upside, at least I’ve started speaking to my cat in monochrome German. Although, between you and me, his conversational skills are worse than mine… 


  1. I completely understand this feeling of not having a personality, not having a sense of humour. Totally alienating. It's so painful to know you have something so brilliantly witty to say that everyone would be on the floor if you could only ruddy say it, but by the time you've worked out how you might (not including getting endings right) the moment has passed. On the plus side, I think speaking German to your cat is one up from speaking German (out loud) to yourself. Not that I would ever do that, obviously.

  2. Oh man, I totally get this! I married a German and moved here 9 months ago, and I feel like a permanent bore here. Good luck to you!

  3. Hang in there and give your self time to adjust. It'll get better soon...

  4. Do you also find yourself very monotone while speaking German? I do, and don't like it...I don't feel like I have the natural highs and lows in my speech, because I am worried about the grammar and that darned verb on the end. Ugh. Hang in there...I found myself talking to my dog a whole lot more. I think you're normal. :o]

  5. I could really relate to this post. Since I finished German school I talk to my cat a lot more too. So far he's learned a few German words, most notably "Bist du hungrig?"

    I'm moving to Munich next week (from Stuttgart) and while I'm excited about it, I'm nervous too, making friends takes time and while I've taken some German classes, my social abilities in German are quite limited, even though I do want to make German friends as well as expat friends.

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  7. I can totally relate to this post! One on one conversations with Germans aren't too bad but find it impossible to keep up with groups and I think I just end up coming across as shy or having nothing to say which can be frustrating!

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  10. Oh man, I NEED to learn German. I try. I watch TV. Listen to the radio. Pay attention to everything people say to me. But I've had a hard time. I think my three year old knows more German than I do. Maybe I should be going to kindergarten with him? ;) Here's hoping I can find a tutor during the off-season because this won't fly another season!

  11. Just hang in, stuff will improve slowly

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  13. this is fantastic post thanks for sharing