Friday, January 21, 2011

Foreigner Friday: I'm European, Not Stupid

One of my great friends suggested I start writing about life in the US from the perspective of a foreigner. I think I'll give that a go, actually. Not sure whether it will turn out to be a funny bit or serious. Either way, please don't get offended.

As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, I was born and raised in Germany by an Irish mother and a German father. My mother couldn't speak much German, so English was the language that was spoken in our home, and therefore is my first. I can be considered completely bilingual, which is quite rare, but extremely useful. I also majored in American Studies at university, a mix of American literature, linguistics, history, etc. What I'm trying to say is: I know my English fairly well. Back in the day I actually thought I would like to be a linguist some day. Life got in the way of that plan, but I'll leave that story for another day.

So, in 2007 I married my super fabulous husband and we moved to the US. South Carolina, to be specific. I had lived in the US before in 2001/2002 (long story), but only briefly. I like it here. There are many things that are fabulous, some not so much, just like in almost any other country I've been. And when I'm asked where I'm from, I reply "Europe". Because it's much easier than explaining the whole German/ Irish thing. Most of the time, people are satisfied with that answer and move on. However, some people want further information. This is where I sometimes get annoyed.

Let's say I've been having a nice conversation with another mother at a play date. We get on the topic of where I'm from and she learns that I grew up in Germany. Even though she has obviously heard me speak English perfectly fine, she starts suddenly speaking v e r y  s l o w l y  to me, as if I'm an idiot. I try to explain that my mother made sure we spoke only English in our home, etc., but this information is completely lost on my conversation partner. Sometimes I can't help but make a snide remark about English actually originating in Europe. I usually do not become friends with these people...

Then there are the somewhat rare specimens who ask about Germany as if it were a place that never left the 19th century. "Do y'all have rollercoasters in Germany?", "These are what we call 'strawberries'. Have you eaten strawberries before?" As you can imagine, these conversations are actually quite amusing. The best question I was ever asked was by a man in Indiana, who honestly wanted to know if I had flown over or driven. I believe I was too stunned to speak. I'm sure he thought I couldn't speak English very well...


  1. That was hilarious, you actually had us both laughing out loud! I love it! I had no idea that English was your first language, and it's pretty embarrassing that I didn't know your mom is Irish. More please!!! Oh wait, I meant m o r e p l e a s e...