I used to love you.
For fifteen years I was an anglophile, I had an obsession with everything about you and especially London. Your language, your culture, your food, your wit, your politeness, your quirkiness. I perceived you as the promised land, which would allow me to be myself and be happy and be great. Horror brought me to you in the end. Not the wish to make my dreams come true but the need to save myself from getting destroyed was, what made me leave Germany.
I didn’t feel like a German and I so wanted to be British and I felt my understanding of the language was very good already when I arrived. I called it “near native” ( little arrogant me haha) .. but as time progressed and my dream of having a British partner came true I more and more saw and understood that it’s not that easy at all.
You can say horrible things to each other and people might not get offended. You can say ” fuck off” or “cunt” to a friend and they will laugh with you. Just yesterday I was in a pub and I heard a young guy saying jokingly to his friend ” what’s wrong with you, you stupid cunt” . What did the friend do? Did he get up and leave and defend himself? Was he offended? It didn’t seem like that. If you said ” Was stimmt nicht mit dir, du dumme Fotze” in German… my god, your friend would never speak to you again.
Understandably, because why one earth would you use such harsh language on your friend. Maybe it’s because words in English are a lot vaguer than in German. They don’t sound as harsh either. There is so much room for misunderstanding. When my partner asks me “What’s wrong with you?” in whichever tone of voice or context, it hurts me , I feel offended, I feel insulted, because to me it really sounds like they are asking what is wrong with me , whilst I know in my brain that’s not really the question.
It’s difficult not to get offended and to work through those linguistic difficulties. Once I was told on the phone ” see you later” ….. they never called back … I was upset .. I thought we would see each other later.
Or when someone asks me “How you doing” or “how are you” simply as a way of greeting me , I find it impossible not to respond to that. Words feel different for a German, I think. Maybe fellow Germans wouldn’t say that but I think that’s only because they never think about it. “I love you” or ” i love this” feels different too. Of course we use irony and rhetorical questions too, it’s not like that. We laugh about the sound of our language without looking down on it. When I laugh about the sound of Spanish I am not expressing that I think it’s a silly or stupid language, I laugh about the sound, because it amuses me. I cannot explain why.
As time progresses I get more and more aware of the nuances and what they mean and I try to work on and with it. The way I speak has definitely changed and I’m embracing being able to stay as vague as possible linguistically, as it’s nice that one can’t be pinned down to anything. But I do wonder whether there is anything I can do to have less of a strong emotional response to words and expressions that an English person would feel cold about.
There’s of course things I still love just like I did before I moved here. This place for instance. The best fish and chips I’ve had anywhere, don’t be fooled by the reviews. Last time I went there I was having another bad, sad day and the way the fish-selling woman referred to me as “darling” ( which normally I really don’t like) really brightened up my day. I also love going to the cinema here . Its one of the few places where it’s affordable to watch films and find not only blockbusters. When I lived in West London I used to love Mondays, as the Waterman’s Arts Centre has cinema tickets for £6 on those days.
Thinking about leaving London makes me think of the beautiful Ales and Bitters I have and haven’t drunk, it makes me think of my favourite pub ( that I haven’t been too in ages, which has or used to have a very beautiful red haired bar girl) and crumpets and Terry’s chocolate orange. Things that make England special and different. But most, of course, it makes me think of how much of a queer haven most of London is and of my Faerie friends. Those are things I will be happy to come back to when it’s warm again.
I wish I could overcome feeling words. “Sticks and stones may break my bones. But words shall never hurt me.”? How does one achieve that? Is there a German equivalent? Dear me, there is „Stöcke und Steine können meine Knochen brechen, aber Dinge, die mir gesagt werden, verletzen mich nie “. Oh, doesn’t that have a wonderful sound to it. ( Irony). Maybe it’s not only a linguistic problem.
Does it happen less to Brits because they put less value on what other people say to them? Maybe they have learned that getting offended by language doesn’t really help anyone. And then I think people do get offended a lot by language today, especially the ones younger than me. I am not judging it. It’s interesting how it can be not ok to use the wrong pronouns on someone but it can be ok to call someone a “cunt”, but then I guess, as always in English, everything is down to context and context is defined by both the sender and the receiver.
On some level I think that’s a good thing about the German language. Of course we have context too, but would it be ok to call a friend a “Fotze” in any context? or tell them to “fick dich” in a friendly way? I don’t think so. I wonder how much vagueness and context I will find in Italian. Whether it’s more like German or like English in that respect.
Britain, you haven’t been as great as your name or my Anglophilia would suggest and expect it, but I have been very lucky and until four years ago I felt pretty British myself and liked it. Of course, arriving in 2016 wasn’t the luckiest situation, but living in West London with old Londoners and as a result of that now happily writing this post in the North Kensington Library is great indeed. My life in Berlin feels a long way behind me somehow and sometimes when I sit down and realise that I did make my dream come true of moving to London it fills me with a warm sense of happiness and achievement. I might not have a lot of money or a 9-5 job or a traditional career, but I’m from a village of 1500 souls and have made a life in London.