One of the (few) things that I dislike about living in Japan is that I’m not really afforded any opportunities to keep up with my German. It’s easy enough to keep my comprehension skills sharp. I can read German books and often watch my favorite television shows in German. (Though since those materials are the Harry Potter books and The Vampire Diaries, Angel, and Battlestar Galactica, respectively, the vocabulary skill set that gets honed isn’t really the most useful for day-to-day dealings. Knowing the German words for “vervain” and “hallows” won’t really get me far.) It’s my speaking that has really suffered in the past year; in northern Japan, German speakers don’t really abound.
As luck would have it, though, one of my favorite first-year students has a cram school teacher (Yeah, Japanese kids apparently don’t spend enough time in school; they head to juku until nine or so in the evening.) who speaks German extremely well. Once my student learned that I spoke German, he passed it along to his teacher, who then passed back that he wanted to meet. Eventually, we set up plans for dinner with another of his students, a woman who had been learning German for the past few months.
When I showed up to the restaurant last night, I had expected to speak a bit of German with someone who had dabbled in the language. HA. Not the case. I think my “deer in headlights” expression came out in full force when I was greeted in fluent, nearly accent-free German. As it turns out, Kudo-sensei had lived in Cologne (where I studied abroad) for five years and in Düsseldorf for another four. A dabbler, he was not.
Like it usually happens when I go ages without properly speaking German, it took me a bit before I got back into the swing of things. But once I did, the next two hours were a blur of reminiscing about Cologne and just overall great conversation. I know I made mistakes. Quite a few of them, I’m sure of it. But I often forget that I genuinely love speaking German; once I start, it feels like coming back home.
At one point in the evening – and here’s the real reason I wrote this post – it struck me just how bizarre the situation was: chopsticks in my left hand, a glass of red wine in my right, sitting in a restaurant in northern Japan, and speaking in German. It was just one of those surreal moments that is such a mish-mashed Frankenstein’s monster of random parts, none of which really fit together. Many times in the evening, our languages blended together; Japanese was answered by German, and German preceded English. By the end of the evening, my brain felt like a pile of mush from all of the different languages that had flown around the table.
I definitely look forward to this becoming a monthly meeting, not just because it will give me an opportunity to break out my German, but because…drum roll, please…Kudo-sensei has promised to show me a bakery that sells crusty, crackling, perfect German bread. Genuine Brötchen! This is, on a scale of one to ten, absolutely monumental. My inner fat kid is rubbing her hands together already in anticipation of all those carbs.