Somewhere in the Middle

The other night, we went to a thing at my work, to which several of us English speakers brought along our German partners. As is the way when transplants and locals get together, conversation invariably covered how one winds up in Germany, comparisons of home cities with current home cities and how and where cross-cultural relationships kicked off. The German partners all, generally without fail have solid English and the English speakers bring their own special something to German. Among the partners, one German boyfriend sounded more American than Americans and another German girlfriend had a very prominent roll to her r’s. I was mid-telling a friend of the hilarity of meeting my Kiwi friend’s girlfriend who had a broad New Zealand accent when someone said that SG sounded British. I can’t really hear SG’s accent anymore and it is unlikely he’d sound particularly Australian, because I don’t. But it would appear, just like the other German partners of English speakers from various parts of the world, SG has picked up a sort of neutral accent as a result of hanging around me. At the very least his vowels are nice and long and his rs pleasingly flat.

A couple of days after the work soiree, the doorbell rang while we were watching TV. I heard SG speaking English into the answerphone, so assumed it was our former neighbour, a lovely Turkish actor in Kiel for a string of shows in February. It was indeed him, needing to be buzzed in because he had left something in his recently vacated apartment. SG dutifully buzzed him in and then loitered at the front door.

‘Do I have to say something to him?’

As a German, SG has an innate aversion to small talk. As a German with an Australian girlfriend, he has had to overcome this and his talking-about-the-weather skills are now really quite admirable. The poor sod was given a crash course like no other when pitched head first into my loud, verbose, glass-clinking extended family who can and do talk about anything for hours at a time. I learnt the fine art of small talk from my mother who used to drive us kids crazy by running into someone in the supermarket car-park and making us wait in the car for half an hour while she stood outside, car keys in hand, making excellent small talk.

‘Yes, of course. Just say ‘hi, how are you, isn’t the weather shit, see you later’.

Moments later footsteps were heard, and our former neighbour wiped his boots on the mat and entered the little landing that separates our apartments. I heard SG say,’hi mate’ and after our neighbour apologised for disturbing us, SG’s response of ‘no worries’. A few more words, a quick goodbye and SG was back in our living room. We watched TV for a few more minutes until I said, ‘oh my God, you just said ‘mate’ and ‘no worries’ within the same minute. You’re Australian. You’re actually Australian.’ SG shrugged and said, ‘I was calling my new friends from Manchester ‘mate’ all Friday night.’

He eats Vegemite, drinks his black tea with milk and says ‘mate’. I have (almost) stopped jaywalking, am getting better at being on time and know the words to several schlager songs. As SG is becoming a little more Australian, I am becoming a little more German. Presumably, at some point, we’ll meet somewhere in the middle. Until then, I’ll keep bitching about the snow.

Flag_of_Australia_and_Germany

 

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12 thoughts on “Somewhere in the Middle

  1. I love this! I am so glad I saw your link on twitter from a retweet. My name is Bonnie and I am living in England with my husband. The accent thing totally rings true to our us. Technically we are both Americans. But technically I am also English. Long story short I grew up in Europe until 17 but have an american accent. I am longing to get back to an english accent, but my husband seems to be beating me. A man who has only been living in England for almost two years. Hes been picking up everything from work. His accent is changing slowly, his pronunciation of words, using the english words and terms. He even corrects me now! Its actually really cute, aside from the fact that I wish I could get my English accent back a little quicker. 😉 I’m going to be following your blog now, I used to live in Germany growing up and look forward to reading more. xx

    Bonnie Rose | A Compass Rose

    1. Ooh whereabouts did you live in Germany when you were growing up?

      Yes, accents are fascinating things. The partners of a lot of my English-speaking friends have spent a lot of time in either the UK or US, so their accents are understandable, whereas SG’s accent and mannerisms are purely a result of spending time with me – so I don’t think his accent is as pronounced. But it’s discernible.

      English speakers changing accents to other English accents is also really interesting – the American one is such a strong accent, your husband is doing well to be adopting the British one! xx

  2. Enjoyed this. I found myself speaking English with a Danish accent after living with a Dane for some time. Some of us are extremely prone to picking up manners of speech. Beautifully designed blog by the way. I am very envious!

    1. Thank you! Yes, or combining words – I speak Denglish a lot, this hybrid of German-English, both in tone/inflection and actual vocab. I suppose, to the Germans, it sounds as funny/endearing (I hope) to them as SG saying ‘mate’ sounds to me.

      1. It is also funny to hear bilingual people speaking a mixture of their languages. I often was absolutely amused if a yugoslavian colleague talked to his family on the phone:
        blablablablablablabla – ja, das habe ich ihm auch gesagt, aber weißt du, wie das ist? blablablabla – genau! This is really funny, especially if you only understand one of the used languages…

  3. Hi Liv! Lovely to read you again – sounds like you’re doing really well.
    I enjoyed this post – it’s a funny topic. When I was in Italy, whenever I thought that I was speaking awesomely authentic, grammatically kickass Italian, I would speak perfect English with an Italian accent with my anglophone friends, just to remind us that, yeh, we probably still had foreign accents in Italian…
    And today I was speaking to an Irish woman on the phone at work and I started to put on an Irish accent without even realising it. It was some kind of natural reciprocation. She asked me if I had lived in Ireland and I had to fib rather than say that I was just mimicking her subconsciously.
    x j.

    1. Jus! So marvellous to hear from you again! Are you telling me you told the woman you had spent time in Ireland to cover for your subconscious mimicking? Fair play, I probably would have become stuck in some sort of largely fictive narrative as well – better that than the truth. Accents are fascinating things, even more so in second languages. I wonder what I sound like when I speak German – surely utterly strange. I do know what I sound like when I speak Denglish, however, or adapt the German inflections and mannerisms … really, really odd. xxx

      1. Ah, yes, I told her I had lived in Ireland for a while after uni, then moved the conversation along as quickly as I could lest she question me about it. I have never set foot in Ireland! xx

  4. Love the bitching about the snow comment. James is turning the bad side of Lebanese and I hate it.

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