And I am back to not understanding a single word of what is going on around me. I feel like I have rewound back to 2010, when I landed in Münster with three words of German – danke, bitte and polizei – and existed in perpetual terror the bus driver was going to want to say something to me over the speaker and I wouldn’t understand it (which happened, often. I still have the irrational feeling bus drivers will call me out in front of the whole bus based on a few consecutive Münster experiences.)
See, in Bavaria, the Bavarians speak Bavarian. Not to be confused with German. Because the Bavarians aren’t German, oh no, don’t be ridiculous, they’re a state/country/kingdom unto themselves. They do things differently down here and are extremely proud of it. They could quite happily detach from the rest of Germany and float away as a wealthy, fully-functioning separate entity. In fact, the rest of Germany would probably give them a little farewell party if it weren’t for the fact Germany needs Bavaria’s economy.
Where was I? Ah yes, I don’t just live in Bavaria. I live in a region in Bavaria. And the Germans (and Bavarians) are really, really proud and protective of their regions/villages/neighbourhoods and the traditions/culture/dialects that come with them. ”You prepare your Spargel with 100g of butter? Well we do ours with 150g, but that’s because we’re from a different region, 20km away from you. In fact, we don’t even say ‘Spargel’, we say ‘Spaaaaaarrrrrrgoool.” ”Oh really? That’s funny, because we live a good 45km south-east of you guys and we say ‘Spaggel’!”
Technically I live in a ‘district free’ city (of 40,000 people) in the north east of Bavaria (a state), in the region of Oberpfalz. Regensburg, an hour south, is the main city (the seat) in our region while Nürnberg, an hour west and Bayreuth, an hour north, are in a completely different region called Central-Franconia and Upper-Franconia respectively***. An hour east, incidentally, will pop you in a completely different country known as the Czech Republic. Occasionally I have made vague references to living in Franken, or at least, near the Frankenwald. Franken seems to have a bit more going for it and I suppose subconsciously I want to be associated with that. But to claim residency in Franken is, quite simply, falsch. See:
So, I live in the Oberpfalz and here, people speak … wait for it … Oberpfälzisch. Not your general Bayerisch, although it is a member of that family, not Ostfränkisch (East Franconian) as they do in Franken, but their very own, deliciously difficult to understand, Oberpfälzisch. A lot of crunchy clacking and rolled r’s and entirely new words. It’s a marching band of an accent, all up and down and rat-a-tat-tat. I don’t understand it. If I try really, really hard, I can pick out a few words but it takes an embarrassingly long time. That only thing that makes me feel better is the sight of SG’s face, eyes agog, as his Northern brain tries to comprehend the Oberpfälzisch. I recall our first experience with Oberpfälzisch, when we were apartment hunting way back when. While being shown around an apartment that seemed to be housing an illegal number of tenants, SG spent the entire time saying, ‘bitte? Bitte?’ and then falling back on the default nod and ‘mmmm, mmmm, stimmt.’
Last year, when we first started living here, I was too busy wallowing in homesickness and self pity to pay much attention to the dialect and the fact I didn’t really understand it. Either that or I have completely blanked out the trauma of flailing about in a dearth of understanding. But this time around, I have already had to apologise to the man in the florist for not understanding his question about wrapping up my pot and making him repeat it – I swear he did not say ‘einpacken’ the first time round. And I scrounged around in the sentence that the lady at Rewe gnashed out and found ‘sammeln’. But only just. When yesterday, in a moment of brightness, we locked ourselves out of our apartment and had to engage extensively with our (lovely) neighbours, I had nothing. I got nothing. I gave only polite laughter and a lot of ‘danke … Vielen Dank … dankeschön’ and a touch of ‘stimmt, haha, stimmt.’ As for the key man (about whom SG ominously intoned, ‘I have seen a lot of reportages about Schlüsseldienst and how they basically cook the Christmas goose’ … which in itself was vaguely incomprehensible) he just sort of contorted his mouth and strange sounds popped and crackled out.
And so I have resigned myself to, essentially, attempting to learn another language. Or demanding, imperiously, everyone I speak to speaks only Hochdeutsch (High German). Or just laughing politely. A lot. And saying ‘stimmt’ all the time.
*** And this is just one state, Bavaria, I am banging on about. One state of sixteen in this country. So, multiply this madness by sixteen. Seventeen, if you count Mallorca.
You can take German dialect quizzes here: Viel Spaß!