‘Tut mir leid, mein Dialekt ist nicht sehr gut.’

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:

bavariamap
One state, seven regions.

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!

29 Replies to “‘Tut mir leid, mein Dialekt ist nicht sehr gut.’”

  1. I totally understand and get your post. I am from Passau. I have family living in Regensburg. I too have problems understanding those who speak Hoch Deutsch especially Berliners. I had a girlfriend from the German/Poland border and I couldn’t understand her dialect either. I speak Schwabisch and no one understands me either LOL! Good luck.

    1. Well Schwabisch, from what I understand, is a WHOLE different kettle of fish! Have you seen the film, Die Kirche bleibt im Dorf? You must!

  2. This makes me feel extremely lucky to live in Neidersachsen! Though I can DEFINITELY relate to flailing around, linguistically. Every paragraph had me laughing and nodding my head saying, “Girrrl…so stimmt.” 🙂

  3. I was in Unterfranken (Würzburg) for four years and reconciled myself to understanding the Frankisch dialect, but always just responding auf hochdeutsch. They understand it, they just don’t speak it. Kind of like when our Swiss friends would come to visit: directly back to hochdeutsch! I too got called out by bus drivers an inordinate amount of the time.

    I DO believe the dialects are a way to just call out the foreigners. Because even in America, we understand each other.

    1. Hahaha so true, sometimes I think, ‘really guys, are you taking the piss?’ I can only speak ‘hoch Deutsch’ (if indeed anything) and am far better with the Northern accent.

      Bloody bus drivers, pretty sure they do it for fun.

  4. We lived in the Pfalz and boy is their dialect hard to understand. I said Ya, ya …. alot! Often at the wrong time.

  5. Just discovered your blog Liv and I am loving it! I’m an American but was raised by a German mom (my Oma lived in Kiel) and a dad who was the son of German immigrants. I also host a lot of German exchange students (my Hamburg son passed on your blog to me) and have visited often. You have some great observations and I love your writing style! I love how your Australian sayings keep popping in as well – I’ve also hosted one of you guys too! Keep going…I look forward to your posts! Hoch Deutsch forever!

    1. Hurrah, Kiel! Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting, I’m glad you found some things of interest here. I think my Australian sayings pop in without me evening noticing/aware they are Aussie haha. And absolutely … Hochdeutsch forever!

  6. Don’t give up, you’re not the only one, who doesn’t understand the Dialekt of a certain region. Well, even I (born, raised and living in the Land of Hochdeutsch) don’t get every Mundart in Germany.

    But lately i had the feeling the other way around. We went on vacation to Scottland and it was sometimes really hard to understand the guys over there. I had the same feeling there, you have in Oberpflaz, that i kinda don’t know any english any more. I remember, that we stood in a restaurant an really couldn’t figgure out, what the girl behind the counter wanted. After the third time repeating and holding up a bottle i regognized one word (vinegar) and assumed that she asked us all the time, if we wanted vinegar on top of or fish and chips. Yes we did.

    I think, if you ask your neighbours to be kind an speak hochdeutsch, because you have a real hard time understandig, the “nice” guys will do that. And the other ones aren’t worth it.

    1. If it makes you feel any better, I struggle with the Scottish accent too. In fact there are several accents in Great Britain that, when they catch me unawares, I find utterly confounding. Sometimes when we’re watching TV with German subtitles and the English/US accent on the screen is one I am not used to, I have to check my comprehension with the subtitles!

      1. Scottish accent is really hard to understand, but it is really lovely, I love its melody, its ambiguity. It always feels, as if it sounded hard and soft at the same time.

  7. Good stuff! I, too, chuckled at your post. Everyone’s in for some pretty amusing anecdotes. Bring it on. Being ‘down there’ is perhaps a blessing in disguise.

  8. Oh my word – just attempted that dialect quiz! I won’t reveal my score! You’Re definitely in for a few laffs there, na…. What did you score?

  9. What?! No! You have to take it to overcome your bla bla! All fun and games. I reached question 11, couldn’t be bothered anymore, and scored 5, out of 11 – I tallied as I went along. I guessed every question but three which I knew were right. Not bad considering I’ve never lived in that part of DE. That dialect test is a mare. You’ll have a right laff.

  10. I found your blog a few weeks ago. It’s always very interesting to see Germany through the eyes of an expat.
    All you write is informative and fun to read (and a good exercise for my English).

    I sometimes have difficulties in understanding (other) German dialects, too.
    And I don’t even know enough of the (old) dialect of my home region Westfalen (Westphalia), that my grandparents spoke. It was a variety of ‘Plattdeutsch’ (niederdeutsch / Low German) of North Germany.
    Low German is closer to Dutch and to English than the dialects of Central and South Germany.
    Here some examples in English – Low German – High/Standard German:

    cake – kauken – Kuchen
    heaven – hiäwen – Himmel
    make – maken – machen
    that – dat – das
    to smoke – schmoiken – rauchen
    white – witt – weiß
    little – lütt – klein

    But there were even differences in dialect from village to village. My grandma didn’t know some words my grandpa used, though they had been growing up only 30 km apart….

    (Hope my English was not too bad….)

    1. Thank you so much for dropping me a line, lovely to know you’re reading. Ah Plattdeutsch – I have come across that a lot, during my time north-west and funnily enough, even though it’s closer to English, being unfamiliar with it render it completely foreign. But it has some fantastic words – even cuter ones than German. (ps: your English was fantastic!)

      1. Reading your blog is a pleasure for me!
        Yes, Plattdeutsch is still a dialect of German, not English 😉
        It’s true that it has some nice and useful words. Sometimes these words even have no counterpart in German.
        (p. s.:thank your for your compliment)

  11. Hey Liv,

    I just found your blog and started reading it a few days ago.
    Most of it is really fun for me – especially when you’re complaining about German habits.
    I’ve been born, raised and am still living in Schwaben, although my mother’s family came from Bavaria and my father’s family’s from Sachsen-Anhalt… this makes me a … wait … so … I’m not Bavarian, I’m definitely not from Sachsen-Anhalt…. but as my family hasn’t been living in Schwaben for, let’s say 200 years, I’m not a Schwabe… and my children and their children won’t be…

    What I really wanted to comment:
    I you’re having any problems with German dialects, try to figure out the difference between a “Dialekt” and a “Mundart” …. won’t make it easier to understand, but it’s kind of a fun fact even most Germans don’t get.

  12. Hey Liv, just got on to your blog via facebook,
    and I gotta say I do really (really) like it.

    I’m a “Oberpfälzer”, as you’d say, born and raised in a little town on the edge of the Bavarian Forest. I just wanted to say, that if somebody, especially older people, is really really speaking bavarian, I probably couldn’t follow either, especially if the speaker is from more than maybe 20km from my hometown.
    Many people nowadays have really “just” a bavarian accent, meaning they sound the words differently than in high german, but they mostly do use but little actual bavarian vocabulary. of course, which words are commonly used is again a very local thing.

    all the best. d.

  13. Although I am a Holsteiner I just passed the Oberpfälzisch test without an error. Seems that in the three years I lived in Munich I got a bit familiar with the Bavarian dialect.

  14. I just discovered your blog today and I must say “I love it”. I’m Franconian – to be specific Westmittelfranke. Born in Nürnberg, raised in Ansbach (capital of Westmittelfranken but only for historical reasons) and now live in Nürnberg again. And even though I’m German/Bavarian/Franconian/Central Franconian, I have relatives living near Stuttgart with a quite hard Swabian dialect (Schwäbisch) that I just kind of understand, when they’re talking with me. Even though they try to speak their best Hochdeutsch to me. When they start talkin to each other – I’m lost. So don’t be frustrated. It even happens to Germans 😉

    BTW I used that kind of experience and started to just listen to what the words and language sounds like and tried to extrapolate, what German must sound to complete foreigners. Quite funny in my opinion since I got a notion that it kinda resembles Japanese or something like that. Can you share that impression?

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