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.