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You can Du me; the formal or informal guide

Many European languages make linguistic distinctions based on interpersonal relationships. For example, a language can have two forms of the word “you”, and a speaker would use one or the other version depending on how well they know someone. In German this is the case with “Sie” and “Du” (“Sie” being formal and “Du” being informal).

This split leads to a chronic question for many native-English-speaking expats learning (or who have just learned) German: which form should one use, and when?  This, unfortunate confusion happens because these distinctions once existed in older forms of English, but they’ve since lost their place in modern English.

We expats learning the German language and culture are frequently struggling with this question, Sie vs. Du…so much envy for those lucky suckers learning English…

It’s hard when you are thrown into a new (and sometimes strange) culture. You are not just constantly out of your comfort zone but it seems that any faux pas, slight or not, somehow becomes this huge mistake in your head.

Sometimes improperly using sie/du can lead us into a downward spiral of self-doubt and we undermine our abilities of acclimation, but honestly let me tell you first things first, that’s nonsense. Get out of your head!

We, as expats can start to think and feel that we are alone when we make tiny mistakes like this.

Plot twist: we aren’t!

Most Germans make grammatical mistakes just like we do. In my experience it seems they just go by personal rules that work out unless corrected (sort of like guessing “Der”, “Die”, or “Das” for us–wing it until you’re told otherwise). Just think on the bright side, try your best and you will always succeed, or find the right answer. Germans are definitely not shy when a correction needs to be made.

But for those not so convinced..here is a little cheat sheet of suggestions i’ve found that will help you decide what to Sie and Du. (Or, rather, when to “Sie” or “Du”.)

  1. If both people are dressed casual, go informal.

  2. If both people are in an informal environment (chit-chat in line at the supermarket, or in the park) go informal.

  3. If one person is wearing a uniform in the place of employment (restaurant, café, shop, etc….) go formal.

  4. If there is more than 20 years difference between the people, go formal.

  5. In a work setting if both people are under 40 and wearing casual clothes go informal, otherwise go formal in the work environment.

Really though, these are just loose guidelines. Often they won’t exactly be the case. Usage of “Sie” or “Du” can be based on comfort levels or personal preference and how well you know a person. Just don’t fret, people won’t be offended when it is obvious you are not a native speaker. I myself have been here over half a decade and still fail once in a while.

The German language itself is extremely difficult and takes a lot of work to master. Most of the time trial by error when speaking. Just think of that great American motto of ours,  “Fake it till you make it”. I live by this when speaking German. The biggest road block you will find is lacking the confidence and getting trapped in your head. As long as you go out and give it all you’ve got, don’t sweat the little things and even ask to be corrected. In no time you’ll be Deutsch Sprechen wie ein Profi.

Going to the Hairdresser in Germany

Going to the Hairdresser in Germany

Pre-PS– *If you’re keen for more details, a little story or additional visuals, check out the Youtube video I’ve linked at the bottom of this post*

A big topic not alot of people adress in expat life is the day to day routines, this including lifestyle routines and today I am talking about hair. For me this has been a big point of stress and not only is it tricky to avoid the wrong cut while trying to communicate in a second language but if youre one for reular colourings, this can be verrryyy hazardous.

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I have had my fair share of german hairdresser horror stories ( both appearence and wallet related) so please let me give you a hand with some tips to avoid disaster.

First things first, if you have not found your dream hairdresser who can assist you in english, here is some basic vocabulary to help you manage the perfekt cut:

  • schneiden (cut), waschen (wash), föhnen (blow-dry)
  • lang (long) – kurz (short)
  • länger (longer) – kürzer (shorter)
  • vorn, vorne (at the front) – hinten (at the back, also, in the neck)
  • am Hals (in the neck)
  • an der Stirn (at the forehead)
  • an den Seiten (at the sides)
  • rechts (right) – links (left)
  • über die Ohren (over the ears), hinter die Ohren (behind the ears)
  • ins Gesicht (into the face)
  • gleich lang (the same length)
  • glatt (straight)
  • stufig (cut in layers)
  • fransig (fringy)
  • der Scheitel (the parting)
  • der Pony (the fringe)
  • der Schnitt (the cut)
  • die Frisur (the hairdo)

If you are looking for some colour assistance, refer this vocab:

  • Farben (to colour/dye)
  • heller (lighter) – dunkler (darker)
  • Strähnen (Highlights)
  • Blondieren (bleach dont confuse with blonde highlights!)

*note on blondieren, this is essentialy a full bleach wash. Worst idea ever if you dont want to look like a platinum blonde mess. Would not recommend, also can easily be mistaken. so heeaaaddd my warning fellow bottle blondies

Choosing a salon and what to expect

I like to think of myself as a bit of a salong expert as the things I to my hair are pretty tedious and extreme…now in the past four years I have popped around to many salons in Munich-high end to low end- and let me tell you, times are tricky. In the lower end casual salons most likely youll get a decent price but the customer service is not the best and of course they ask if you want to blow dry your own hair ( what?!) even in the more bougie salons this can happen oddly enough ( German things oder was?) compared to the states there is not so much a full service aspect to it. Dont expect to automatically get your cut/colour and then a blowout with styling included. Often times this costs extra to have your hair dryed and styled after. And when it comes to the hairdresser, small talk usually wont happen. Like most in the German service industry, its a get in and get out transaction. In all honesty, youre best bet is to get a recomendation.

Luckily for me I found a fabelhaft hairdresser here. Her name is Buba and she is a wizard with the ways of hair. She works at a salon here in Munich called Kazu . I have recommended so many people to her as; 1. she speaks fabulous english 2. super friendly and chatty 3. has never let me down.

If you are in Munich definitly book a slot with her and tell her Aspen sent you (;

If you’re in another part of Germany, then my dear I wish you the best! If ever you need some more specified vocab help or hair advce in this glorious country, write your girl a little note

xxA

( If you’re interested in how tipping for hair in Germany works, I mention it in this video below )

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Dabbling in Denglisch

So I was planning on writing this great big post about how I ( and anyone who follows my tips) learned to manage conversational German so quickly. I then shortly realized it was utter nonsense because over the past 6 months I have been speaking less German and more Denglisch.

Dẹng·lisch

Combination of English and German spoken by expats in Germany  and Germans who keep on switching between both languages.

“Kannst Du mir morgen helfen to plan this out?”

For those who have transitioned into Denglisch, it really isnt a matter of being poor at one language or the other. Your skill set is voided, its mainly about the situation. When you have to use two languages often in daily life, no matter how disciplined or precise you are. Eventually you end up mixing them when the passendes Wort cannot be found.

It unfortunately is a  nasty habit one finds themselves in. People will ask me to translate a word from German to english and I’ll be like ” yea I totally understand what that is, but no my brain can’t compute my mother tongue right now” i.e lost in Dengleschion. I find my German skills have weakend and my english moderately deteriorated. I am sadly becoming a lazy linguist I fear.

It’s really interesting how becoming bilingual later on in life works out. The children I have previously cared for were all bilingual straight out of the womb, they have the ability to perfectly transition between language and seldom mix them up. Were as I over here have begun facing a handful linguistic nonsense:

  • Yodaspeak
    Since the German sentence structure is occasionaly backwards compared to the English, my American brain overthinks it decides that it should always be this way. I’ll find myself talking in english and blurting out phrases like ” I will the book soon read”
  • Or?

In German they always use an affirmation seeking “oder?” (or?) at the end of a sentence. Often  I find myself switching it in to my native english by asking my friends something like, “We will go later to the party or?” yea. smooth Aspen, congrats on your englischcchhh.

  • Scchh!

I realized I had been in Germany quite sometime when I started added c  to any words with an sh. Not only would I mistakingly write it down, but embarassingly enough pronounce it once and a while.

What are your biggest Denglisch-ues? Has anyone found a good way to stay on track and seperate their languages?  I would love to hear more about your tips and experiences. As I have only been learning German for two years now, It’s always great to hear from a fellow expat!