Speaking German in California

Part Eight of What I Will Miss was speakingIMG_6439
and hearing German, and I wrote that I looked forward to German Table at Pomona College. This is where we practiced, once a week, before we headed to Switzerland. I was curious as to whether our conversational skills had improved. I know for sure that our comprehension had increased, and now, after our first day back at the table, I think that our speaking skills have also gotten better. Our endings are still schrecklich, but not quite as bad as before. I think those will take many years to improve.

Trivia for the day. One of the writers for Star Trek: The Next Generation went to Pomona College. This language dorm, Oldenborg, was the naming inspiration for the dreaded Borg with its maze-like halls.


Reading Dutch

Dutch. What a language! So many Zs, Js, double vowels, and yet so many words that an American or German speaker can understand. Even many more that I can’t. We had so much fun looking at all the signage.

If you know that Zandvoort aan Zee is the city, then you can see that Help mee (looks a little like English) and voor een schoon looks like vor ein schön (for a beautiful). So, please, pick up your trash, people.


Green is the color for emergency exits. This one looks like the German signs we see that say Notausgang Freihalten (leave free for emergency exit).


I finally figured out that fietsen meant bicycles (that word is plastered everywhere), but I had to look up geen (meaning no), and plaatsen then meant placing. Don’t park your bike here! This is an important sign in the Netherlands.


This one threw me for a complete loop. So Google Translate to the rescue. It was at the train station, and I know that perron is platform in French. This one says that you must have a valid ticket to get on the train.


So, cross your eyes, know your context and pretend you are reading Swiss German. Easy peasy!

More Fun with German

When I work on Duolingo these days, Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 12.14.08 PMit now gives me a percentage of how fluent I have become in German, and it hovers around 50%. I’m not sure exactly how you can quantify this kind of information, but I think it seems about right. Some conversations I have feel totally natural to me (at an unsophisticated level), and when other people speak to me, I feel as though I have no idea what is happening. I like reading 20 Minuten and other things in German, and even when I don’t know all the vocabulary, I can often figure out what is going on.

The other day when I was buying coffee in the Migros take-away, the woman asked me what else I wanted. I added two wraps to the order, and she asked me if that was all. I said, “yes, for today.” That is something I would say in the US, meaning that I would be back another time and get something else then. She took it to mean something else, I think. She replied, “That’s not much for today.” I smiled and said, “Oh, well, it’s just for lunch.” I think she might have known what I meant, but, who knows?

Daily Life in Istanbul


First you notice the cats. All colors and stripes, all sizes, every kinds of cuteness. They roam throughout the city. There’s even a cross-eyed cat that lives in the Hagia Sophia which met President Obama.

Several of the women in our group took to feeding the cats wherever we went, carrying around leftovers from our meals, and even buying cat food to dole out.

 The Evil Eye

Actually it’s not really the evil eye. It’s a symbol you can wear as jewelry or carry on your key ring. It’s to fend off jealousy. If you are beautiful, or your life is going well, or you just won the lottery, it’s a good idea to carry this eye so that when someone looks at you in that way, their evil indentions are deflected.


You never tell a new mother that her baby is beautiful. That invites bad luck. But if you do say something good, you make a little spitting sound or scratch your tush to ensure no evil.

Turkish Coffee

We had the chance to sample Turkish coffee. Because there is no filter, you request the amount of sugar up front because you don’t want to add sugar later to stir up the grounds. We all ordered “medium sugar” whatever that means. First the grounds are put into the little coffee pots and the water and sugar are added. They are then placed on the hot coals until they bubble. Gently poured into a small cup, you enjoy the coffee little sip by little sip until you are 2/3 of the way through the cup and you reach the top of the grounds. Done!


The Turkish language shares origins with Hungarian and Finnish. We learned to say Let’s Go (Haydi Gidelim) Good morning (Günaydın) and Thank you (Teşekkür). After we finally got our minds around Thank You and used it whenever we had the chance, we got one of two responses from the locals. Either they gave us a big smile (which warmed my little heart), or they repeated it back to us. I have not figured out if they were correcting my pronunciation or if they were thanking me (for what, I’m sure I don’t know).

Hookah and Turkish Baths

While we turned down the opportunity to partake of a Turkish bath, we did decide to try smoking a hookah. A group of us went to a local tea house with our guide and shared two flavors of the hookah. One was apple, one was cappuccino, and we all decided that the cappuccino was better. I also decided that one try would probably be good for the rest of my life.

 More Traditional Food and Drink

The two carts we saw everywhere sold either simit (a Turkish bagel topped with sesame seeds) to which you can add Nutella or cheese. By themselves they cost one Turkish lira, or about 39 cents. I had a few. (This guy was obviously without a cart, but With Simit,)


You could also buy corn for 2 Turkish lira (or 3 lira if you wanted it roasted), but I would recommend that you not wait until the end of the day to try it. Maybe it tastes better when it’s fresher. At least we hope so. We’d already had our yearly fill of chestnuts in Zürich, so we refrained from sampling those.

IMG_4990 A traditional spirit is the anise-flavored Raki. You add it to water and it gets all cloudy.

IMG_5053Neighborhood walk

Yaren took us for a walk through an older neighborhood where we saw some of these views.

This truck drove through the neighborhood and yelled out what he was selling. If someone in the upper floors wanted something, she (usually a she) would lower a basket to the ground with money inside and the potatoes or tomatoes or onions would end up in the basket and the deal was struck. This takes lots of yelling since the distances are a little far. We watched one such exchange, but in the end, the woman at the top of basket declined the goods being sold and pulled up her money.

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Barcelona, Spain

On our last sabbatical when we lived in Chicago, we made a plan to visit a warm place in March, far away from the frigid temperatures. It was a good plan, and we spent 11 lovely days in Belize. Although Zürich is not nearly as cold as Chicago, it IS colder than our usual home in Claremont, and we thought about warmer weather and some sunshine, as well. A little searching under “Europe in January” helped create plans to head to Barcelona. This city had not even been on our radar before we left home, but friends had said that either they had enjoyed it, or they anticipated enjoying it, and that was enough to get us going. It’s on the Mediterranean, after all.

Here are the weather forecasts for the last week of January in both places. A good 20 degrees (F) warmer and sun peeking from behind a cloud made us happy that we chose Spain. As we left Zürich, the snow was coming down, and even though Spain wasn’t nearly as tropical as we had dreamed, and some clouds did roll most days, that did not diminish our enjoyment in the least. I did not have to wear my winter coat or gloves.

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This was our first trip this sabbatical where we flew rather than riding the train. This ended up saving time, but I was reminded how much I appreciate the simplicity of train travel. It’s so easy for us to get to the train station from our flat – just 15 minutes of walking, and then you jump on your train and go. It took 40 minutes by tram to get to the airport, and, of course we had to get there early and go through security, etc.

Several things were different for us by flying in the Schengen region of Europe. First of all, no one asked for our id at the airport. Anywhere. We had our boarding passes on our phones and just scanned those. Second of all, we did not have to take off our shoes at security. You have to remove boots, but not shoes. However, we had to take our iPads out of the backpack. Once we landed in Barcelona, we did not have to go through customs. In that respect, flying was just as good as riding the train.

Barcelona is in northwest Spain, or in the region of Catalan (Catalunya) where both Castillian Spanish and Catalan are spoken. People who believe that Catalan is independent of Spain fly one of the Estelada flags to show their support. We saw many of these flags on balconies.


I brushed up on my very best jr. high Spanish, taking a crack at Duolingo before we left, and I surprised myself at how many words I actually did remember from Señora Gonzalez’s classes from 7th-9th grade. Our first little outing into a bakery for coffee and croissant I was good about remembering to say dos instead of zwei when ordering dos café con leches and dos (point to the chocolate-covered croissants in the case) and pleased to be able to answer the question “for here or to go” with a para aqui.

I made an executive decision to make Barcelona a sister city to Los Angeles because of the similarities I found there. Both are large, sprawling cities next to the sea with large flat sections and hills in others. Both have many Spanish speakers. Both have palm trees and other similar plants.


This view, especially, reminded me of the Los Angeles hills.

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Immer Mehr Spaß mit Deutsch

Learning a language requires so many different elements, and I am finding out that reading German is probably the easiest thing for me to do. Writing is next easiest because I have time to figure out what I want to say, and then I can correct myself. Next is listening to the spoken language, although that really depends upon who is speaking. Some people are so clear, and some are not. Of course, speaking is the hardest part since I must create sentences quickly. Often I find myself saying a sentence twice. The first time is my rough draft, the second is the edited version which is more correct. To work on my listening skills,

I have occasionally taken to watching television shows that have been dubbed in German. At first I watched Unsere kleine Farm (Little House on the Prairie, although it translates directly as Our Small Farm).

Then I discovered Star Trek: Das nächste Jahrhundert (Star Trek: The Next Century). I had watched both of these shows in English, so I at least know what should be going on. I find that the spoken word is usually clear enough for me to get at least the gist of the meaning. IMG_4523 If you look at the schedule of shows here, you can see that shows may not start exactly on the hour or half hour. There are ads, but I think fewer ads than in the US, so each show may last more or less than 60 minutes. Star Trek starts at 14.15 and goes until 15.17. I also find it interesting which American shows have been imported. I haven’t seen many (if any) current shows.

A Few Idioms

Here are some idioms I have learned that I particularly like:

Weich Ei – literally a weak egg – In English: a wuss

Nacht Falter – literally a night moth – In English: a night owl

Tote Hose – literally dead pants – In English: nothing going on

Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof – literally I only understand “train station” – In English: It’s all Greek to me