German–the prettiest of languages

I promise Dude plays a part in this story, but I have to provide some background first.

It’s always been a bit of a running joke in our dad’s side of the family that I didn’t inherit their love of the German language.

Our paternal grandfather’s line is descended through German settlers who came to the American colonies in the early 1700s (we have three very tattered volumes of family history to prove it). Dad’s family has always taken pride in that heritage.

Our aunt lived in Germany for several years of her life and is completely fluent in the language. Our grandpop could speak passable German. Even our dad can follow along listening to a conversation in German and speak in short phrases. Dad and Aunt D referred to their parents as Mutti and Vati. We ate sauerbraten at our grandparents’ house fairly regularly. I once wasn’t allowed to sit at the main table at Thanksgiving because our grandparents had visitors from Germany and decided if you couldn’t speak German, you couldn’t sit at the table. (Don’t worry, I’m only a little bit scarred from that experience. I was 11.)

You get the picture. German language and culture is kind of a big deal in our family.

The main reason I never took to the German language is because it’s hard. I can’t get the accent right. I can’t get the right amount of phlegm. I can’t contort my mouth to enunciate the umlauts. (If you want to laugh, try to get me to say “eichhörnchen.” It isn’t pretty.) It honestly wasn’t for lack of trying on my part. I tried. But the skill wasn’t in my wheelhouse and perfectionist me doesn’t like it when I’m not good at things.

This is why, when I entered high school and had to pick a language to study, I decided to study Spanish. Spanish makes sense to me. It’s easy for me to learn.

Grandmom was not amused when she was informed of my decision all those years ago. She wrinkled her nose like she smelled sour milk and said, “But Spanish is such an ugly language.”

Remembering that it’s important to respect my elders, I tried very hard not to laugh in her face once I realized that she was insinuating that German is pretty.

There is a YouTube video I found recently that illustrates this point fairly nicely.

I shared it with Dad and Aunt D on what would have been Grandmom and Grandpop’s 60th wedding anniversary. They found it quite amusing.

Over the holidays, I played it again in Dude’s presence.

Now, Dude LOVES gibberish. And foreign languages sound like gibberish to him. At the sound of the video, he jumped up from his seat and ran over to my side of the table to get a better look, a huge grin on his face.

As I’m a sucker and love to indulge Dude, at the conclusion of the video I proceeded to change Siri on my iPhone from English to German. I said the one phrase I can say convincingly in German (die Sonne scheint?) and got Dad to say some things so Siri would respond.

Dude’s grin grew wider and he giggled.

And then, he attempted to speak his own version of German.

He summoned all his phlegm and, from the back of his throat, produced a noise that sounded like a mix between a slobbery bulldog and a pig from the Angry Birds game.

The room exploded in laughter.

Dad held his stomach with one hand and slapped his leg with another. I fell sideways on the bench I was sitting on, shoulders heaving and laughing so hard that I was gasping for air. Mom, who always considered German to be a rather ugly language, looked at Dude with a kind of reverence and awe as she too laughed.

“If only Grandmom and Grandpop were alive to hear that!” Mom exclaimed.

We couldn’t get a hold of ourselves for a solid minute. Both Dad and I were wiping away tears. I managed to sit myself up, but was holding onto the wall for support as I tried to collect myself.

“Can you.. please.. do that.. again.. so I can.. record it?” I said between breaks in laughter.

Naturally he didn’t.

However, now we know that Dude didn’t inherit the German gene either, and that his best approximation of the language is a bulldog mixed with a snarling pig.


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