Monday, February 2, 2009

Wait, you´re not German?

I´m gonna take a break from talking about food today (but don´t worry, I have plenty more to talk about in that area) to share a bit of my day-to-day life as an ex-pat (I prefer to think of myself as a short-term ex-pat rather than a tourist).

Back in 2006, I was traveling back and forth to Germany on a fairly regular basis for work. I was a little surprised when I would be at a restaurant with American colleages, and the waiter would address everyone in English, but then try to speak to me in German . (For the record, my family background is a mixture of several northern European countries including: Finland, Estonia, Slovakia, Germany, Scotland, and some that escape my memory at the moment. And I don´t speak German.)

Sure, I understand that I have a vaguely German body type (tall, thin, blue eyes, light brown hair), but it was the conviction with which people believed I was German that surprised me. There is one particular example that stands out in my memory when I went into a coffee shop with an American colleague. My colleague asked the woman behind the counter if she spoke English. She replied that she did not, then asked if we spoke German. When he replied that we did not, we all looked at each other as if to say, ¨wow, this is going to be interesting.¨Then she looked at me a little confused and asked (in German), ¨Wait, you don´t speak German?!?¨

But okay, that was Germany; it´s understandable for people to get confused when everyone else around you is German. So I was a little surprised when it started happening here in Spain. There are students in my school from all over the world (including the U.S.), and we have introductions whenever a new student joins class. Here´s how it typically goes:

Maestra (or whoever): ¨So Cristian (that´s what they call me here), I guess you´re German. Or is it Dutch?¨
Me: ¨No, I´m from the U.S.¨
Maestra: ¨Really? But you look very German!¨
Me: ¨Yeah, a lot of people tell me that. But I´m definitely from the U.S.¨
Maestra: ¨But you even speak with a German accent!¨(referring to my accent while speaking Spanish)
Me: ¨What?!? I do?¨
Maestra: ¨Yes, a little bit. But your accent definitely doesn´t sound English. Are your parents from Germany?¨
Me: ¨No, I´m 4th generation U.S.¨
Maestra: ¨Really? Well do you speak German as well as English?¨


  1. Haha. Good post, Christian. Can't believe a month has gone by so quickly. We are, however, looking forward to you telling these and other stories in person and over some beer (which I won't finish and you will have to drink it for me). By the way, we found a Belgium Bar and I almost finished my beer. :-D

  2. Well all i can say is Auf wiedersehen! HA!!! Very funny bro. Where would they get a german accent? When I first met you right of the bat I thought, White boy from Boston. No doubt about it. I guess they don't get a lot of US visitors in your class.

  3. Pues... me encanta Boston, y ahora Boston me siente como hogar, pero crecí en Washington (Hail to the Redskins!).

    La extraña es que hay muchos alumnos aqui de los Estados Unidos. Creo que la combinacion de mi aspecto y mi apellido está mi confundido a ellos. Y no creo que tenga un acento aleman de verdad. Mi teoría es que cuando ellos me ven, ya están convencido que soy aleman, y por eso oye un acento aleman. (Oye, ¿te diste cuenta de mi uso del subjuntivo? Estoy aprendiendo...)

  4. No inporta. Yo se que eres de Washington, pero cuando hablas to voz suena come que eres de Boston. MEM, si me di cuenta que mucho has aprendido. Hasta luego amigo.