Ich spreche Deutsch… ein bisschen

It’s high time for me to catch you up on my German classes. I have been attending once a week on Wednesday nights for the past five weeks and I feel only slightly more proficient than when I started. In the words of the Mom before I even agreed to this job, “German is hard.” It is. It’s really hard. It doesn’t make sense most of the time, and even when it does, it takes me somewhere around 5 times to get it right. And I even thought at one point that I was good at languages. Hit up one class and that will change your mind, real quick.

We had last week off as it was a holiday the following day and the school decided to close early. Not that I would have been able to attend as I was currently out of the country (see below). After a top-notch day in the city catching up with au pairs and swapping travel stories with Jill, I was ready to tackle this class. Nevermind the fact that I did my homework in a Starbucks a mere 3 hours before it was due; I suppose that shows how seriously I take this class. I showed up ready and raring to go. After a brief lecture about prepositions it was time to get down to business. We were divided up into groups of three and had to take a dialog between a customer and cashier that had been dissected and put it back into the correct order and identify the speaker in each situation. Relying heavily on context clues, my partners and I were able to work through the exercise. Actually, I should clarify that. My new English-speaking Turkish friend and I did the entire assignment while the other member, I believe he is Bosnian, watched in complete confusion and scribbled (most likely flowers and rainbows) in his Kursbuch. I can’t really blame the guy, though. Right before our pause in the middle of class he had gotten into a fight with the lehrerin about wanting to test out of our section and move to the next level. She put him in his place, flipping through his homework and showing him the empty pages and telling him he actually had to do work in order to get ahead. He threw his hands in the hair and sulked like one of the charges I have here at home. Clearly, he was still a little miffed. After breaking the syntax and vocabulary down, I believed we had correctly ordered all the parts. Now it was time to prove ourselves to our classmates. The lehrerin played the CD, which had the correct answers. As each piece of the conversation puzzle came into place I became more and more excited. By the time the recording was finished I was ready to reach across the table and high five my comrade. What am I, twelve? I had to settle with surreptitiously patting my back in congratulations. But, oh no, the lehrerin wasn’t finished with us yet. She now wanted us to take turns reading the dialog aloud. My Turkish friend and I were the second pair to try, after suffering through some serious second-hand embarrassment for a Portuguese couple who read (read: butchered) the part before us. We sailed through our 10 lines of dialog with ease. Afterward the lehrerin exclaimed (in German, natürlich) what great melody we had and the rhythm of our speech was right on. OK, at this point I am a table distance away from chest-bumping this guy. I was so happy to hear that I am actually getting this beast of a language.

I suppose it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, if my family didn’t possess this passive aggressive nature toward me learning their Mother Tongue. The Mom will make comments like, “Whenever Kristina is ready, we will speak High German. She just has to let us know. It’s all up to her. No pressure or anything.” Alright, maybe not that last bit, but the rest of it, yes. Or at dinner just last week, after 45 minutes of straight German the Nonna looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, you can’t understand anything we are saying.” To which, the Nonno replied, “Well, she needs to learn German some way.” (By the way, they happened to be talking “smack” on my host parents, who had gone on a dinner date, and I’m sorry, but I can understand bad mouthing in any language). The thing is, the family doesn’t speak High German, the speak Swiss German, which might as well be a completely different language. Furthermore, each city in Switzerland then has their own dialect of Swiss German. And, it’s not so easy as say, a Boston accent versus a Georgian southern drawl. Words are not even close to the same. For example “to work” in High German is arbeiten and in Zürich Swiss German it’s schaffen. Does that even make sense? Negative. So, can you blame me for not picking up as fast as I am apparently expected to? Again, negative. That’s why I was so excited to do well in class tonight. I just wish they passed out “Caught You Being Good” slips like I did in my Student Teaching classroom last semester. I presume I would have a small fortune by now.

I Promise I’m Happy!

I recently had a realization that I spend a significant amount of time talking about the things I don’t like or that frustrate me in regards to this job. I suppose it’s simply easier to talk about the bad things, and usually make a good joke out of it, than walk around singing the children’s praise. Why is that? I wish I could tell you, but I will spare us all the philosophical tangent and get to the point of my writing. I want to share some of the things about the kids I really like or think are really fun.

-Taz has this tendency to become my little echo and pick up on some of my frequent sayings. It always catches me off guard and almost never fails to make me smile when I hear him say something that came straight from my vocabulary. For instance, about a month ago I asked him if he thought what we were eating was delicious. He looked at me quizzically and say, “What is this delicious?” I explained that it means you are eating something you really like and think tastes good. The next day at lunch he told the Mom, “Wow, Mommy, you are a great cook. This is so delicious!” It was perfect and so sweet coming from his mouth. The other day we were making cakes out in the sandbox and he asked me if I wanted apples in it. “Of course, that would be great.” And would you like bananas in it? “Yes! Please!” And how about some delicious? “Mmmm yes, as much delicious as possible.” If ‘delicious’ came on the shelf you can bet I would have bought it all up by now. He is a very affectionate little man. Sometimes we will just be sitting at the table eating a meal and he will reach over, hook his little arm around my neck and say, “I love you” and rest his head on my arm. I can’t help but love him back in those little moments.

-Little Bean is also wonderful. She too has taken on the habit of picking up my colloquialisms. It started when I would say, “Beep, beep” if she was standing in front of something I needed to get to, such as the trash can. Later while she was pushing some cars around on the floor one ran into my leg. “Beep, beep,” she said through a mouthful of nuggi (pacifier). Now, she and Taz are routinely getting in little traffic jams around the house just so they can say, “beep, beep” to each other. The wee one also learned something that stopped me in my tracks one day. Let me preface by saying that Little Bean and I had a slightly tumultuous relationship to begin with. She wasn’t so keen on me being the new person to take her away from her Mommy and it took some time for her to bond with me. Obviously this had me a little upset as she would shriek and thrash her body around whenever I came to get her out of her crib (I wish I was exaggerating). After about a month or so she came to trust and like me and now I can safely say (knock on wood) we are fast friends. So, one day I was walking her downstairs after changing her diaper and she locked her arms around my neck, nuzzled her head next to mine and said, “Big hug!” I couldn’t have appreciated a big hug any more. There is something about a hug from a little kiddo, totally unprompted that just makes you feel good. Oh shoot, now I’m starting to tear up…

-For the most part, Taz and Little Bean are good together. Taz likes to be the big brother and LB is happy to tag along. Since it has gotten so nice out we have been in the routine of taking long walks in the morning. In my particular village and there is no shortage of cows and other livestock. The kids love these big beasts and frequently request to stop and talk to them. Only happy to indulge in this request, I will stop the pram and let the two little ones yell, “MOOOOO!!” as loud as they can at all the cows. It’s actually pretty funny and the cows don’t seem to mind. They usually continue to grind whatever blades of grass they’ve been working on. Sometimes I will join in and we certainly look like quite the trio as we stand and holler at the cows. The kids are always hoping for a conversation with a bovine but I have yet to tell them that probably won’t happen. I just don’t want to disappoint them.

-As for Rapunzel, well that is a different story. I have tried, really I have. For us, though, it just doesn’t work. I have attempted to find the wonderful qualities about her that are hidden underneath a layer of royal snobbery but even with all the best mining equipment, I cannot find them. We just don’t get along. I don’t put up with her bossy attitude and I don’t let her get away with trying to call the shots. It’s tricky because I hardly spend time with her as she is in school for most of the time I work. Maybe that’s why I don’t make more of an effort to like her. Today, however, I picked her up from school, as usual per Fridays and asked her if she wanted a piggy back. She was giddy with enthusiasm and eagerly climbed aboard. We galloped, skipped, and walked our way home and it was actually really nice. There was no whining or complaining and I was genuinely happy to be in her company. As soon as we stepped through the door and she saw someone had played with some toys she had designated as being “hers” for the afternoon she immediately started crying and throwing a fit. I remembered why we have such a hard time getting along: I just can’t see the value in getting upset about such petty things, and much as I’ve tried, I can’t seem to break down the meaning of, “No use crying over spilled milk”  well enough for her. She certainly isn’t a hopeless case in my book, but she is just one tough nut to crack.

We’ll All Cry if We Want to

Today was Rapunzel’s birthday party. I have been prepped on this event for at least the last three weeks, so I was expecting great things. I was informed that I would be caring primarily for Taz and Little Bean and my time should be spent keeping them happy and as out of the way as possible. Nothing like feeling ostracized from a 7-year-old’s party. It was impossible for the party to go on without a hitch as the drama started waaaay before 2:00 this afternoon– Rapunzel had doubts about the Guest List. She had already sent out all the Prinzessin Lillifee invitations when she decided one of her cronies wouldn’t quite fit in with the other girls. Thankfully the Mom didn’t allow this kind of de-friending and the little girl was allowed to show up at the party. In fact, there were 10 lovely little ladies in attendance today.

It was chaotic to say the least. I was ignorantly grateful that my role involved caring for only two of the kiddos. This feeling of ease was dispelled quite quickly as I realized how much a part of the scene Little Bean wanted to be. As the Mom was giving directions for the first game Little Bean decided the only place she would be happy was on Moms lap. I had to pull her off and distract her with a bottle of orange soda. I suppose it’s a good thing she has the attention span of a puppy and anytime I say, “Little Bean, look over there!” she goes running and squealing in whatever direction I point. As the girls proceeded to craft homemade candy necklaces, which were an obvious choking hazard for the Little Bean (no need to invoke my lifeguarding skills of CPR here), I herded the little girl all over the garden in attempt to keep her out of the way. After this event it was time to head for the back garden for Arts & Crafts. I happen to really enjoy A&C but it’s incredibly difficult with a noncompliant 2 year old and an overly jealous (and dare I say, cranky) 4 year old. Little Bean couldn’t play with half of the supplies as they would most likely find themselves lodged in her windpipe and Taz was so pre-occupied with ten pretty little things (a.k.a. the attendees) that he could hardly see straight. At one point I was holding is hand to glue down a flower on his canvas while his head was rotated approximately 180 degrees with eyeballs obviously engrossed in far more important matters. He finally became bored with my antics and had long ago ceased finding my humor entertaining; he wanted his Mommy and he wanted her now. He started this whiny game, for which I have no patience, so I let him wander the back garden and find her. I was left with Little Bean, who promptly started crying for no apparent reason. “Listen, Little Bean, my mind reading skills are on the fritz so I have no idea what the problem is. Care to divulge?” We soon found ourselves wandering around the premises playing with any and all bikes, toys, and pieces of nature that we came across. Any closer to that girl and I would have been considered her shadow. I long ago gave up on Taz and it was decided he could become a part of the party. That is until…

Rapunzel was finally to the point where she could open her presents. She had quite a stack going as well, with each girl having brought more than one goodie. With each shredding of paper Taz became more and more frazzled. Finally, an out-of-control jealousy rage struck this little boy with such ferocity that he had no choice but to throw his head back and wail. I flew to the scene, seized him in my arms and carried him to safe grounds. In actuality I had to talk him down from the ledge and remind him that this wasn’t his birthday party and that Rapunzel was entitled to all the presents that meandered their way into the house. I ensured that there was still plenty of fun to be had but, last time I checked his tears weren’t invited to the soiree. He sobered up and waddled back to the party. I was back to Little Bean-duty and she was amped up on sugar at this point. She alternated between running/screaming and stopping to stare off into space–telltale signs of a sugar-fueled stupor. She finally settled down when I found a jar of bubbles to play with. As we busied ourselves with the wand and bubbles I heard a wounded animal howl with pain from inside. Turns out it was only Rapunzel and she was upset for a reason unbeknownst to me. After recapping with the Mom tonight I found out that she was unhappy about the seating arrangement of some of the girls and the result of her “being too spoiled” sent her into a frenzy– Well, as long as we’re all on the same page… Back to the scene, Little Bean and I are happily playing in the front garden when the Dad informs me that I will be able to go to German class and that I should put this little sprout to bed and get ready to split. I inform Little Bean that it’s time to quit and she promptly throws her body on the ground and performs a routine commonly known as, “Stop, Drop, and Roll.” Her cries of pain probably had the neighbors wondering what horrors had befallen this child; only those of the evil au pair. The Dad took her from me and, mercifully, let me go.

As I walked through the door, headed toward the train station, I replied to a text Jill sent asking how the party went as, “Suicidal.” All three children ended up in tears at least one point during the party. I’m pretty sure Taz is harboring some deep loathing toward me for taking him away from his Mom for so long. And I never knew such anxiety and tension could reside among girls of such young age. I arrived at German totally out of my mind and of no use to myself or anyone in the class. When put on the spot to decide whether the personal pronoun was either nominativ oder dativ I almost cried because I hadn’t been paying attention and had no idea what was going on. Couldn’t my lehrerin see that I was in another world entirely, one that involved quick getaways and no birthday cakes(yes there were two; an extra one provided for the girl that is on a strict no-wheat diet)? Clearly, I”m beyond exhausted and my brain is about as comprehending as scrambled eggs. But, on the bright side, the next birthday isn’t until July…

Deutsch Lernen in der Schweiz

I was enrolled in an intensive German course during the first couple weeks I was here. It was two hours and for two weeks I would sit among my fellow students and practice rolling this new language around in my mouth like a hot piece of food. The most interesting thing about this course was that everyone came from a different country. Nations represented included: Greece, Russia, Chile, Argentina, Turkey, and Romania. I was not only the single American in the room, I was also the youngest, by about 12 years. I only know this due to the day we learned numbers and how to say how old we are. The only common language in the class was German, therefore that’s primarily all that was spoken. English floated around every once in a while when someone who spoke it asked for clarification. One such student was Ba’bis from Greece. I don’t want to get cocky but I have small suspicion he had a crush on me. A couple times I saw him making eyes at me and I quickly averted mine. He also was always asking me questions during the “interview” portions of class and volunteered to be my partner. I told the Mom about this thinking it was funny and she replied, “Stay away from the Greeks,” looked up toward the sky for a minute, turned and walked away. I guess I won’t ask about that one. And anyway, I learned he is vierundfunfzig jahre alt (54 years old) so I don’t think I’ll be getting his number any time soon. Another interesting character in this class happened to come from Turkey. She sat next to me in our “U” shaped arrangement and was constantly talking over people to answer questions and correct others’ mistakes. She had a tendency to scowl at students and direct her nose just a tad too high in the air. I’m sure it’s the teacher in me, but I had a hard time sitting next to this gal who constantly had to make her presence as “Best Student in the Beginner Level” known. Come on, girl, we are all amateurs. Besides, people learn when they make mistakes; give them a chance to do it wrong so they can understand how to fix it in the future. Man, just talking about it is getting me worked up.

The reason I bring this up is because I had my placement test for my next German class today. I hiked over to Oerlikon to take a multiple choice exam so they could determine to which subset of “Novice” I should go. The proctor instructed me to stop whenever I felt I couldn’t go on and that I had 30 minutes to finish.  The first couple of questions were great: which sentence of “My name is _______and I come from _______” was correct; filling in the blank with the correct form of “you.” For the briefest of moments I thought I was going to do pretty well. Then I got to question 8. Things got a little hairy from there. I really had to think about the questions and use the tiny pictures by the questions to derive context clues. By question 20 my brain was exhausted and I swear a small sweat-stache was forming on my upper lip from concentrating so hard. I returned to the teacher and let her grade my paper. I earned a startling 10/20. I’m a little impressed given that it’s been 7 weeks since my last formal class. She made a tsking sound as she finished grading and consulted the class-assignment card. “Did you try the last ones at all?” she asked. “Hm, no, I thought I was going to pass out. But I could try them if you want.” “Well, really you need 11 correct to go to the next level but you seem like a quick learner so I’m going to go ahead and bump you up.” How could she tell I was a devoted scholar? Perhaps she is a clairvoyant? Or maybe she imagined me plucking my eyebrows out as I sat through yet another entry level class. In any case, I should hopefully be starting more German classes soon. I can’t wait to regale you with my tales from schule, probably with the enthusiasm of a first grader getting off the bus in the afternoon. As for me now I have a free weekend ahead of me and haven’t quite determined how I’m going to spend it.

Ostersonntag

Today is Easter Sunday and it has certainly been a deviation from the norm. When Mom came a few weeks ago she brought me a monster Easter Basket, which I have been slowly devouring ever since. I waited to open the included card until this morning so I would have at least one way to celebrate. I didn’t realize the family would include me in their celebrations. The only thing the kids could talk about yesterday was what good fortune the Osterhase would bring them. I will stop here to make a quick interjection. I’m kind of bored with referring to the kids as “boy,” “girl,” and “baby” so in order to protect their identity I will give them nicknames. The girl will be known as Rapunzel (you would understand if you met her), the boy shall be called Taz (after the tazmanian devil), and the baby will be called Little Bean. I actually do call the baby Little Bean, and she now responds to it. Don’t ask for any explanation because there isn’t one. It’s just something I said one day and it happened to stick. Isn’t that the way it is with most nicknames? There’s hardly any rationality. It’s the same reason I call my brother Matt, Brother Starship Commander and sister Courtney, C-Slice Money Bags. Honestly, I have no idea where these things come from. Hard to believe I’m 23, right?

Back to the festivities. I woke up and read my card and felt a little pit in my stomach for not being able to be with my family on this holiday. Not to mention missing Mom’s birthday yesterday (Happiest of Birthdays!). It’s kind of a sad feeling. Nevertheless, I continued to lay in bed for a couple minutes until I saw the door crack open and Taz’s face appear in the doorway. I should mention he is quite the Peeping Tom. I am paranoid the one four-year-old memory he will have is the time he walked in on me in the shower. Obviously, now I never leave a bathroom door unlocked, guests beware. I resigned myself to get up and go downstairs. The kiddos showed me their Easter baskets and the Dad informed me that the Osterhase had paid a visit to me as well. “Wow,” I thought, “that was really kind. It’s nice to feel a part of the family.” So Taz, Rapunzel, and I set off upstairs to look for it. It was finally discovered on the top shelf of the bookcase outside my room. The object inside was unmistakably a book and I got rather excited. I love to read and am always looking for a good book. Rapunzel helped me split open the wrapping and her interest in my present immediately vanished as she discovered it contained no sugar. I wish I could recall my exact reaction to reading the title but now all I can think is that it’s rather funny and completely characteristic of the family: Vocabulary for Learners of German–A Comprehensive Thesaurus. No doubt this is a very thoughtful gesture, and the present has much more practicality than a brick of chocolate. I am accustomed to white chocolate pretzels and Skittles on Easter morning, however, so this came as a bit of a surprise. I thanked the parents downstairs and they both smiled. The Mom replied (with a smile, mind you), “I could have gotten you something to read but I thought this would be of more use. And, you know, you actually have to use it. It’s no good if it just sits there.” Noted. I realize my German is bad, but that’s partly due to the lack of placement in a class. And, hey, I’m not completely daft. I could understand perfectly well last night when Rapunzel was telling her parents she is a much better skier than I. Anyway, it was just a different sort of gift.

The rest of the day passed rather unceremoniously. Outside, it was intermittently raining and snowing; it paused for about 5 minutes this afternoon and then quickly picked back up with a more intensity, perhaps to make up for lost time. I read close to 100 pages in my latest book, Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffeneger–excellent, by the way– and watched an episode of “Castle.” I made approximately four cups of tea and ate with the regularity of a newborn. I am positive I will make it the whole day without stepping a foot outside, which I kind of hate. I like to get some form of exercise or at least outdoors time each day and it makes me feel beyond worthless to count my accomplishments in terms of how many chocolate eggs I resisted. I was able to watch the live sermon from Church of the Resurrection back in Kansas City, so at least I did something I would usually do on Easter. I also spoke with my family, who I really miss today. All in all, holidays with another family are just strange. It makes me nostalgic for the traditions and activities that I simply take for granted. Don’t get me wrong, though. This family is great and I feel I really lucked out. I suppose they will do as a “prop” family for the next year. Too bad my birthday isn’t for another 8 months–who knows what lies ahead!

Watch Out Lindsey Vonn!

Today afforded me another opportunity to hit the slopes. You guessed it, this was a suggestion of the Dad. He thought it would be great if I watched the Baby in the morning and then I could have all afternoon to ski. Oh, and don’t forget the mention to “give him a buzz” when I got to the top so we could all ski together. All= the Dad, the Mom, and the Grandpa. Excellent. This is exactly what I want to do– potentially harm/humiliate myself in front of them all so they will have something to talk about at dinner lest the conversation come to a lull. I actually really wanted to ski today so I suppose this was a good idea. But, in my mind’s eye I pictured myself going solo project down the mountain.

Side note: the guy who gave me my ski equipment is a gentleman I have seen there every time. He recognized me and greeted me by name (hmm?) and proceeded to set me up with something “really groovy.” He must spend quite a bit of time downstairs in that rental room as “groovy” is not so much in circulation anymore. Upon seeing my skis this afternoon, the Mom exclaimed, “Wow, those are really bizarre!” Yes, I suppose the giant skiing squirrel and flying bat decorating my footwear are slightly strange. I felt like a fool all day.

I reluctantly texted the Dad to let him know when I arrived at the top of the mountain. He promptly called me to tell me they were about to go down a really difficult Black, leaving from an entirely different lift, and would call me in and hour and a half. Yes! How did I score this fortunate turn of events? Now I would have time to perfect my craft and make shredded cheese out of all the Blues I could find. This is exactly what I did. I think by the time my solo time was over I was feeling a little cocky. “You want me to try my hand (or feet) at carving down this mountain? Well, why didn’t you say so sooner!” I was so full of myself I even thought for a minute I could actually speak German. I shared a two-person tow lift up a hill and was chatting with my partner. I warned him, “Mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut” but he proceeded to chat away while I sat with a goofy, ignorant grin on my face. I exhausted the few phrases I know by heart and we finished the ride with him speaking German and me saying random phrases of English. We bid farewell just as the Mom was calling me to see where we should meet. Oh no, the time had come.

She met me at Crap Sogn Gion and suggested we make our way down to the bottom via route #60. I first attempted this run when it was snowing and the whole side of the mountain was enveloped in a cloud. I literally couldn’t even see my skis the conditions were so bad. One might say I was less than eager to try it again. She assured me after watching me ski for approximately 3.5 minutes that I was good and definitely ready. So, we set off. I can say now that it in no way reminded me of the previous time I went down. Of course, being able to see was a minor improvement, but I honestly believe I have gotten better over these last few times. I felt much more confident and as if I had an actual form going, rather than merely “sliding” down the steep bits. Perhaps I don’t give myself enough credit. A good portion of the way down we stopped for a tea and when she asked if I wanted alcohol in it I politely declined and replied, “I still need to make it down.” And make it down, I did. I felt so good about it, in fact, that we took the lift a little more than halfway up and repeated some of the run. It was great. Despite feeling pressured to do some activities out of my comfort zone I realize I am not afforded experiences like this all the time, so it’s best to answer the door when opportunity knocks!

EXCITING NEWS: 1) I booked my ticket for Spain today! Going the last week in March. 2) My mom comes on Sunday–Wahoo!