It's been a big week. Mads started at kinder, 9 - 12 every day. The kinders here are open 7 am to 7 pm although I doubt that any kids actually go that much. (Then weirdly, when school starts it's from 8.30 to 1.)
Mads has been dying to start kinder. For the last two weeks, every morning the first thing she's said has been; 'can I go to kinder today?' and she's been devestated when I've had to break the news that no, it was just going to be another fun day with mummy.
Unfortunately, the first kinder day was not so good. Apparently she flitted from room to room and had some spectacular tantrums. When I arrived to collect her, she was sitting on her own, crying. Awful. She was very tired, though, after our adventures on the autobahn the night before and despite all of that, she assured me that she wanted to go back on Tuesday. I made sure she was well-rested and luckily it was a much more succesful day. Only one bout of frustrated crying and she actually sat at the table and did some glue-ing for half an hour or so.
Wednesday was better still. She spent a good hour and a half playing in the toddler pool full of balls (like the germ-infested ones they have at Ikea) and was happy, but exhausted, when I went to pick her up. And no tears at all.
While she's been at kinder I've been doing a German-language class provided by Thieu's work for the new recruits and their fraus. I got to go, even though I'm merely a Leibensgafertnen (or however you write this crazy word that means 'life's-partner'). The class started at 8.15 every day and went through to 2.15 but I could only make it for a couple of hours because of the kinder commitments.
It was useful though. Mostly it was useful in showing me that everything I've been saying so far has been wrong. For instance, I've been referring to Madeleine as 'it' rather than 'she' for the last month. Even my pronounciation of my favourite German word, sonnenblummenkernen (sunflower seeds) was incorrect, which is rather embarrassing because I've been saying it alot. I didn't know how to say 'breadroll' so I have been walking into bakeries and saying 'mit sonnenblummenkernen, bitte' and generally, they've handed over a breadroll with sunflower seeds on the top. I actually prefer poppy seeds, but I didn't know how to say that.
It's quite humilating to try and learn a language as an adult. It's all the more humilating because everyone in Europe speaks about nine languages each. I casually asked the woman in the flat upstairs from us how many languages she spoke and she said, modestly, 'only English, French and Spanish.'
'And German,' I pointed out.
'And German,' she agreed. 'Oh, and a few African languages.' I smiled, thinking she was making a sort of joke. But no. She actually does speak some African languages and has worked as a translator.
I started the week full of high hopes about mastering German. Actually, that's not quite true. I started the week thinking about all the other things I'd like to do with my newly acquired child-free hours in the morning, but I decided that was a bad attitude and made myself being optimistic about the lessons. I had a loose plan to learn nouns and Thieu was going to learn verbs (in the imperative only) and together, I thought, we might be able to form short, rude sentences. 'To drive taxi!' 'To cook food!' 'To pay bill!'
Notice how I've left out the articles? The articles are what really got me down this week. And at the risk of sounding bitter, let me just get it off my chest so I can move on: I can accept the notion, however weird, of all objects being either masculine or feminine. I studied French and I've come to terms with it. But the 'neuter' gender in German really makes a mockery of the whole thing. Why is a snail a 'she', but a horse an 'it'? Why is a door 'he', but a window 'it'? And the one that really annoys me - why is pepper 'he' but salt 'it'? Salt is more 'it-like' than pepper? 'Don't analyse,' the teacher kept saying, soothingly. 'Just accept.' And I have accepted. Defeat, that is. Maybe I'll swap to verbs instead.
To rub (neutral) saltz into the wound everyone here is always quick to apologise for how bad their English is. 'There are so many words I don't know!' they moan. 'Don't worry,' you reassure them. 'I'm sure you're Englsih is actually very good.' Then they'll launch into a highly detailed story in fluent English and when they stop to ask you for help the word they don't know is some incredibly technical, specialised thing that you've actually never heard of.
'Mit sonnenblumenkernen,' I keep muttering to myself. 'Mit sonnenblumenkernen.'
At least now I know how to ask for a breadroll without sonnenblumenkernen. And my pronounciation of 'Sorry, I don't speak German,' is much improved.
Thieu has promised to do a guest appearance on the Frankfurter files to update you on his place of work. If you have any questions for him, please feel free to post them in the comments.