Sunday, July 22, 2007

Round and round

I ate brunch today at the Alex Cafe, a hip three-level joint near the city center. It had a view of one of the main city squares, which happened to feature a play called the Bremer Musikanten. Imagine that! At the town center of Bremen, 200 meters from the main statue of the Brementown musicians, in an area surrounded by statues of them and giftshops rife with their likeness, the play they choose to present to the public happens to feature this fumbling foursome. The actors wore colorful costumes and did indeed sing very badly. When all four of them sang together, children laughed and clapped while their elders winced.

I could understand very little of the dialog, but it's not a complicated story. The kids seemed to follow it at least as well as I did. I continue to lose to the umlaut onslaught. They are insidious, looking very much like an a, o, or u, but sounding quite different. I was vanquished at the Battle of Chin's Asia Bistro last week, when I was sneak attacked by a stealth umlaut. There I was, sluggish and offguard after dinner, digging through my fortune cookie. The cagey Chinese waiter brought me the check, smiled, and walked away. The lack of a Bitte Shoen should have warned me. I read the fortune cookie, which said that I would have good luck. In German! That is just wrong! You can't have a Chinese fortune in German! Viel glück back at you, bitch! I almost ate one of those. Now gimme a proper American fortune!

Language affects cognition. 2 weeks ago, I was discussing the NextFest plan with my boss. An aggressive and elusive fly bugged us like only flies can. We failed in efforts to ignore it, kill it, or expel it. Out, out, damned spöt!! I referred to the fly as "it," while my boss kept calling it "she." Wow, that's pretty observant, boss, I thought. I can't even identify its gender if it's still. You can do it on the fly! But no, that is just how Germanspeakers think of the world. All flies are female, like all cats and trains. The brain is neutral.

A fourth gender, Satan, should be created for European washing machines. So far, the French, German, and English versions have all proved abysmal. In my old apartment complex, the wash cycle took over 2 hours. I would put in the clothes, pay one Euro, hit start, then start cooking while checking back every few minutes. Inevitably, I would finish my meal, wash the dishes, clean up my apartment, go to the store, read a couple articles, grow old, and die twice before laundry was done. I once sat in the laundry room to study its oddities. It would spin in one direction, then stop for a long time, then reverse direction. many times. The spin cycle takes far longer than American machines, yet gets clothes no drier. Round and round. Stop. dnour dna dnour. Stop. Spin spin spin. Stop. Stop. Pause. Wait for it. Wait. Longer. Wait ..... yup, I'm done. finally. Here ya go - oh! Psych! Nips Nips Nips. Stop. Stop. Don't even get your hopes up. Spin. Spin. Spin. Aaugh! Gimme back my clothes, you vicious little troll! They're way too small for you! Adding to the fun, Germans do not believe in dryers. They are available for sale, but people prefer stringers. You finish drying your clothes, hang them up, wait for a day, (repeat if it rains), then get your crunchy clothes.

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