Sunday, January 20, 2013

Cultural Dissonance, Part 2: Hello, Goodbye, and The Critical Mom

When I first moved to Germany we lived in Bavaria, and I learned to say "Grüß Gott!" which literally translates as "Greetings to God!" but means "Hi y'all!" And when one lives in Southern Germany, which remains intensely Catholic, friendly greetings equal greetings to God.  In the small town in which we lived, at any rate, Catholicism retained one of its original meanings:  universal, in this case universal friendliness.
Then we moved to Northern Germany, and I walked into the bakery the day after we moved and said "Grüß Gott," which is weirder than, but akin to, saying "Hi y'all" in Manhattan.  Since my accent is not Bavarian but American, I amused the baker even more.  And then I wanted sliced bread, and little did I know that in German only one letter separates the word "sliced" from the word "circumcised."  I asked for the latter and nobody enlightened me for a long time.  "beschnitten Brot," instead of "geschnitten" Brot.
After I realized what I'd been saying I had my husband buy the bread for a while.
Then there was the matter of how to say "goodbye."  In Bavaria, it was "God be with you," or ""pfüat di/euch" which sounds like "Fear Dich," and which I at first thought meant "Be afraid, you!"  It means approximately the opposite--"bye-bye and God protect you" is the basic translation.  Well, I knew not to say that in Northern Germany but I didn't know what I should say instead, so I kept my mouth shut.  And lo and behold what seemed utterly macabre moments assaulted me:  friendly, sweet, politically correct Germans would wave goodbye, smile, and say, "Jews!"  Or something that sounded just like "Jews!"  As in, "So long Jews--there aren't anymore of those folks around here!" But I couldn't believe they could be saying anything like that.  My ears continued to deceive me until I realized what they were really saying, which was "Tschüs."  This Northern German salutation, meaning "Bye!" is pronounced sort of like "Choose"--imagine you're trying to say "Choose," but you pucker up your lips and make a hissing "s" sound instead of a "z" sound.  Now you can say bye-bye in Northern German.  "Tschüs!"  not "Jews."

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