In which the socio-linguistic issues of Teutonic syntax are briefly confronted on a Tuesday
I am in language class, and we are going around the room, conjugating reflexive verbs for the first time.
” I wash myself,” says the 45-year-old southern woman. Slightly intimate to announce out-loud, but not unforgivable.
” I wash you,” continues the Chinese 20-year-old named Dong in the corner. Well, Dong.
” TO WASH” is the verb in bold at the top of the page, chosen by almost all German textbooks to demonstrate reflexive aspects of language. Apparently, no verb could be more standard or present a better model for future forays into reflexive implications in German.
” they wash each other,”reads my least favorite classmate, a thirty-year old Israeli, in a slow lilting halt. He is a deeply unsettling individual. The same small unhinging that made the current BBC iteration of Sherlock’s greatest nemesis, Moriarty, so unconventionally terrifying lives in the eyes of the strange man across from me. His smile is wide and perpetual, and he circles his wet eyeballs unblinkingly in terrifying swoops before landing on his target, and then, slowly, a blink, followed by a pronounced showing of the teeth. He hisses when he speaks, and so when I hear ” dey WASCSSH each udder,” emerge from his corner, I blame once again what ever Teutonic brain wave decided the topic of washing was suitable for classroom discussion. Their frankness makes a man’s skin crawl.
This evening demonstrates yet again unrelenting shame that bolsters the essential understanding behind the German language, that they would endorse a room of strangers to discussing bathing together, or write dialogues with men named ” Herr Koch,” knowing their audience to be what they always are in German classes: freak shows.
I am not the first to remark on this. The on-going freakshow that takes place in the German classroom is a well-established stereotype, and tonight’s demonstrations take their place among the linguistic circus always found around a Deutsches enterprise. To write a German textbook, you must also appreciate your intended audience and how the material you put down will be received by them, and I have been in German classes with kids who wore helmets for the whole class and inexplicably played French horn for an uncomfortable five minutes, and they receive German grammar instruction for the sole purpose of discussing zombies and boarding-school porn in the past tense.
These classes are cheap, I remind myself, and besides,for two hours every Tuesday, your stability is no longer in question. The teacher turns to me and asks me to describe my day, and I launch into a discussion of who I washed today and wonder about the day when we cover the vocabulary for describing existential states of being, and the crazy things I can announce outloud then