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Would you like your Bratwurst „mitnehmen“?

August 30th, 2012 § 0 comments

Paul Conway

When I first arrived in Germany I spoke only a few words of German. I was very proud of my ability to count—that part was easy—and to order a beer or coffee. In addition, I knew a few words like Guten Tag, schnell, and Senf. That was it! Undeterred, I forged ahead into German society, determined to use my meagre German to interact with locals and fake it until I could make it. As a psychologist, I was aware that was the best way to rapidly learn a langue was total cultural immersion and exposure to a lot of it—even if I understood relatively little at first.

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What I didn’t count on was the reactions I would get from some of the locals as I attempted to assimilate. For example, after arriving to the airport I took a train to my destination, and I became hungry—or, I had some hunger as the Germans would say. “A perfect opportunity to test my German!” I thought, so I went to a vendor in the hauptbahnhof and announced the phrase in my little phrasebook: “Ich möchte eine Bratwurst, bitte.” She looked at me like I was a little weird—it turns out most locals would simply say “Kann ich habe eine Bratwurst,” as the word möchte is rather formal. It would be equivalent to a German coming to America and using Dickensian speech: “Please, sir, would you be so kind as to provide me with a sausage; I’d be forever indebted to you.” Weird, indeed.

But it turns out the hardest part of interacting in another language is when a native speaker asks you a question you don’t understand and expects a response. The lady asked me if I would like my bratwurst mitnehmen. I hadn’t the faintest idea what she was saying. But, I was aware enough to realize the word mit usually means “with,” so I assumed she was asking me what condiments or sides I would like “with” my bratwurst. This provided me a rare opportunity to use one of my amazing vocab words! So I quickly replied, quite proud of myself, “Mitnehmen? Nein, mit Senf!” (I really like mustard).

Well, she looked at me like I was from Mars! Clearly she didn’t like my response, but I could not for the life of me understand why. I wasn’t until much later when I told my German friends this story that they burst out laughing and told me that mitnehmen means “to go” (literally, “with taking”). This was the first of many lessons that German can appear deceptively simple, and words are not always easy to guess. On the up side, I never forgot mitnehmen, and went on to use it many times in cafes all around Deutschland. You could say that I have taken it with me—mitnehmen, as it were.

Das interkulturelle Reisetagebuch ist ein Blog von change.project und crossculture academy.

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