Since I arrived in Germany, I’ve been thinking a lot about words. In German, there is no word for “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”, and you refer to your husband as “mein Mann” or “meine Frau” for a wife. Boyfriends are “Freunde”, and girlfriends “Freundinnen.” So, how do you know if someone is referring to their boyfriend, or just a friend? Well, it’s pretty easy. Affection is less obvious in German, you wouldn’t refer to someone as your friend unless you loved them. Acquaintances, or most of the people in your life, are simply “Bekannte.” You just don’t say that you love someone or consider them your friend, unless it’s a deeper connection. So the answer is, there’s no word for “boyfriend” because it isn’t necessary. This has caused some problems that might seem funny to an American, such as adding people on Facebook. A Bundestag intern told me that he always feels awkward adding friends, because they aren’t his friends, and he much prefers Google+ because he can put people in a “Bekannte” circle. I sometimes wonder if Germans think Americans are silly for saying that they love everything, and everyone is their friend. Which brings me to my next point: I’m that silly American. “Kristina, would you like to go for Sushi?” “I love Sushi!” And I get strange looks from my coworkers. Why would I be in love with Sushi? They expect me to mess up German from time to time, but can’t I handle my own language’s expressions? Apparently not.
The other day, I was working on political science homework on the subject of East Germany in a coffee shop. The woman next to me politely asked me in German where I was from and why I was doing homework assignments on the former communist state. I explained that I was an American study abroad student and Bundestag intern, and she proceeded to explain everything on the sheets to me. I learned more than I could have from Google, and heard her personal experiences from growing up there. But I was also surprised, because she had a thick British accent. I brought this up to my supervisor. “It is interesting to me that German people that learn English speak with a British accent, it’s hard to understand that they aren’t from Britain,” said I. “That’s because British English is more proper, and uses less filler words such as “like” or “kind of.” It makes more sense to learn the pure language first and the dialect later.” Oh.
And a final thought about language. The longer I’m here, the less people speak back to me in English. I thought my German was getting better, but I think I might just be getting more confidence. If I speak clearly, loudly, and accurately, people understand me and don’t think I’m some American that looked up a few words in a pocket dictionary. But, there’s a deeper lesson here. In life, if you speak authoritatively and act like you know what you’re doing, you’ll be treated that way. I’m not saying “fake it ’till you make it” is always the best plan, but if you approach a situation that you know you can handle with authority, it’s amazing the way that people respond. Confidence is key.
On a more personal note, I’ve officially been in Germany a month; which means my program is 1/3 over. This is bittersweet, because although I’m having an amazing experience, I can’t wait to see my boyfriend again. It’s hard to find a daily balance between being excited to engage in awesome adventures, and missing Ryan. A lot of couples break up if one of them studies abroad, but I think it’s important to prioritize. I knew that I wanted to study abroad, and learn more about international politics. And I knew that I wanted to be independent, and not give up my dreams because I was in a relationship. And I know that I will eventually have to go home, and when I do I want it to be to my boyfriend. I think this is an important thing to think about before you study abroad, because the last thing that you want to do is break up with someone over Skype from halfway across the world. Ich liebe meinen Freund; and I mean that with all possible cultural inflection.
… Also this week, we booked a trip to Austria in April for my 21st birthday! I’m so excited😄
(The other images are just from my walks around where I live, enjoy!)