I think every single one of the Germans I’ve met, though, I’ve met one of two ways: Through my friends/roommate, or by being willing to speak English.
The first way is actually pretty normal, as that’s how I meet a lot of new people even in the US. (I like to call it networking.) But the focus of this post is really on the second way.
Let’s start with my roommate. I actually met her thanks to Marta, who gave me her name and phone number, back when I was looking for a place to live. But one of the reasons she was happy to live with me was the hope that I could help her practice her English. (She’s already fluent, but I guess it goes along with the idea of, “Use it or lose it.”) I can understand that, I really do. If I end up living with a German exchange student next year, I definitely want to take advantage of that and practice speaking German with him or her.
Then there’s my tandem partner. We get along really well, but we met because of this agreement to spend half the time speaking in English, half in German. Would we have met otherwise? I’m almost certain the answer is no.
Back during ILP, I standing in a U-Bahn station with another California girl, waiting for our train to come, and we were telling stories mostly in German but saying quotes in English, and an elderly woman came up and started talking to us, strange enough in its own right in Germany, but talked to us in flawless English, telling us how her niece is getting her Ph.D. at Berkeley and she thought it was wonderful to find Americans willing to learn and speak in a foreign language. “Way to break the stereotype!” she said, which I found pretty ironic, since we were now two Americans speaking English in a foreign country.
The first chance I had, I went to Catholic Mass at St. Hedwigs. This actually wasn’t until September, since it was surprisingly difficult to find a Catholic church in Berlin, but I digress. When I went to Mass, it was actually quite surprising how NOT welcoming people were. They weren’t rude or anything, but every time I’ve ever visited a new church, somebody would at least say hello to me, even if they didn’t recognize that I was new. Nothing like that happened at St. Hedwigs. I also really couldn’t understand what was happening during the Mass and found it hard to follow, even though I’ve been an active Catholic my entire life, so I didn’t have much of a desire to go back. So, the next week, I went to the American Church in Berlin, which is actually a Lutheran church, although has people from all different faiths from all around the world including within Germany, but the service was in English. And as soon as I walked through the door, people greeted me warmly and invited me to join them for lunch afterwards. Obviously, this was in English and I didn’t expect any different, but just the difference between the two was astounding, and it had nothing to do with the faith differences.
And this past Thursday, I met several German students (and a few other international students) from my host university. I went to an event hosted by the International Club called, “Stammtisch.” (“Regulars’ Table.”) I ended up exchanging contact information with a couple of German guys there and I hope that I’ll be able to talk to them again. But this specific week the Stammtisch was their monthly English table, where people practice speaking English. (They also have Spanish and French tables every month.) In fact, when Marta and I showed up, the first thing the leader said was, “Oh good, native speakers!”
It’s a little frustrating that it seems I need to choose to either practice my German or meet German students, and that I can’t do both. But since everybody here seems to already have their group of friends, I need to do something to set myself apart and make people want to get to know me. But one of the best ways to get the most out of a study abroad experience is to be flexible, so I’ll try to go with the flow. Besides, 9 times out of 10 lately I’ve been able to cashiers and wait staff to speak to me in German, so at least there’s been some improvement.