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Die Taxidrivers!

Here is a taxi rank, late at night. A line of cabs is drawn up, engines idling, drivers likewise.

Peep inside. One taxidriver is fiddling with the CD player. Another has the light on and is reading a book, his finger moving along the page, his mouth silently following along. This one is gesticulating, stabbing the air as if to make a point. Avoid him. Here's a driver apparently talking to someone unseen, carrying on a conversation in a foreign tongue, faint and alien sounds percolating through the glass. Another is concentrating on a sheaf of papers, brow furrowed in concentration. The driver at the front of the rank should be ready to leap into action with the arrival of a passenger, but he's obviously far away in thought, perhaps dreaming of a holiday in some warmer part of space and time than midnight in winter Canberra, where the outside temperature has a minus sign in front of it.

Oh wait, they are all me.

I have a six-stacker CD player in my cab, and I've replaced the Grateful Dead album with a teach-yourself-a-foreign-language course-in-a-box. There's nine CDs ranging from "Useful Phrases" to "Total Immersion", and I'm at the "Hello, my name is Peter, where is my luggage?" stage of beginnertalk on Disk One.

My days of formal education are long gone. We had a choice of French or German in high school, and I chose French, which mostly vanished as soon as I graduated, apart from a few phrases which did little more than show willing when I visited Paris and Normandy decades later. There was a year of Italian at university, which went on for six months longer than it should have, but will doubtless give me a running start should I ever get an audience with the Pope, and he's keen to discuss the weather.

Back in my schooldays, the prospect of actually using any of those languages for more than the chance to spend time in the same room with the big-bosomed French teacher was remote indeed, but I'm now wishing I'd paid a bit more attention to the formal curriculum and a bit less to the strain on her top button, because it would probably come in mighty handy to be able to discuss the longstanding shortcomings of the Paris underground with someone who could route me from Charles de Gaulle to Place de la Bastille in an efficient way that didn't involve hauling my bags up the longest staircases in Europe.

"Bonjaw, Messewer," I say to a chap in a uniform, and he shrugs at anything beyond that point.

And now, with the Frankenstein Place youth hostel in Frankfurt a regular and comfortable stop on my travels, I'm trying to get a handle on German, if only to understand all those "alter fahrt" comments being passed behind my back.

German is pronounced more vigorously than English, the phrasebook informs me, and I couldn't agree more. Every phrase delivered by the speakers sounds like a combination curse, sneeze, throat-clearing and torrent of abuse, and merely stringing together the words for "I am in Frankfurt, my luggage is in Hamburg, I am suddenly hungry." would get you ejected from all but the seediest nightclubs in Canberra.

But I'm learning and persevering, and working out how the language is pieced together. I might not be able to understand all the words in "99 Luftballons" just yet, but I'm getting there.

Last night's lesson involved numbers, and although I can understand that 55 is "Funfundfunfzig", I am a long way from being able to pronounce it without either laughing or sneezing. That final syllable defeats me utterly. It might look easy, but there's enough action going on in the back of the throat and sinus cavities to turn those three little letters into a performance worthy of either the Oscars or the Olympics. At the moment I'm several laps away from the winner's podium, but I'm getting a taste for drama. "Funfundfunfzig", I snort into the rear view mirror, my face contorting in simulated rage to help the syllables escape in suitably Teutonic fashion.

"Gesundheit!" says a cheerful young lady, dropping into the passenger seat beside me.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 11th, 2007 11:34 am (UTC)
But does anyone know all the words to 99 Luftballoons even when it's the English version?

By October you can greet Bargainqueen and discuss Kochbücher!
Jul. 11th, 2007 11:35 am (UTC)
in more then 1 language (sorry hit reply before I finished typing)
Jul. 11th, 2007 01:41 pm (UTC)
Is the headline a threat or your attempt to master german articles? ;-D

And, yes you can. Pronounce "fünfzig", I mean. If you can say "*H*ugh Grant" you can say "fünfzi*H*". Same sound. Easy-peasy. ;-).
Jul. 12th, 2007 03:46 am (UTC)
The perils of pronunciation

I'd like to find someone who could route me Charles de Gaulle to Place de la Bastille in an efficient way ...
Jul. 21st, 2007 05:31 pm (UTC)
hi! glad to hear that you are learning german! well trying to anyway =) jen told me about your site. i'm not quite sure how fünfzig can sound like *h*ugh but you will get there. and if you do i will think about visiting again and this time we could do the whole sight-seeing-tour in german!
also viel spaß beim lernen!
Jul. 22nd, 2007 07:15 am (UTC)
Re: Hi!
Lernen mit German? Tonnen Spaß!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


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