This morning a friend posted something on facebook that made me laugh. It simply said:
“Tell someone you love them today, because life is short, but SHOUT it at them in German as it is also terrifying. Ich Liebe Dich”
Even as I type these words I cannot help but smile, maybe I find it so funny because I am half Irish, half German or maybe because it is so true.
Growing up in Dublin with a German mum was a novelty back when I was blond haired pigtailed little girl. In the late seventies, early eighties recession was rife and there were very few jobs and even fewer foreigners in Ireland. This made my family a little bit unique, not only were we protestants and wore yellow wellies instead of the common black ones, but my German mum would also make strange food and enforce slightly different rules.
Of course she spoke with an accent but the most obvious thing she would do, that would not only stop my sister and me mid-play but all our friends as well, was give out to us in German. I think she did it to ensure that the other kids wouldn’t know what she was giving out about, in a weird way protecting us and herself from unwanted ears. Maybe she also did it because when her emotions were high her mother-tongue was easier, quicker to access. But even when she would just talk to us in German the neighborhood kids would always think she was in a bad mood or was giving out, the German intonation and melody harsher to their ears than English.
After we had moved to Germany and my oldest Irish friend came to visit with her family I remember one insistence that made us giggle back then and still brings a smile to my face. We lived in a small village up in the north of Germany, very rural, quite remote. One day as my friend and I were walking down the very long Lange Strasse on a mission to buy German goodies a neighbour came towards us on his old, rusting Holland bike. He was one of the farmers who lived across the road, in his late fifties, quite gruff and slightly deaf. As he passed us by he shouted something at us, my friend literally jumped and her face mirrored the fear she felt in that moment. I remember how she turned to me saying “I didn’t do anything”, looking very confused and flustered and it took me a minute, between all the laughter, to explain to her that all he had said was “Guten Tag” which means “Good Day”. Feeling very silly the two of us giggled all the way to shop re-playing what had happened over and over again, making it funnier every time.
Being bilingual I slip in and out of English and German and to me both languages have their different purposes and feelings and I enjoy the fact that they also have their strengths and weaknesses. And as for the quote I read this morning I think I’ll give it a go and scare random people on the street by talking in German to them, and maybe I’ll even find someone to say “Ich Liebe Dich” to.