When you do not speak the language in the country that you live, it is as if you do not exist. It’s like walking around in a bubble and no one can see you.
Because, if you cannot communicate, do you exist? Matter?
When I walk out of my house, there is always a tad of fear in the bottom of my stomach. I pray that no one will try to speak to me and I will not be able to understand and I have to babble “engshudigan, ich sprachen kein deutsch”. The moment you say that, either they smile and wave away or they say something in English.
My chances of being spoken to increase if I have my dogs with me. As obnoxious as they are, they are cute and demand attention from people. Rudy is a mini celebrity as he is the only chihuahua in this land of Saint Bernards that I have seen. I usually try to cut off people by speaking very loudly in English to the dogs, preventing people from trying to talk to me.
Going to the grocery store is a daily source of dread. The checkers usually only ask me if I have a loyalty card and end it there. Sometimes, they try to chit chat and out comes my “Engshuldigan………(excuse me but I don’t speak German)”. Yes, daily because we a) don’t have a car so I can only buy what I can carry and b) nothing has preservatives here so nothing lasts very long. Thank God, the checkers are not like Trader Joes checkers who want to know how you like products, talk about the weather, ask how your day is. These checkers are all business.
The super fear is when I have to go somewhere and specifically speak to someone. Last week, I had to go get a name plate for our mail box. Without it, in this land of rules, our mail would not be delivered. I found out where I needed to go and headed out. I entered this tiny shop manned by someone who looked like an immigrant himself. I asked him if he spoke English which he didn’t. I then went out to draw pictures of what I needed and he told me to come back in ten minutes. I putzed around and when I came back I asked him, by showing him my wallet, how much I owed him. He told me, by crossing his hands and shaking his head, I owed him nothing. I could not believe it. I thanked him in German(thank you being one of the 12 words I know). The name plate is now on our box as a reminder of this kind man who either felt pity on me or didn’t want to go through the hassle of having to explain how much. The plate is not the correct size but it will stay there.
Does anything terrible happen when I have to ask for forgiveness because I do not speak German? No of course not, but I feel as if I am less of a person. I am no longer a confidant, middle-aged, educated woman. I am reduced to something less than a child because I cannot do one of the most simple things in life which is to communicate.
By not being able to communicate, I do not exist. Those daily interactions which we all take for granted either do not exist in my world or are incredibly painful. And so, I walk around with my head bent, giving off bad vibes so no one dares to acknowledge me.