English Girl in Vienna

Cultural Commentator

I Speak the Lingo You Know (Well, Kind of…)

I am still struggling with the language. I don’t mind. I know it will take another year before I feel comfortable with it, and I feel quite positive that I am chipping away at it and making the effort. I have been attending classes steadily since last April and I’m signed up for an intensive summer course.

It’s weird, but I mostly speak German with people from outside Austria; these people are the others on my German course. I’m happy that English is not our common language, because to get on with each other and have a natter, we must do so in our broken Deutsch and I love it. Once, I walked with my Italian friend for twenty minutes on our way home from class and we spoke German the whole time. We attracted many confused looks from locals along the way as we butchered the language in our heavy accents, but somehow we both made ourselves understood.

The people I speak German with the least seem to be the Austrians themselves. Take for instance the other day; I called a restaurant to make a reservation and did the whole thing in German. I was so utterly proud of myself and felt quite smug until the guy taking the booking repeated the whole thing back to me in English by way of confirmation. I felt dejected and very sorry for myself.

My course mate from Nepal asked our teacher how she could improve her pronunciation because whenever she speaks German in shops or cafes, the listener invariably screws up his or her face in utter confusion. The teacher told her she had good pronunciation and was perfectly intelligible. He said that of course she had an accent, like we all do and assured her that those who cannot understand her probably have the same problems with native speakers from other parts of Austria, or from Germany. He then went on to say it was the Viennese way to make a face on every possible occasion and we should not be put off by it. I then told him the predicament I have, that everyone can hear as soon as I open my mouth that I am English and immediately speaks back to me in English. He advised me to tell them to stop and to explain that I must practise my Deutsch. I did this once in a pub. I spoke German; the waiter spoke English.

I said, “Ich kann Deutsch sprechen.”

He said, in English, “I can speak English.” Fair enough, I thought, and we laughed.

It has been suggested that Austrians love to practice their English and on reflection, it does seem that they are trying to be nice to me by doing this. I also encounter people on a daily basis who have spent a lot of time and money on learning English, so I don’t really blame them for wanting to put their language skills to use after all the resources and energy they have invested. There does seem to be a bit of a love affair with the English language. In fashion magazines, most articles will have a headline written in English with the actual piece in German, and so it is with many shop names around the city. Consequently, I have found peace with the knowledge that all my dealings with locals will occur with me speaking German and them speaking English, and all my dealings with other Auslanders will be completely in German. It is one of the many quirks of living in Vienna.

English titles and captions in "Wienerin" (Viennese Woman)

English titles and captions in “Wienerin” (Viennese Woman)

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