Part 15: Camels, Socialism and Allah

Since I’m going to be studying in Brazil from January onwards, I’ve starteding teach myself Portuguese. Portuguese sounds like a bit like Spanish after a car crash, the words sound familiar, but malformed and I must admit that this is part of the appeal of the language. In the same way that one day I want to learn Dutch, since it reads like a German dyslexic having a really bad day.

German <3

German ❤

I like the way that Portuguese sounds weirder than Spanish, primarily because I think I’m still scarred from learning French (and hence romance languages) in school. Getting bad grades when your aunt is a French teacher…and is French…is really not the best idea. Ever since then I’ve avoided romance languages. The problem in school is that there was such an absence of grammar that it was near impossible to learn anything. We learned scripts, like actors, rather than learning how the language itself is expressed and synthesised. For someone who has a more scientific and analytical mind, the lack of grammar frustrated me. Without knowing the rules, how can one be expected to play the game?

This love of rules is what ended up making German a perfect language for me. German is often seen as a difficult languages due to its copious amount of rules and order (much like the German society and people…), but where many people see this as a complexity, I found this to be a great help since it allowed me to process the language. Everything had a clear rule as to why, what, where, when.

Grammatik ist Wichtig

Grammatik ist wichtig

Of course though, like all learners, I’ve made some pretty horrendous mistakes along the way to becoming conversational in German. One of the best of these was declaring myself to be a socialist (rather than a social person) to my friend’s parents. Needless to say, they were rather confused at the apparently raging Bolshevik from Scotland that their daughter had brought over.

Better than this was when I did an Arabic course in Singapore. I arrived in Singapore wanting to learn some Chinese, since I was going to be living in Asia. However, after arriving I found Chinese far too ugly a language to want to pursue, so choose an Arabic course instead. During a practice session I said to someone “anta jamal” instead of “anta jamaal”. So instead of calling them handsome/beautiful I said “You are a camel”. Somehow I doubt most Arabians would treat as the intended compliment that it was. I’ve found Arabic to be a really fun language to have dipped my toe into. After making small talk with a guy on the street in Marrakech in Arabic, he kindly informed me that it was good that I’d started to learn Arabic, since I’d be able to talk to God (Allah) when I reached heaven. Later, another Moroccan in the street came up to me out of the blue and said simply “It’s OK, gingers do have souls!” Finding out that I’m going to heaven AND that I have a soul, Marrakech was a great trip!

However, it is comforting to know that I’m not the only makes such mistakes…

  • An American T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market which promoted the Pope’s visit. Instead of “I saw the Pope” (El Papa), the shirts read “I saw the potato.” (la papa).
  • Clairol introduced the “Mist Stick”, a curling iron, into Germany only to find out that “mist” is slang for manure. Not too many people had use for the “manure stick.”

In any case, I’m looking forward to making all the mistakes that come with learning a language when I go to Brazil. Already learning German has already helped me in so many wonderful ways; like being able to communicate with my girlfriend’s parents when I go to Germany, to my girlfriend and I being able to make disparaging comments about people in public and being able to read books about a communist kangaroo, who lives in Berlin ( I highly recommend Die Känguru Chroniken if you can read German). I can only hope that learning Portuguese have such a lasting effect on my life as German has.




Part 9 – Gay Pride, Berlin & Homer Simpson

Since my last entry I’ve travelled to 5 more cities in Germany: Bonn, Köln (Cologne), Düsseldorf, Frankfurt and, most recently, Berlin.

I’ve noticed recently a large improvement in my German and this was exhibited in Berlin. While in Berlin it was the annual gay pride march and I found it fun to translate all the slogans. Ended up covered in stickers of these too, when Jeff (an American from Rhode Island that I was with) and I had to cross the street through the parade.

Fick? – Want a fuck?

Nimm mich! – Take me!

Du willst es doch auch – You want it really

Rauchst du nach dem Sex? – Do you smoke after sex?

So if you need advice on how to chat up men in German, it seems I have acquired sufficient expertise.

What I found interesting was that it passed by the old Nazi headquarters. 70 years after Hitler’s regime murdered homosexuals there’s a parade in his capital, his “World Capital Germania”, filled with gay men and the slogan “” on the side of the bus. What a fantastic image, Hitler turning in his grave* at the mere thought of that. Shows just how much Germany has changed since then.


*I’ve since been corrected, through the medium of a meme (welcome to the 21st century), that Hitler doesn’t have a grave, by my friend Alex.


Above is a picture of the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin.

The problem with designing something for such a grisly event in history would be that a grand, gaudily artistic monument would be just be wrong. Conversely it still needs to  be powerful, to do justice the suffering of the subject. And this monument is perfect. A sober, but effective, design with very little abject symbolism, leaving it up to the visitor to decide. I loved how all the blocks are all different shapes and sizes but have no discernible markings. Leaving them to just be an anonymous number. I took this to be showing how people of all ages, sizes and paths of life suffered and how the people lost their humanity by just being a number. When numbers become big they lose their impact, because our understanding wanes as numbers rise above our everyday experience and comprehension.

6 million dead people. It’s unimaginable. Literally.

It’s the same reason economies will always fail and these financial machinations will never be understand properly. When numbers enter cohorts of billions we cannot comprehend what we’re dealing with. And for the same reason we’ll never be able to understand the scale of the universe. When 100 countries in the world seem like a large number, when our holiday flights of a few thousand miles seem gargantuan, monolithic, how can we really understand the scale of a universe in light-years? We are limited by what it is to be human, a cage of proportion.

In the accompanying museum the following display truly touched me. It is a letter from a child, in the concentration camps, to his father explaining that he will soon be dead. The candid nature of the letter is what I found powerful. When I was a child the closest I came to death is when my PokeMon fainted on my GameBoy. Yet here, a child, someone so young, has already their fate. A departure from life through the mechanism of brutality.


 “Dear Dad! Before I die I want to say farewell to you. We would really like to live, nevertheless they won’t let us, we will be killed. I’m so worried about this death, the small children are thrown into the pit while they’re still alive. Goodbye forever. I kiss you tenderly.”

Now here’s just a miscellaneous mix of photos


The Reichstag


Brandenburger Tor


Checkpoint Charlie, note how German is the last language shown.


I enjoyed this poster. It refers to the Germany Greece game in ongoing European Football Championship, which Germany won 4-2

Back to Karlsruhe. I’ve almost managed to fuck up a couple of experiments so far at work. A cultural German note of seemingly insignificant interest: Germans use commas for decimal points in numbers, not full stops. Yes, this is incredibly inconsequential for 99,9% of applications in life… Until you try to programme flowrates for a reactor…using full stops…hence 5.00 l/min turns, not so inconsequentially, into 500l/min…woops. Yep, this is the guy who wants to, potentially, work with nuclear energy later in my calamitous life. My parents reaction when I told them that?

This was it


Apologies to all those who won’t sleep soundly tonight…