it was really difficult to gather thoughts on this trip when we arrived home to tell people something.. it went by so quickly –  a week ago seemed like months ago. two weeks ago seemed like last year.

I think that was partly due to the travelling days. all told this trip comprised seven flights and two train trips plus a number of car trips as well. Then add to that a baby that wakes you up half a dozen times a night loudly crying and the whole trip kind of takes a cloudy surrealistic haze.

one thing that stood out was the weather – several days of double digit temperatures made traveling and exploring much easier, especially when things like the christmas markets and zoo are  entirely outdoors.  Barely above freezing temperatures and rain is understandably annoying for a country that gets it nearly every year, but for me, at least, I didn’t miss the snow and cold of home. Checking the weather forecast back home was good for at least a daily grin.

like every previous trip to Germany I endeavored to speak German often. and very happily the trend of improving every trip has continued. I have put a lot of time into the effort and it would be very discouraging if I wasn’t getting better.

one of the ways I notice improvement is the length of time the conversation lasts in german before somebody switches to English. I have no illusions of fluency so if there’s something important that needs to be communicated and there is a chance I will be misunderstood I will use English – in most of those cases it is with someone in the service industry and their English will without doubt be better than my German.

there were moments of personal wins – when I noticed I wasn’t having to translate word for word but instead simply understanding the sentence as a whole. Or when asking for directions, understanding movies and media, a church service, translating signs and other written material, and ordering meals happened without having to resort to English as often or at all. I had conversations without being immediately marked as a foreigner – which tells me pronunciation, grammar, and word choice has improved. I was also very proud to have shared some conversations with C&E at their home in Mainz largely in German.

There were occurrences to the contrary – when C&E’s parents came to visit on Christmas day, for example. It could have been any number of things – the speed, the dialect, number of conversations taking place at once, or different vocabulary used – but that was definitely a moment when I realized I have a long way to go yet. Words I could pick out and understand were far and few between with 6 native speakers talking. And then there was a coffee break at Berlin where the food and drink ordering went smoothly, but when the waitress came back to explain why our food was slow to arrive, I was completely lost. The explanation in German about why the food was late was long, but when she had to switch to English she simply said ‘Your food will be coming soon’.  No doubt I missed out on something there, even if it was trivial. Maybe a trained schnitzel thief took my meal, or the cook had to leave to save a neighbor from a burning building. Now I will never know.

On the whole though, it is improving, and I know what I need to focus on to continue improving.

Having a baby along made a difference on this trip, not only in the speed of travelling and amount of planning required, but in how people approached you. Our son made us a magnet for kid friendly strangers or a target for eye rolls or grimaces from those not so keen on babies. Discussions definitely trended towards topics around children. It was simultaneously hilarious and embarrassing to have him in church on Christmas day constantly blowing raspberries, staring at people, sticking out and flicking his tongue at people, or yammering at the top of his lungs.  I still hope we have the opportunity to do more travelling together as a family or as father and son. It strikes me as important to expose him to other perspectives and cultures and ways of life.