Friday, January 12, 2007

Illiteracy



When Giulia and I grew tired of peekaboo the other day, I grabbed a stack of children's books from her sister's room and we cozied up on the sofa. At seven months, Giulia probably couldn't follow the story, but she could enjoy the pictures and at the very least, she could chew the cardboard pages. It was only when I sat down and opened the first book that I realized I couldn't read any of the stories; they were all in German, of course. I felt ridiculous; I'd never not been able to read something in my life. I suddenly sympathized with my former first grade students as I used cognates and context clues to decipher the meaning of a book about farm animals. Fortunately, Giulia did not notice.

My German illiteracy plagued me again the other evening when I bought what I thought were disposable makeup removing cloths. (I consider these wasteful but waterproof mascara leaves a girl with few options). I opened the package and wiped my eyelids with the moist towelette. It felt tingly. "Oh my god, Mickey; it's burning!" Okay, so I panicked. All of a sudden, I was convinced that I had applied nail polish remover to my face. This was a bit far-fetched, but pasta sauce comes in a tube here so why couldn't nail polish remover come in the form of a pre-soaked cloth? My thirty-day listen and speak German program taught me how to say, 'where is the opera house?' and 'I have three daughters,' but 'avoid contact with eyes' was not covered. Thankfully, I did not need to call the Swiss equivalent of 9-1-1. Paola read the package the following day and confirmed that these were in fact makeup removing cloths.

These incidences are mildly amusing, but my sense of humor is wearing thin because these stories repeat themselves. Trying to read the instructions on using the washer/dryer was like trying to crack the Da Vinci code. Trying to copy and paste text with German language browser settings was also maddening. I overreacted again when I learned from a Jeopardy clue that 'cervalles' is French for pig's brain. I had purchased and cooked some sausage earlier that day labeled 'cervelas' and bought it because it seemed local and inexpensive. "Mickey, I think I served you brain sausage for dinner!" It tasted good so it didn't really matter, but I wanted to kick myself for buying an unknown meat on sale. Thanks to Google, I now know that cervelas are not necessarily brains; the name refers to the shape of the sausage, not the contents. Talk about mystery meat.

2 comments:

Jul said...

I'm a vegetarian and even I know what cervelat is. :) (OK, to be fair, I only know that from seeing it at about a million sausage stands around Zurich - you'll get there soon enough.)

It is frustrating being suddenly illiterate, isn't it?

Melissa said...

Just imagine trying to read medical journals in German...now that's frustrating!