Kinder Sagen Die Seltsamste Sachen! …Am I right?

Sweet Mother of God.
Have you ever tried conversing in a foreign language with a child? A child who speaks that foreign language as their mother tongue?

Cripes. I swear I’m slowly sowing the seeds of grammatical infirmity in my neighborhood.

Here in Prenzlauerberg, there are two small children with whom I am aquainted. Above and beyond the normal reasons why one would be nervous speaking to a child (they tend to bring up ‘poo’ in the most unexpected ways) I speak to them with no small fear of rebuke because their conversation is far more accomplished than my own.

Imagine! Imagine the shame of constantly asking them to repeat themselves; before long the shame leads to fear, fear that you’re giving them a complex that no one will ever understand them…..that they can’t make themselves clear. I imagine them repeating my bad german grammar at the dinner table and being rebuked for such slovenly syntax. And it would be my fault. They’d wonder why one adult would admonish them for repeating what they’d heard another adult say. Years down the road they’ll describe a recurring dream to their analyst where this big lady just keeps smiling at them, laughing at the wrong places in the conversation, and saying “Wie bitte?”

As you’re thinking all this, you try to keep the conversation going. Because if you just stop paying attention to them, that could give them a complex too. Of course it’s not that they’re uninteresting to you–they’re inscrutable! You can’t even converse predictively, because with kids it could go anywhere at any time…one minute you were discussing who smelled like poo, the next they want to know if you have parents?
So you try to keep it simple; shallow topics you can discuss as equals:

‘What’s a good name for a dog?’
‘You have a dog?!’
‘Well no….but I would like to…if I get a dog, what should I call him?’
‘But you don’t even have a dog yet!’
‘Well no….but…..if you had a dog what would you want to call him?’

It’s a very special look that comes across their faces–when they realize that they know more than you. You try to keep smiling in hopes that somehow it will make you seem more in command of your surroundings:
We’re getting along great, your smile says, this is a productive conversation.

With luck, around the time when your eyes glaze over with all the lies you are trying so desperately to make the child believe, the parent will look over and see that you both are staring at one another with a look of confusion. You have held this look of confusion for so long now that your brow has irrevocably furrowed, and drool has begun to crust along the contours of your jaw.

They take their child away; ushering them into the night with waves and furtive smiles. It seems to you that they mumble something to the child in order that they should repeat it to you; Eagerly they repeat what has just been whispered in their ear; a polite goodbye, an adorable adieu. Or maybe they just told you that you smell like ‘poo’.
For the last time you opt for a laugh and a nod–the oilcloth of good manners.

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4 Comments on “Kinder Sagen Die Seltsamste Sachen! …Am I right?”

  1. Contributing Factor Says:

    I feel like that around my students. ‘Cept I always know more about poo than they do. But otherwise, am well insecure.

  2. homagold Says:

    Quite possible that they get a complex. But I don’t think they would get it because of you, but because of what the parents mumble to them. “Paul! You mustn’t talk to strangers, I told you that a thousand times!” OR “Wasn’t she a nice woman. She seemed to be from England or Australia… yes, she’s still learning German but her German is very very good already. You know, for foreigners, German is a very hard language to learn.” 😉

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