Category Archives: Language

Colour, Me Happy

Colour makes me happy. I normally walk around serious streets that blend into each other with their neutral shades of stone, cement and brick. Whenever a bright colour pops out at me, I can’t help but smile. I become as happy as a child with a box of crayons except I don’t feel the urge to colour everything in my path with waxy abandon. Learning how to colour within the lines was a challenge for a girl who wanted to spread the happiness off the page, onto the floor and and as high up walls as she could reach. Over time, this childish obsession with vibrant, life-affirming colour seeped into my wardrobe, home and of course, my stationery drawer. Every time I take out my set of 10 Staedtler pens in a class, my (adult) students chuckle but they have now learnt that using colour makes anything more fun. And fun, my friends, makes things easy-to-remember.

I remember most things that are in colour but if it is text, a strong font and format are helpful too. If everything was colourful, I reckon I would have a hard time singling things out in my memory but colour makes my experiences more memorable. Sometimes, I forget the important details of the experience and only recall the colour in it. My brother’s famous example is my memory of him wearing green socks one particular day in our childhood special for some other reason. Despite the many re-tellings of the real occasion, I cannot remember what actually happened that day. Colour is just one of the ways that I group things  in my life but it is by far, the most attractive solution for the most complex problems I face. That’s right. Colour solves things.

Call me crazy but I recently started a course called ‘An Introduction to Mathematical Thinking’. As someone who had a blinding mental block to mathematics, I never believed that I could enjoy playing with numbers and funky symbols. Having a math-geek for a husband helps but what makes my re-discovery of mathematics infinitely easier are my colourful ‘problems’. It is so much fun to talk myself through proofs of theorems that affect pretty much nothing in my life when I have my colour pens at the ready. Jotting down every single step in my thought process is no longer tedious. I wish I did this at school. Colour makes things accessible because colour makes me happy.

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A scene from ‘Komm, süßer Tod’: ‘Come, sweet Death’

Vienna offers a never-ending supply of interesting adventures. With a sobriety that becomes this former imperial city, Vienna entertains, amazes and confuses me daily. For starters, I have never felt less groomed than a dog before moving here. I find this hilarious. Walking through a park, using the underground or at the theatre, there is no place a Viennese person considers it inappropriate to shout at a complete stranger, showing extreme irritation over a seemingly trivial thing. Truly amazing. It only follows that the Viennese taste in film should be equally inexplicable. Austrians, I’m told, have a morbid sense of humour which is perfectly encapsulated in the indie films by Josef Hader.

I once read Komm, süßer Tod for an Austrian-German class so when a friend of mine invited me to go see the film at a pop-up ‘heuriger’ recently, I decided it was time to actually understand the plot. A heuriger is usually a restaurant managed by a local farmer or vintner, set in leafy surroundings, selling homegrown produce and authentic Austrian cuisine. In an attempt at being ‘alternative’, a selection of freshly made Austrian delights along with an inflatable cinema screen and a few picnic tables, were dropped into an old ballroom hidden on a forgotten street. The people who attended this unusual showing were clearly rebels from a typically conservative art-scene, buying fruity beers from the pop-up bar and chatting seriously about the brilliance of Hader.

I think about 20 minutes had passed when the Austrians in our group suggested we move to a quieter corner because they couldn’t understand the dialogue. Not entirely sure whether they withdrew for my sake or genuinely because they could not understand the Viennese dialect but I gratefully joined the exodus to the garden. In true Austrian fashion, the beer garden was closed before the rest of the venue so we made our way into another spacious room. Perhaps we were keeping the neighbours awake with our alternative event which featured no music, laughing or loud noises. Being linguistically challenged and therefore, unusually quiet, I busied myself with taking in the atmosphere. The peeling paint, the ornate plasterwork on the ceilings, the scale of the rooms and imagining what might have happened in this once beautiful space. I am sure it was positively amazing.

 

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Post-haste

The people at my local post office know me as the foreign one who will utter a few key words in German to get something done and they even pre-empt my questions now. I can see them elbowing each other when I come in with my unusually shaped colourful packages, knowing that they will struggle to find a space on my customised parcel for their unnecessarily large postage labels. They always weigh my packages twice, ask me questions twice and teach me the names of countries in German with a bemused expression on their faces. I am grateful for them.

The way things were.

I had to go to the post office yesterday to post something from my Etsy shop but since I had an early class in another part of town, I had to go to a new one. It felt like I followed a million signs before I got to the section of this post office I wanted. It was HUGE. Standing in a queue for what felt like ages had the new problem of waiting-temptation. The queue went through the aisle of ‘discounted’ stationery and if you knew what a sucker I am for stationery, you would understand my plight. I got over this by thinking about the dying tradition of sending things by post and determining to send more despite the expense, time wasted and waiting-temptation. I took my cheerful parcel and one roll of tape I just couldn’t resist to a new bemused face who weighed it twice, asked me everything twice and taught me “Nederland”. Think I could have guessed that one.

To re-iterate: The word for post in German.

Irregular Plurals

I am a language-geek with approximately 21 normal brain cells that don’t spasm when I read ‘definately’ instead of ‘definitely’. Of my many twitch-triggers, using the wrong plural ending is a relatively minor offence but an entertaining one nonetheless. I am sure I have given several shopkeepers fodder for lunchtime laughs with my attempts at German plurals. You just have to learn some things about language and plural endings are one of those mindless things. We have mangoes next to avocados. Why do some have an -es and others just a lonely -s?

These are melons being sold by men with moustaches but there are no strawberries here. Why does a -y become -ies? It sounds the same as -ys but thanks to the French we have an e-loyalty. Fun fact #3: E is the most used letter in the English alphabet. Printing presses always have many more E blocks than you would imagine. Look under the floorboards and you will find some there. Fun fact #4: That is mostly because ‘the’ is the most used word in English.

You might be tempted to find a pattern for these endings. Maybe it’s to do with the last letter. Sheep, ships, elk, leeks… no.

I have no answers or predictable patterns. I only just found out that elk stay elk and now I can’t help chanting elk. I need some time to rid my brain of its hypnotic power. Elk.

p.s. All the photos above are from my Saturday market experience 12 minutes from our door. Unlike most farmer’s markets I’ve been to, this one was actually cheaper than the supermarket. Win win. Elk.

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