Saturday, February 7, 2009

Stupid in Germany

I am a word person. In college, my best friend bought me a word of the day calendar. In law school, I embraced words like 'tautology' and 'specious', using them not just in class, but also in social situations. I'm sorry friends and thank you for still being my friends. And while I am not a collector of things - beanie babies and Hummels just aren't my speed - words have a value all their own. For years I've placed the best of them in my mental curio cabinet with care, displaying them proudly and in a way that has managed to serve me relatively well both in writing and the practice of law.

When I decided to take a hiatus from work and move with my family to Germany for the better part of 2008, I had grand plans not only to read the likes of Roth, Carver, and Coelho, but also to pen stories like Conroy. And, in between traveling, hosting guests, my son starting kindergarten, and marathon training, I did read those authors. And while I'm not ready to take on The Prince of Tides, I did write, among other things, two stories that at least don't make me wince when I read them. But something happened on the way to the Biergarten with respect to my verbal communication. I started losing words, unable to complete sentences, snapping my fingers and saying "you know, that one word, you KNOW. . ." And the word was often something like 'significant' or 'valuable' - not exactly high dollar vocabulary. Its as if the Riesling or the male Speedo exposure or the shades of red hair dye, ubiquitous as they were unfortunate, unlocked that mental curio cabinet and the words fell out and rolled under my cerebral cortex or some other place I no longer knew the name for. In other words people, I got stupid in Germany.

Like many such declines, it was insidious, happening little by little, day by day. As my interaction with the English speaking waned, so did my vocabulary, my ability to speak in complex sentences, my recall of multi syllabic words. And while I love my alone time, I don't think it helped matters that, for most of the day, I was alone with my own thoughts. My apparently increasingly simple thoughts.


When it came time to pack up the lederhosen and beer steins, my compromised diction and I weren't quite ready to leave. The ability to drive to Paris for the weekend or hop a quick flight to Italy never did lose its appeal. On the other hand, I missed my family and my family of friends, the people who add color to my life in a way not even Paris can. I've been back for over a month now and have been happily steeping in the company of those friends and family. And while I always knew they brought color to my life, I didn't readily realize they also made me smart. But they do. Our conversations, our kidding around, our confidences; all of that is valuable in more ways than I ever imagined. And slowly, little by little, I'm locating and replacing the contents of my mental curio cabinet. In fact, I'm pretty sure just last week I strung together a seven word sentence. And for that, my friends, I thank you and promise never again to use tautology in social conversation.

8 comments:

Confetti said...

I thought I was the only person who "collected" words. Many years ago, a friend called me a word snob. She meant it as a compliment and, while I accepeted it with aplomb, I found myself tempering my vocabulary. Please, use the word tautology with pride.

Anonymous said...

Based on your writing, your mental curio cabinet is doing just fine! My only complaint? More blog entries, please! I want to read more!!!!

Anonymous said...

I've always enjoyed your candid and unique thoughts. . .love it that you've put them down for all of us to enjoy. . .keep them coming.

Heather said...

Thanks for affirming that I'm not crazy. The last three years being home alone all day in Germany has made me a total moron. I blame the summers full of beer and sausage.
But seriously, that's just being away from fast-action work days. As they say: "Use it or lose it." Fully applicable to the brain.

Anonymous said...

Since I am German, as Laura well knows, I thought I had so say something about loosing words in Germany or getting stupid here. Just get in touch with Germans (like me of course, haha) and you won't have a word problem anymore. And, the beer is much stronger here than that stuff you guys drink, so be carefull (another laugh). Just kidding. I love the way you guys write and I can't wait to read more!!!

Peter Collins said...

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Karri said...

Jaim and I appreciate you as a word snob. As long as you are willing to stop the story midsentence and define the word for us, our friendship won't have to end!

Casey said...

Should we start Scrabble nights?