1. On the s-bahn to work people often sit on the aisle seats and stretch their legs out, thus effectively cordoning off the 3 empty seats. They grudgingly retract their legs so someone can sit on the window seat opposite; this person will also stretch his or her legs out. Both parties will deposit their bags on the adjoining seat. The s-bahns are often so crowded that to sit you must challenge this cordon of legs and bags. Most of the time the legs are withdrawn hastily but also somehow reluctantly; the occupier will avoid eye contact and look indignant and offended. It doesn’t only happen to me though i probably provoke these surly looks by staring darkly down at the Germans and, if they ignore this, simply walking into their legs or sitting on their bags (in slow motion so they have time to move them). i also sometimes sit then stare at them till they make eye contact; then i pull out my menacing book, e.g. a Donald Duck comic in German, and i read in a haughty English way. If i had a white pith helmet i would don it.

2. i can now read Donald Duck books without undue difficulty. i tried reading these two years ago and gave up – too many unknown words and phrases, though i already knew at least 1000 words then. i’ve since memorised a lot of words and studied grammar, and spoken German, and watched German films; and yet there is something miraculous-feeling about this “sudden” comprehension.

i get to observe many Germans trying to learn or improve their English; it is strange how some just never get any better and some make improbable improvements. Language schools like Berlitz and inlingua pretend it’s a science, that you teach some grammar in each chapter and at the end of a level the student will absorb everything and go on to the next. It’s not true. Learning a language is, at some point, utterly mysterious. You can go through all the mechanics of grammar, vocab, etc., but there is an invisible moment where the student either puts it all together or they don’t. It’s often to do with intelligence though one of my best students was pretty thick – he just liked talking and cracking jokes.

3. German is a fantastically difficult language. i gather that the older a language, the more complex its grammar; so Old English is apparently even worse than German and i suppose whatever i spoke in my first life would strike me now as bizarrely complicated. Learning German i have the feeling of learning a pre-historic woolly Mammoth kind of language. This is a language where meat is Fleisch for God’s sake. Although technoclad engineer supergeniuses use German, listening to it, or speaking it, i always feel like i’ve slipped back a few thousand years to a dark forest like the opening scene of Gladiator. This may be why i tend to snarl and growl the language; my MILF whispers it like French but then she’s German so she can do that if she wants. i speak it like this.

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