April 10, 2011 | French

German, Step Off!

My French efforts are foiled by another European language.

This morning while drinking coffee at a local café, I thought I heard French. Looking up, I spied what I thought was a French couple in line waiting to order.

The woman half of the couple came over to the table next to me and laid her stuff down. I rejoiced. I listened for more French. I heard the man, who was still over by the counter, call out to her something about a sandwich, with what sounded like a French pronunciation of the word sandwich.

As an aside, I just noticed that “couple” and “copulate” have similar etymologies (involving the Latin verb copulare). I don’t know whether I had ever realized that before.

Another French Restaurant, Downtown, Seen Yesterday

Another French Restaurant, Downtown, Seen Yesterday

Anyway, back to the actual couple. I made sure the cover of my dictionary was facing upwards with the word “French” conspicuously available to adjacent customers. They sat. I waited.

I kept trying to hear French, but strangely, I couldn’t really pick up on what they were saying. They were much quieter than many New Yorkers.

Then I realized that they were in fact speaking German. I thought, hopefully, maybe it’s a temporary thing and they will soon switch back to French.

Nope, they were German. (I asked.) 

This encounter continued my streak from last night, when I went to a movie at the Museum of Arts and Design, co-sponsored with the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF).

Columbus Circle Last Night

Columbus Circle Last Night

Time Warner Center, En Route to Movie

Time Warner Center, En Route to Movie

The fact that FIAF was involved, and the fact that I learned about the event from a posting for the Williamsburg French Language Meetup group, and the fact that I read somewhere that the star, Isaach De Bankolé, had been born in the Ivory Coast, whose official language is French, and that I also read that he was “discovered” (as an actor, I mean) in Paris, led me to believe that the film would be in French.

Museum of Arts and Design, Where the Movie Was Shown

Museum of Arts and Design, Where the Movie Was Shown

The film was called Otomo. As soon as the characters started speaking, I thought, Scheiße. That means “shit” in German. I thought it in German because the actors were speaking in German.

I thought, hopefully, maybe this is one of those movies where they will just switch from one European language to the next, and soon we will be on to the French piece. 


German all the way.

It was a powerful and disturbing movie, based on the true story of an African immigrant killed in Stuttgart. The lead actor was impressive, and I am glad to have seen it. I was also glad to see that a lot of my German review from some months back was still with me.

It’s just that, when you expect you are about to drink orange juice and it turns out to be grapefruit juice instead, it is at first always a little shocking.

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