After trying to buy oxtails from the butcher but returning home instead with what turned out to be ossobuco (a very delicious albeit costly miscommunication) I asked a native speaker the word for “oxtail” in German. The word my friend offered me, “Ochsenschwanz”, literally translates to beef-penis, so perhaps you can understand why I may have hesitated to request this from my local butcher. Trusting that my friend was not playing a practical joke on me, I cautiously asked the butcher for one kilo of Ochsenschwanz and did indeed receive oxtails without any strange looks. I can assure you that small successes such as these matter in a foreign place when seemingly simple tasks often require altogether too much effort.
Yesterday was a beautifully sunny day, requiring all the discipline I could muster to make myself go to school. Upon arriving I somehow convinced my teacher that we should relocate our lesson to the nearest park. What a good opportunity to practice our weather vocabulary or learn the names of natural things like trees and grass, I suggested. Our outdoor class was a fun change of scenery. After class several of my classmates and I broke off from the rest of the group to wander through the Tierpark (a small zoo within the park boundaries). We thanked our teacher for his willingness to improvise the day’s lesson and set off toward the camels. (The park really has two camels. Unfortunately they did not swarm us and drop to their knees offering a trek through the Sahara.) My classmates – two of whom are Turkish and the other two Italian – and I enjoyed reading the names of the various animals in German and comparing them to those in our native languages. We visited the deer, watched the baby goats (“capra” in Italian) play and then toured the bird area where we saw turkeys (or “hindi” in Turkish), emus and Australian Black Swans.
Here I’d like to take a moment to point out that auf Deutsch the word for swan (Schwan) is awfully close to the word for penis (Schwanz). Just one little letter differentiates a male reproductive organ from a long-necked waterbird. Surely this is only a set-up to embarrass foreigners who think they want to learn German. This morning when I arrived in class my teacher asked me (in German of course) which animals I saw yesterday at the Tierpark. “Ich habe Schwans gesehen,” said I, proudly employing the use of my newly-acquired past tense. When I saw how entertained he was by this response, I quickly realized that he was not delighting in my use of past tense but that I had incorrectly pluralized Schwan. “Ah, you mean you saw ‘Schwäne’,” he offered. Yes, that was what I meant. Those beautiful black specimens I was describing to the class were definitely swans.