Saturday, July 15, 2006

A million ways to say one simple thing...

Back when I used to live in Germany, I started dating this German guy. We had a really nice relationship despite the ocassional misunderstanding brought about by his limitations in the English language and my own in German. I think that was probably my first adult relationship in the sense that it was almost like living together except that we each had our own place.

Anyway, some time into our relationship we were sitting around my apartment going over my German homework one night and at some point during a discussion regarding the difference between the Dativ, Akkusativ, Nominativ and Genitiv cases, I said something stupid and he laughed turned to me and said "Oh Annush I love you".

I understood that as "Oh Annush I love you".

The English language is a very poor language. There are a number of things that can't be expressed because the words simply don't exist. The varying degrees of love is one of them. Because I felt that German boy truly cared for me, I figured that when he said "I love you" he meant I LOVE YOU.

Some months later, when my German was 557 times better than it was when we met, German boy and I took a trip somewhere. On the way to the place we got into an argument. A nasty argument at that. An argument in Gerglish. When we got to the hotel we made up but I was still all kinds of annoyed because I felt like we were lost. So while we were sitting in the lobby he grabbed my face as he often did, gave me a smooch and said "Oh Annush I love you".

To that I responded "Say it in German".

He said "Ich habe dich ganz toll liebe".

"Ich habe dich ganz toll liebe" is not the same thing as "Ich liebe dich" which is the "I love you" I had understood. So I got all teary eyed and walked away. He followed. He asked me if something was wrong, if I didn't love him. I said that I loved him in the only way my English speaking brain knew how. Needless to say, we broke up.

As we all know, in English we either love or we don't.

Spanish is different and though I always knew this it was brought up to my attention the other day. A friend of mine is in an extremely new relationship and the guy said "Te quiero". Mild form of love. I was like "whaaaaaaat?" My brain switch was flipped to English that day. Then she was like "that's not bad, it's not like he said 'te amo' ". Love in all of its romantic glory.

So I thought to myself that in Spanish we can say "te quiero", "te quiero mucho", "te amo", "te adoro" and I'm sure there are a couple more I just don't know. So I was like Uff! then a relieved Uff! because it's clear yet confusing for someone who can't tell the difference. I tell everyone "te amo" though I am sure it's not the case.

I trust body language. The things we don't say but that we express.

I was laying there naping next to him when I felt him him kiss my shoulders, and my eyelids and my forehead and though he didn't say it then, I was certain that, at least at that very moment, er liebt mich...


GirlGoyle said...

Funny you should mention how limitating english is as a language. Maybe this is why languages such as spanish and italian are known as romance languages.

BTW - nice to encounter a fellow vagabond like myself.

schuey said...

I must just remind the reading crowd that "romantism" was "invented" by the germans...

annush said...

that's probably true...I don't know why GErmans have such a bad redutation when it comes to that...

Kira said...

Well, the Greeks have storge, agape, eros, and philia...I always liked that division because then one knew exactly how one is loved. You're right that body language is the bigger key in...well, any language, but especially in English when we use one word for so many purposes.

I think all the romance languages have some nuances to their terms of endearment. I remember when I first was talking to Alex and he told me "je t'adore." Well, back then I spoke 0% French, so I asked him what it meant. He blew it off as meaning simply that he adored me, and didn't elaborate at all. Later on, I spoke to a bi-lingual friend who tried to impress upon me that it had a layer of nuance that went beyond just friendship.

I think that's the hardest part about learning another language, though...there are often subtleties to each word that one doesn't pick up for a long time. Or a lack of subtlety that means we aren't clear how it's meant.