Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A German Blast from the Past (Part 1)

As a junior in high school my family hosted a German exchange student for the entire year. Jürgen was also a junior and attended school and all the other activities that I and my family did that year (a family vacation to Yellowstone, and a trip Jürgen and I took to San Jose California come to mind.)

Jürgen learned how to play basketball. One-on-one (or 21 when my brother was around.) He rapidly learned that to get (any) rebounds or generally have any shot at winning - he must be much more physical than he was at first.

He learned.

He also worked very hard on his English. He didn't just want to speak "precise" English, he was after the vernacular that was everyday language at our house. And he got it right, slang and all. After about the first four months the only phrase that he couldn't quite "get" was "right on!" It's interesting how specific inflection and enunciation are with a expression like that. If it is too precisely stated, said too fast, or maybe too slow, or with the emphasis just slightly off - the phrase just doesn't work. He became so fluent that when people met him for the first time later in the year, they had no clue he wasn't from Colorado.

Some of the lasting memories from that time included a late night youth retreat discussion that revolved around Jürgen attempting to tell us Americans what his name would sound like without the Umlaut (Jurgen instead of Jürgen.) We just couldn't hear it at all, both pronunciations were absolutely identical to our English hearing ears. After about the forth or fifth attempt the conversation just dissolved into hysterical laughter. We were complete basket cases in learning the finer points of German elocution.

There was also the time we both took the bus home from school and when I called my parents - in a panic - to see when they would be home to take me to basketball practice they said, "but you drove to school this morning ..."

During our trip to Yellowstone he had more fun and got more amazement from the drive through the barrenness of Wyoming than in the national park itself. He took pictures and pictures and pictures of "nothing." Jürgen by a population "4" sign, Jürgen in front of miles of nothing. Pictures of virtual ghost towns. You name a picture of "nothing" and he had a picture of him in it. In Germany, although possessing expanses of "rural" places, there are always people and dwellings around. Wyoming, on the other hand, has hundreds of square miles of "nothing." And "nothing" is evidently quite interesting if you have always been around "something."

Anyway, this past week (23 years later), Jürgen and his ten year old son came for a visit. My wife and children had heard stories, but were in eager anticipation of his arrival. Jürgen and his son initially flew into Denver where my parents met them. They got to stay with my Uncle Maury there as well and took in a Colorado Rockies baseball game.

to be continued...

No comments: