Thursday, June 24, 2010

Der Austausch: Part I, "I Think We're Drunk!"

The summer before my senior year of high school, I studied abroad in a small village in central Germany. It was my first time being truly away from home (unless you count the devastating week my cruel parents sent me to music camp when I was eleven) and it was my first time in a foreign country. The German I'd learned the previous three years in high school seemed woefully inadequate to prepare me for spending a month living with a German family, and for the first two days I don't think I spoke at all.

FRAU: (In German) What do you think of our country so far?
ME: (silently, frantically, in my mind) Ummm..ummm..konnen Sie...ummm....bitte....mochten Sie etwas wie Hackfleisch? (Translation: Could you...please....would you like something like ground beef?)

After a short while, however, it became clear that my German Vater and Schwester both spoke fluent English and were eager for practice. Our days became a game of them asking me questions in English and pushing me to answer in German. They were endlessly kind and patient, incorporating me into their family life and feeding me as though I were a starving child. Mutter was convinced that I was far too skinny, and she made it her mission to fatten me up. I think I ate about six hearty meals a day while I was there.

There were multiple incidents that occurred on that trip that I will be describing over the course of the next couple of posts. The first: "I Think We're Drunk!"

There were a handful of other American students from my high school scattered about the neighboring villages also residing with other German families. One afternoon, all of our German host siblings had some sort of colloquiem to attend after school, and so all of us Americans sequestered ourselves one host family's house.

The girl staying there was a good friend of mine, and she was fortunate enough to have landed not only a spacious room with its own bathroom and balcony, but (gasp) a small refrigerator stocked to the brim with German beer.

"They said it's for me!" she said, proudly. At this point in my life, my experiences with alcohol were limited to the small sips my parents allowed me from their own beverages from time to time, and I don't think anyone else was all that steeped in knowledge about it either. All we knew is that we were in a country where our tender ages still made us legal to imbibe, we had a refrigerator full of beer and no adult supervision. It was time.

We cracked open the cans and invented our own games with a deck of cards (this being long before any of us would learn the classic drinking games; Asshole, Kings, Circle of Death, etc.) We opened a second round. And a third. I felt nothing. I was embarrassed to admit it.

Everyone seemed a little giddier, a little louder, a little more red-in-the-face. I was mortified. Maybe alcohol had no effect on me! This could either be very good or very bad. Perhaps I would go through life drinking whatever I pleased and never getting drunk. Maybe I was immune. Or maybe, worse, it was all about to creep up on me and I would be humiliatingly flat on my back in seconds and everyone would know that I'd never drank before. Because nearly everything at this age was humiliating, this experience was quickly filling me with dread.

A fourth round was opened. And then one of the Americans opened her mouth: "I am wasted!" she said. A quick vote of concurrence. Doomed, I was doomed. I felt nothing.

Or did I? As soon as she said it, I felt the giddiness of so much giggling rush to my head. It was exceedingly warm in the room. Maybe these were the signs. I did feel a bit of a sway coming on.

At that moment, my friend's host sister poked her head into the room.

"Hallo! We are home now! Are you having a good time?" she said. There was no frantic move to conceal the cans, we all just simply watched as she swung the door open wider to reveal that she was standing in the hallway with some of our other host siblings. And they looked at us. And they started laughing.

"You are drinking the beer?" she said, covering her mouth to attempt to hide her laughter. "How do you like it?"

"'S-awesome!" one of my friends slurred. This provoked another round of giggles from the Germans. (Yes- Germans giggle.)

"Wasso funny?" another beer-drinker demanded, nearly knocking over a pyramid of spent beer cans.

"The beer is piss-water," the Germans crowed.

"'S not so bad!" we insisted.

"No, no!" my friend's host sister said. "They mean that it is,, look!" She pointed to a tiny line of script on the side of one of the cans.


Awkwardly, we gathered up our decks of cards and quietly disposed of the cans of Alkoholfrei beer. We would not speak of this incident again.

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