Not my life, thankfully. My German knowledge. This happens to me every time I encounter a language situation where I am not the instigator and I don't know where it's going to go. The other day a man came up to me in the street after having clearly not gotten good information from someone else he asked, making a "please help me find something" face. My brain: "Oh God... links.... rechts... bis.... geradeaus... will I remember all these words, will they be enough, what if I can't understand his accent..." To my enormous relief, all he wanted to know was whether the street we were standing on was the Sofienstrasse. It was. I didn't even have to formulate a complete sentence. Then, a block later on the bridge, it happened again. My brain didn't even know where to start in its guesses of what words and structures might become necessary because they didn't seem to be lost. Luckily, I saw the camera in her hand and she handed it to me. Okay. Say you'll do it. Take a photo. As I took the camera she rambled into another sentence. The only word I understood in the entire thing was "technological". I just smiled and took the picture. Thankfully the camera worked and I got away, once again, without needing full sentences.
I don't think it's a good thing that, six months in, I'm still considering my real-life encounters with Germans who aren't waiters/clerks/German teachers as something akin to near-death experiences (near-language-failure experiences?). But, there it is. I know I should practice, but it's frustrating both for me and the Germans I speak with to try German when we both know their English is far and away above my German. And thus everything continues in English.
Today a new girl in our lab, also from outside Germany and not great yet with German, and I had to go to another building across town. We got on the bus and she asked for a ticket to the stop we were sitting at right then! The bus driver looked at her like she had lost her mind and the passengers were looking at us funny, too. When he tried to tell her in German she didn't understand and asked him in English to repeat it. At this point I realized what was going on and asked for the correct stop. She was able to just laugh off this experience by the time we found a seat, but I think I would have passed out. I really need to be more like her and not care if I look like an idiot, but when being thought of as stupid is one's second biggest fear (hey, nothing beats death), it's hard not to care!
Must stop caring! Then maybe I would try more.
In the meanwhile, Germans think, and are probably right, that Americans are just so awful with languages. In one example, a friend with a short "oo" sound in his name can't understand why Americans simply never get it right, but the British can do it. Americans are just pathetic pronouncers. I don't know if the British use the short "oo" in their English or are just better exposed to foreign languages. In another example, a coworker rambled on and on to me for about 10 minutes about how Americans just don't pick up German like people from other countries, and how she knows an American woman who has lived here 20 years and still can't have a truly good conversation in German. She blames it on the fact that you can get around here in English. I guess it's a combination of a lot of factors. And being American, I'm guilty of all of them - falling back on English, not enough exposure to foreign languages early in life, being afraid of looking stupid. (Is that last one American? I really don't know.)
In other news entirely, Damon went to book tickets for our trip this weekend today and discovered that there were no reserved seats remaining on any trains back here Monday. None. This is really disastrous - it's about 6-7 hours and with no seat (and not a good place to stand, either - the trains aren't built for that) it will be really hellish. 20% of the seats on the trains are left unreserved but you can bet those are very hard to find. We are debating whether to try and find a place to stay an extra night to see if we can get a better train situation on Tuesday...but I really need to get in some work hours that day, so I don't know. Moral of the story: Book early!!!