In his memoir, a veterinarian for the U.S. Army relates his humorous struggle to master the local language while stationed in Germany.
With only a couple community college courses in German behind him, U.S. Army veterinarian Deigh found himself stationed in Germany. The shock of encountering what German was like out of the classroom led to a series of “Lessons”—vignettes of his experiences learning how the German language was used in the real world. Traversing Germany from Bremerhaven to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Deigh encountered odd idioms and nearly unintelligible dialects. In picturesque towns like Heidelberg, Rothenburg, and Nürnberg, Deigh mixed with the locals, found a girlfriend and wife, and overcame repeated stumbles—from confusing Staubsauger (vacuum cleaner) and Hubschrauber (helicopter) to realizing that a mere reflexive pronoun separates “undress” (sich umziehen) from “move house” (umziehen). Eventually, though, he arrived at a complete grasp of the language. The virtue of author Deigh’s debut effort is that it uses humor to describe encounters with a language that many Americans consider to be mostly humorless. For instance, a passage on the regional use of “gel” is amusing yet edifying. For those who have struggled with German, whether as a student or traveler, this book is a bit of nostalgia for common encounters with a language that is tightly structured and subtly nuanced. Entertaining though it is, this personal book is for family and friends more so than the general public. Punctuation and spelling errors are excessive, and the author’s command of German grammar is not impeccable. “Der Dame” is dative, not accusative. Likewise, he mistakenly says GmbH (meaning Inc. or LLC) is “Gesellschaft mit beshränkter”—not beschränkte—“Haftung.” However, perhaps to make up for the oversight, he proposes an amusing acronym for GmbH: “Geh mal Bier holen” (go get some beer). Grüss Gott should nevertheless have an umlaut, and in “Sing a Song of Sixpence,” it’s “four and twenty blackbirds,” not “one and twenty.” And that’s in English.
Heartwarming yet at times amateurish; serves best to remind Americans who have studied German of the pleasures and pains they share.