He sat across the table from me. After we ran through a couple of sentences and smiles, each of us retreated, staring at our plates in silence. Neither of us had words for what we wanted to say.
After an agonising minute, he looked up, pointed at the ketchup bottle and said one word, “Rot”.
Obediently, I repeated it, “rote”.
Next was the mayonnaise, “Weiss” (“vyss”).
Followed by the plate, “Blau” (“bla-oo”), my cardigan, “Lila” (“lee-lah”).
Six months previously I had scandalised a German barista by asking for “ein kleine Latte” (the “E” I added to “klein” for decorative purposes was highly offensive).
In Ireland, no one corrects your shoddy language skills. Either we don’t realise you’ve just made a mistake or we don’t care- as long as we understand each other, it’s fine! Everybody feels good and nobody learns. In Germany, precision is prized. That’s not bad, just different. I learned but I didn’t feel good.
It took Elias to make me smile and dare to try again. Eight years old, a troublesome child at school, he had never taught an adult anything before. He moved from frustration to elation as we walked through the village. He pointed out houses and trees and flowers and I butchered the pronunciation, both of us beaming. He injected colour and fun back into language learning and I got to watch his confidence bloom.
That was a hard goodbye. Elias asked if I could come back next week. I assured him that I would come back every week if I was able but that Dublin is a long way from Schwäbisch Gmünd. I hope I see him again.