Down with Jammern. Drunk on D.C.

Washington, D.C. is where I was born. My hometown. A most beautiful city. Warm from April through October. Hot and sticky in the summer. Lush, aromatic gardens, permeated by the song of the cicadas all night. People have this special walk in DC, an elegant, gliding thing. It’s funny to hear my brother Larry say that Washington has become a “harder” place since we were kids, and that he is dreaming of moving to Savannah, because coming here from Munich for me means sliding into a lower gear and settling down into a more relaxed, friendly attitude. But that’s the outside view, of course, the habitus. Wearing your inner stress connected to deadlines and pressure and “I have to… I have to…” like a cloak is just not cool. But my German friends and students misread Americans as covering something up. When I hear “overfl√§chlich” – superficial – out of the mouth of Germans it makes me so mad.

You see, when I come here the subtext of everyday life in Germany, complaining, what the Germans call “Jammern”, is switched off. Life is harder in the US, you know, and you have to get on with it. Jammering won’t get you anything. Get things done and then go on and have a good time.

I think this might have been a note to myself.

How I learned Latin… and French

Since I grew up bilingual in German and English, Latin was the first foreign language I learned. My dad taught me Latin when I was 5, using the Nature Method, a book of texts featuring a family with kids my age on up, talking about everyday life, with a brother beating up on his little sister etc. My dad read it to me just as I was becoming an avid reader myself, so I actually started reading Latin in addition to English and German. I cherished our Saturday mornings together, my weekly Latin lesson was when I had my dad all to myself. There was grammar, too, at the end of each story, and I liked being able to solve those logical puzzles, and there was poetry, which I’ve always loved. So there I was, a 5 or 6 year old, reciting Ovid’s love poems. I loved anything romantic and sensitive, so it was great.

Perhaps you’ll think “How precocious!” but it wasn’t at all. I was a totally normal little girl, with dolls and stuffed animals and a head full of dreams, and doing Latin didn’t turn me into some monster. It was just something I enjoyed. When I got Latin in 7th grade it was a cinch for me, because I’d got the basics, and it was fun to have a subject I was always good at.

Then, in 9th grade, we got French. I couldn’t get my mouth around the sounds. I didn’t hear the difference between the vowels. Several other classmates were already fluent, and I was a bit frustrated not to be able to join in the fun. Our teacher obviously adored those few fluent speakers, and I remember kind of switching off in class. The texts in our book were a total bore. Then our teacher got sick, and we had substitutes and then no teacher and then finally another teacher came who started drilling us, and I got one bad grade after the other. At the end of 11th grade I was one unhappy girl, and flunked the grade.

I was so fed up with my school and the whole situation that I went on a diet, lost 15 pounds and decided to change my life. I was 16 and making good money babysitting, so I saved up all my money and bought myself a ticket to France. Burgundy, Auvergne, Province:¬† I was there for two blissful months, working with French youth to restore old castles and churches. It was great living in a community with people just a little older than me. I naturally fell in love with a French boy, and finally got some useful and real phrases to say. So, to make a long story short, I came back fluent in French. Oh, incidently, I had top marks in my report card from then on. But frankly, I couldn’t have cared less. School was over for me. I knew I could learn, I knew I could make it in life. And I knew that school was simply in my way. Life happened after school.

So there. That’s probably why I became a teacher.


Did you follow the story this week about how Kanye West upstaged Taylor Swift as she was collecting her MTV award, and made a fool of himself in the process? Now, I happen to have have very strong feelings about excited men stealing a woman’s fifteen seconds of fame, as I have four older brothers who spent a good part of their lives fighting with each other for center stage. Big waste of time, if you ask me. Anyway, here is the one and only Ze Frank on respect and how it played out this past week:

Yellow jacket

When we put away the sailboat at the end of our stay on Drummond, we managed to set the trailer right down on a nest of yellow jackets in an old rotten log – or perhaps it was a nest up in a tree, we’re not quite sure. We didn’t notice it right away. But when I pulled out the trailer and stood it up horizontally to turn it around and over, a wasp dropped out of the air onto my eyelid and stung me. Suddenly we had the whole swarm all over us. I was wearing my thick wetsuit, so I was safe except for my face. But the men really had to leg it.

I’ve put Benadryl, an over-the-counter ointment for insect bites, on my lid, but that doesn’t reduce the swelling, it just relieves the itch. So all I can do is wait.

  • to leg it, to make a dash for it, to scoot, to take to your heels = to run away fast
  • over-the-counter drugs = pills and ointments (Salben) that you can buy without a prescription (nicht verschreibungspflichtige Medikamente)

Question: What’s your summer picture?

The summer break is coming to an end for us. We’re packing up and going home after our very long holiday. This picture summarizes what was nicest about the summer for me. Have you got a summer picture to share?


Was ist das Blogprojekt? Mehr dazu unter Englischlernen mit Anne! islandweeklycover300 Subscribe to the Island Weekly podcast by RSS or in iTunes.

Question: What’s your earliest memory?

Think back to the earliest thing you can remember: Where were you? What were your surroundings like? What do you remember most about the situation? Were you doing anything? Did you see, smell, taste, hear, feel anything? How did you feel about yourself and the world around you? Can you estimate approximately how old you were at the time? Come share your earliest memory with the other readers and me.

Note the difference between state and action verbs:

  • it looked/ seemed; I saw/ heard/ smelled/ felt: state verbs and verbs describing your perceptions are used in the past simple
  • I was looking at/ was listening to/ was trying out/ was holding/ was sitting; the sun was shining: action verbs can be used in the past progressive when you describe what you were doing/ what was going on in a given situation

Was ist das Blogprojekt? Mehr dazu unter Englischlernen mit Anne! islandweeklycover300 Subscribe to the Island Weekly podcast by RSS or in iTunes.


We went to the annual fundraiser for the island clinic last week. The old familiar players were there: Dedicated volunteers, in this case the Lutheran women’s group, who run the show; then the local businesses who donate products or services; then a mix of people close to the clinic, employed there or doing volunteer work, along with their families, complemented by a wider audience, including “summer people” like us, comparatively educated and well-off.

Funds are raised through the tickets themselves for a dinner of barbecued steak, baked potatoes, corn on the cob, a salad buffet and, for dessert, a selection of about 20 different kinds of brownies, all baked by the local women. The second source of money is an auction for baskets of food, household goods and “antiques”. Finally, there are lottery tickets for the most valuable donations. As far as I’m concerned, the most impressive donation every year is a quilt made by a woman (see picture) who starts sewing it in late summer, working on it for hours every day until it’s finished in time for the next fundraiser. She’s been donating a quilt a year since the 80s, and every one is a unique work of art. My mother, who used to live here year round, won the quilt a few years back. Tickets are a dollar a piece. And, no, we didn’t win it this year.