Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Lost in Translation: Tennis, Twenty-somethings and a couple of Twits


Yesterday, something triggered a particularly goofy memory from junior high days. When I was in the seventh or eighth grade, a friend of mine persuaded me to go play tennis with her. I don't remember much about our actual tennis game … except that I probably stunk at it. What I do remember is that there were a couple of twenty-something guys in the court beside us, speaking in some foreign language, and my friend was extremely curious about what language they were speaking. At the time, I had only studied some French, but I was still able to sometimes recognize the sounds of other European languages. My friend and I spent some time openly discussing what language we thought it might be.

At some point, it seemed that our two neighbors had overheard us and were having a little bit of fun with us. It seemed that they were both mutually fluent in several different languages and kept switching between them. They must have overheard at least part of our English conversation about them, because at some point, my friend very goofily suggested, “Maybe, they're Russian spies!” This comment was followed by one of our European neighbors repeating, “Russian spies,” and then laughter.

Somewhere along the line, it seemed that they may have been speaking German, and my friend asked me if I knew any German. I didn't really, but my German-speaking grandmother had given me the storybook of “Hansel and Gretl” in German and had recorded her voice reading in German and translating into English. Somehow, I had memorized the first two lines. I told this to my friend, and she dared me to walk to the dividing fence and say the little bit of German language I knew.

I was an extremely shy kid at the time, but this particular friend of mine had a way of bringing out my inner goofiness. I walked over to the fence and recited (not very loudly,) “Hansel und Gretl waren geschwister. Sie hatten einander sehr lieb.” (Hansel and Gretl were brother and sister. They loved each other very much.) I guess I was brave enough, because they didn't seem to be paying much attention to me. However, they had been paying some attention to our lunacy earlier. If they were discreetly taking note, they must have thought we were one silly pair of twits. :)