“Entschuldigung mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut.” This phrase got me through my first few months of living in Germany. Everything was difficult, from visiting the butcher to navigating visa procedures. Some days I wanted to hide under the covers and pretend I was still in America.

I had never studied German prior to a one-month panic before our move to Munich. After arriving I found that the vocabulary that stuck was what I used in every day life. I learned all manner of grocery store words, especially “Aktion” and “Sparpreis.” Soon I took a job as a nanny for a less-than-angelic German child who taught me the term “Gefängnis” and “Ich töte dich!” Every day I scribbled words I didn’t know into a tiny notebook for later researching.

The language came slowly. Lacking conversation partners I took every opportunity of seeing our Hausmeister to engage him in long conversations. Oddly enough he seemed less interested in sharing his thoughts on the meaning of life than in watering the garden. Soon he stopped politely inquiring about how we were finding the place. But I found other opportunities.

In general, elderly ladies are willing to converse. Once in the grocery store I asked a retiree if there was a difference between Blaukraut and Rotkohl. She gave me a dissertation on the topic! Another time I asked an older lady for directions to a dentist’s office and we would up discussing (and singing) Irish folk music.

My German has improved tremendously in the one year that I’ve lived here. I was patting myself on the back one day when my doorbell rang. It was a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I wanted to dodge them so I pulled out and dusted off my old phrase, “Entschuldigung, mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut.” I began to close the door but one of the gentlemen stuck his foot in. “No problem!” He beamed, “I speak English!”

Written by Katy Strange, see her blog at http://www.ourstrangeworld.blogspot.co.uk/