Foreigners in a Foreign Land


Last week I was invited to a Thanksgiving dinner by one of the administrative faculty, Bobbye Pernice, who hails from New York. Several other Americans attended, including an American couple with their sixteen year old son, and Marty, one of the professors in psycholinguistics at Coli. It was a wonderfully satisfying experience.

There is something comforting about being amongst those of your own in a foreign country. Granted, it doesn’t much feel like a foreign experience when half of my friends here are Canadian, and the other half speak English just as well as I can speak French. Even spending the day downtown doesn’t help. The other day in Saturn, for example, I asked in my very best German (halting and sputtering), “Sie haben kein mehr Xavier Naidoo. Wenn..” and it was at this point that the sales clerk grinned, “It’s so charming when Americans try to speak German.” That was, of course, one of the rare moments I actually spoke German. Most of the time I look around and say to myself, “Germany, really? Where!”

Still, it was comforting, as I was saying. Ex-pats will always notice the things you notice. And one of the topics that night was gestures. Like knocking on your desk at the end of a lecture to express your appreciation, rather than clapping as we would. This one threw me for a loop in the beginning, and for the first week or so, I refused to do it. Now I think it is amusing, especially when we find ourselves in the conference room and have only our legs to knock on, which needless to point out, doesn’t work so well.

Another peculiarity someone once mentioned to me is that, instead of raising one’s hand to ask a question during a lecture, German students will snap their finger. I found the idea extremely disconcerting, considering that is what one would do to a lowly serving girl if one were not so polite. But then, I saw someone in class do it! The nerve! Yet, no one seemed to notice.

Someone also mentioned that night that German lecturers sometimes have a habit of pointing at the whiteboard with their middle finger. But I have yet to see this.

Author: Lucello

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One thought on “Foreigners in a Foreign Land”

  1. I always assumed finger-snapping to be more of a school thing, not so appropriate for university lectures. People never cease to astonish me though.

    I’d also wager the guess that people point with their middle fingers when they keep a piece of chalk in between their thumb and index finger.

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