< SWITCH ME >

Photo: Manuel J. Dolezal
E&M columnist Manuel Dolezal

I never really planned to get a girlfriend from another country. I even survived my Erasmus year without engaging in any serious long-term relationship with a lady from some or other exotic country. However, one day I did meet Claire, a wonderful French girl with an even more wonderful French accent. We've been together for three years now, which is a remarkable success - given that relationships are first and foremost an exercise in communication! Just think of all those words that guide partners through everyday togetherness, ranging from charming comments on a new hair cut to harsh orders such as "Take out the rubbish!" But what happens if both parties do not share a common native language - like Claire and I?

Like almost everyone, I learned my first basic transnational love vocabulary during school trips to neighbouring countries. I tried some I love you, Te quiero, and so on. But put these corny expressions aside and you will find it extremely difficult to find the right words in a proper bi-lingual relationship. The risk of being misunderstood is a great one.

Basically, in transnational relationships like Claire and I, you have three options when it comes to coping with different mother tongues. First, the couple may have their conversations on neutral ground by choosing a third language in which to converse. Many people then turn to English as the omnipresent lingua franca of the 21st century. However, this kind of English has usually nothing to do with the poetry of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but usually resembles the efficient „Globish" of businessmen. If transnational lovers don't want to sound as if they were presenting curves of emotional turnover on a flip chart, they should refrain from taking the easy English way out.

Photo: Claudia Lucacel/www.youthphotos.eu
Bisous machen

Option number two requires that one of the partners actually speaks both languages, which, at first sight solves communication problems. However, this arrangement also has its flaws, because the conversations in the relationship would be unbalanced. The partner, whose mother tongue has become the official language of the couple, would have a clear advantage. Imagine a fight with one of the two counterparts launching well formulated arguments and the other one lacking the key word to make his or her point.

The third option is to create your own language. This does not mean starting from scratch and developing some kind of Esperanto 2.0. Both partners simply make an effort to learn and speak each other's tongues, and the constant de- and reconstruction of expressions will eventually lead to some personalized nomenclature. You can call these mix-and-match languages „Freutsch", Spanglish" or „Putch", depending on the linguistic ingredients.

Claire and I opted for the latter option. We were lucky that both of us spoke the other one's language, though. Usually, we communicate in „Freutsch", mixing Français and Deutsch. Take for instance the french expression faire un bisous, meaning basically „to kiss". If you change the verb faire (to do) into the German equivalant machen, then you get bisous machen. I would argue it's first and foremost thanks to our Freutschian linguistic compromise that Claire and I are still addicted to bisous machen.

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