Germany is a confusing place; talking with or corresponding with new people can be daunting. Of course, the language barrier caused by my halting German is an issue, but often a more immediate problem presents itself: namely, what to call people. This particular quandary occurs when I’m sending an email to someone I’ve never met in person. He? She? Frau? Herr? Here, I’ll illustrate for you.
Let’s play “Guess the Gender of This German Name:”
Doesn’t follow the pattern. Female.
Nope. That’s short for Florian. Despite its reminiscent-of-flowers sound, it’s a guy’s name.
Usually I do a quick Google search before I email someone with the first name “Uwe,” for example, to ask him – that’s a masculine name, apparently – a question about housing or classes.
As if the names themselves weren’t ambiguous and befuddling enough, then there are the spellings. You can’t just hear someone’s name and then know how to spell it. Oh, no.
Lorenz = Lawrence with the accent on the second syllable.
Marija = Maria, but my immediate reaction is, “What on earth is that J doing next to that I?!”
Niklas = Nicholas; I guess they just toss out the middle vowel.
Sure, they’re all logical, given how the letters of the alphabet are pronounced in German. But it still catches me off-guard.
It was particularly bothersome in Portuguese class on Monday when we were learning how to tell people how to spell our names. When I did the same exercise in German and Spanish in the past, it was easy, because I could guess. As my American classmates spelled “J-E-S-S-” I could anticipate “Jessica” or “Jesse.” Alternatively, if I knew that my neighbor’s name was “Andrea,” I could wait for the familiar letters with unfamiliar sounds.
But not in Germany. Nope. When Lorenz spelled his name, I naively expected “L-A-W-” et cetera. I should’ve known better. Instead, my face probably betrayed my confusion as I struggled against my intuitions and attempted to decipher the German spelling of a familiar English name recited using the Portuguese alphabet as spoken by a German.
What. have. I. done?