Columns | Leila Kaplan | April 2008

Dear Diary,

I was standing in line at the doctor’s office, when I saw an old Austrian couple squeezing past a Muslim woman, who had apparently recently immigrated and spoke only a little German. His case was urgent, the man insisted, and he needed to get to the front of the line. Then, to convince her, took her hips in his hands to show her where it hurt.

The Muslim woman, astonished by his tactlessness, tried to explain that she had come first; if it was so urgent he should have been there "pünktlich" (on time).

The man’s wife had to intervene: The woman had mispronounced the word.

"Das heißt pÜnktlich, net pUnktlich! (It’s pünktlich, not punktlich!)," she corrected, then almost as a side commented, "Ma wü ja nua höfn" (I just want to help). I started to protest; to be groped by a stranger in public is offensive to any woman, but especially so for a Muslim. But I was obviously wasting my breath.

Later, in the waiting room, the wife seemed bored. "Wos Si do lessen, is des leicht der Stand-ARD (What you’re reading, isn’t that der Standard)," she asked in surprise, apparently trying to show she had forgiven me my protest earlier on – and herself placing the emphasis on the wrong syllable.

But where did I come from, she wondered – my appearance suggesting my Iranian and Styrian background?  I offered her my own thoughts on the challenge of correct pronunciation in German, and suggested she might work on her own language skills before trying to instruct foreigners.

Other articles from this issue