Auf Deutsch

Um, Not Asleep…German Language Moment

“Schlaf nicht, Mädchen!” Which translates from German as “Don’t sleep, girl!” Well, thanks for reminding me I can still feel like a teenager. Backstory and then some…

I was walking along a beautiful street in Hamburg called Milchstraße and stopped to get a shot of this gorgeous, mysterious villa. It’s January, but as is often the case, Hamburg has a semi-permanent, cloudy autumnal vibe going that is impervious to calendar months and their conventions.

I had vaguely registered the older lady with a small dog making her way towards me, but I was lost in the moment due to the house. Suddenly this bristly criticism comes out of nowhere and it took me a few seconds to realize it was from her. She was shorter than I and by the time I located her, she and the dog were already several meters ahead.

Habitually deconstructing yet another daily German moment after more than 11 years of living here, I figured out what earned me her attention. I was just standing not quite, but almost in the middle of an already narrow sidewalk, and I clearly should have been mindful of the fact that other people also wanted to pass. I’m guessing these other people might have schedules, timed walks, routes faithfully followed for decades, even on a Sunday. I respect traditions and rituals, especially in these times. I love to-do lists. I affectionately accept the national attitude of Not. Wasting. Time. Ever. Everyday life included. Especially everyday life!

I’ve been hearing some version of “Nicht schlafen!” (“Don’t sleep!”) since I arrived in Hamburg every now and then. We hadn’t covered this in German class back home, so the first few times I took it literally. Needless to say, I was confused. Wasn’t it obvious that I wouldn’t fall asleep standing up while waiting for a traffic light (so what if it took me a second to register it had changed to green), walking slower down the street because I was admiring something or trying to see if the long line to the cash register at the supermarket led to the nicer cashier? I have saved so much time elsewhere, can I just have this one?

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