I’ve been in Germany long enough that I should be fluent by now. I’m not. I make a lot of mistakes.
I took a German class at university, right after I met my husband (who, despite being German never learned the language; we’d planned to spend the summer with his grandpa and I thought it’d be nice to be able to say more than hi to the old bugger. It didn’t work.). The teacher in that class told me not to bother memorizing genders so I didn’t. Didn’t think they were important. So now I tell people that I’m going to the bench when I really mean the bank.
I stopped going to regular German classes once university ended and just picked up my German from the school of life, and from my kid and her friends. Never underestimate the power of a bi-lingual child. I translate reams of documents for my work sometimes, but as a result of my education, if you talk to me, you’ll realize I have the accent and grammar skills of a toddler. That doesn’t stop me from pretending I am the goddamned queen of the German language or from telling embarrassing stories or trying to make jokes in German. At Karneval, I even tried to pun on my accent by telling a guy whose brilliant pick-up line was, “Ich bin nicht schwul,” (I’m not gay), “Sorry bin ich auch nicht schwuel” (Sorry, I’m not moist/sensual either). He didn’t get it (pun intended).
Anyway, as everyone knows, I’ve got a kid — a girl, in fact — and when I was pregnant with said kid, I did a birth prep class in German. I could’ve done it in English but the idea was to go to the class to learn all the proper vocabulary so I could avoid situations like this one, in case my delivery attendants couldn’t speak English (they couldn’t, hence that horrible situation). The class was lovely and useful and very good for my mediocre German. Every week I took a notebook and wrote down all the new vocabulary and went home to my dictionary and looked up the words and finally understood why all the ladies gasped when the teacher talked about tearing. Up until that class, I had no idea that a vagina in German is Scheide (die, as it’s feminine, of course). I’d only learned the word Muschi from a nightclub advertisement (from which I got all my best, most vulgar German) and I guess that’s not all that appropriate to be screaming in a labor and delivery ward.
The word stayed in my vocabulary after my daughter was born thanks to our playgroup, which held an informal roundtable about what to call the kids’ ladybits. Any American who’s ever been to a Pekip class will understand the creepiness I felt during this discussion, so I was happy to have no ammunition to contribute, because while there are like 5 million semi-non-offensive words for penises and the moms had no troubles shouting them out, seems there’s only one go-to word for vagina in German: Scheide.
On a side note, Caitlin Moran said in her book, “How to Be a Woman,” that the problem exists in English, too. Among the words she cited other moms using for a lady’s plumbing (that’s one of them) were ducky, muffin, tinkle, fairy, and pocket. Good lord. Guess I dodged a bullet by deciding on using the medical term with my kid.
Anyway, fast forward two years after the kid’s born. I’ve just split from my husband and playgroup mamas want to know all about it. Because, you see, the playgroup was actually comprised of the same women who did the birth prep class with me and in that class, the midwife leading it was so nice as to say, take a good look around. Half of you will be divorced in the next five years. Who’s it going to be? To which I was like, duh, me. But the other ladies were shaken by the idea. And any time we’d meet and they’d bitch about their baby daddies, there was always this caveat spoken aloud for everyone to hear, I still love him, though. We’re going to be together forever.
Long story short, the ladies want to know all the dirty details, want to know if we really, truly are divorcing because that shit is earth-shattering in its abilities to make you doubt your own marriage. Having known in advance this conversation was coming, I had looked up the word for divorce: scheiden. I even conjugated the damned word in advance so I could announce to the world, I am getting a divorce. Sweeter words have never been spoken.
Except here’s what I said: I, Vagina.
Turns out, you don’t actually conjugate scheiden like other verbs for this very reason. Instead of calling yourself a vagina, you say “We’re letting ourselves divorce.” You know, like giving ourselves permission or whatever. And both of us have to do it. It’s a reflexive verb so if you divorce as a singular person, you’re only divorcing yourself.
But that’s beside the point. Point is, the most appropriate medical term for the most important part of a female anatomy can also translate to exit, parting, or, even better, the separation. Keep that in mind next time you’re trying to come up with a new name for your fanny. The separation.
I sure as hell am keeping it in mind as I stroll my parting on over to the Volkshochschule to register for another German class.