Friday, March 22, 2013

Dobrý den!

A couple of weeks ago I heard a term on the radio which I hadn’t heard used like that before. They were talking about a ‘crazy quilt personality’, referring to a person who ‘had no clearly discernible patterns’.
Of course, the term ‚patchwork family’  has become a fixed item in our language – in German even so much so that it is the primary reference people think of when hearing about patchwork. The quilt group in my town meets regularly in a local church’s social room, and these dates are announced in the church bulletin as “patchwork meeting”. The minister recently told me that he had had a call from a social church service, inquiring as to what kind of social services for patchwork families they were offering in this meeting, and would that be a suitable meeting for a TV documentary...
Of course, patchwork gives one access to experiences that are different from what ‘normal people’ consider a ‘normal’ life. For example, the experience of addiction. When I could not get to the sewing machine for a couple of days, because I had to start working in the garden, do some paper work I have been putting off, and helped the local nature group to put up the fence for the protection of amphibians, I felt acute withdrawal symptoms.

Putting up the protective fence

The first - and so far only - little guy
that I have carried across the street this year

In German, a word play is possible, because – literally translated – we talk about heroin addicts as ‚hanging on the needle’, and sometimes heroin itself is referred to as ‚Stoff’, which can be translated as ‚stuff’, but originally means ‚fabric’. So just as a heroin addict, a German patchworker can talk about hanging on the needle and needing stuff (that’s fabric). And the symptoms are similar indeed. Don’t you know that itchy feeling when you haven’t handled fabric in a while? Luckily, patchwork addiction is not as physically harmful as the addiction to the kind of things drug addicts take. But it can influence your mind and personality just as much.
And patchwork and quilting can have an influence on your global orientation. I have always been rather internationally oriented, due to the fact that my parents took us traveling a lot while we were young children, and because we even lived abroad as a family during my school years a couple of times. Seems natural that I continued that approach during my university years as a student and lecturer. And it is one of the "additional things on the sideline" that I really cherish about quilting – the international contacts.
So when Anna Šterbová invited me to come to the Patchwork Meeting in Prague in April 2014, I spontaneously decided that I wasn’t just going to go there as a German with decent knowledge of English and expect everybody to talk to me in either of these languages. Accordingly, I have signed up for a Czech language class at the community college. After all, the border to Czechia is the closest border here, and the possibility to get in touch with other European cultures and identities is the one aspect of the European Union that I – still - really like. So I was really happy that enough people signed up, and we had our third lesson yesterday. I know that, although I still have a full year before I will actually be there with my exhibition and fabric stall, I will not be able to converse fluently in Czech with this kind of language class, once a week, during semesters only. But I want to be able to say a few words. The difficulties start with pronunciation, but I was perfect yesterday evening when I had to read out loud a Czech tongue twister about bushes and Greeks and Greek rivers. (That reminded me of my school days and Latin – I would be able to position the correct accents for indicating the pronunciation of hexametre verses, which brought me extra points to level out all the mistakes in translation that I made because Latin just was not my cup of tea.) And by now I bid you good day (as in the title of the post), Ican tell you in Czech where I live, that I am not Czech (not that anybody would assume...), that I am an artist, and I also know that personal pronouns are hardly used except in a demonstrative meaning, and that there are seven cases.
Three more than in German. Great. When I was teaching German as a foreign language, I used to think how happy I was that I did not have to learn German as a foreign language, but was sort of blessed by talking it as my mother tongue. So many cases, so many endings! But those students of mine managed to learn German, so I;too, should be able to learn at least enough Czech to get through a little bit of conversation. If I get really ambitious, I might aim for being able to understand the Czech bits and pieces that are spread out through my favorite German novel, “Anniversaries” by Uwe Johnson. Until now I always had to just pass over them, because no translation is provided in the book. In a few weeks I will take a look whether I can recognize something. See – patchwork is a mind broadening activity!


  1. As well as being able to say a few words, being able to understand a few words in an overheard conversation is certainly a thrill! I experienced this when learning Mandarin and even now that I've forgotten most of what I've learned, a few words sometimes get through - and it's still a thrill.

  2. And add to that the surprise reactions when people realize that you do understand a little - and the respect they show you. Yes, learning a foreign language is always fun.