Tongue Tied

by Kathrin Verhoefe

Where I come from in Germany we have a saying, “Die Julisonne arbeitet für zwei” – the July sun does the work of two. This is really the only saying we have to do with heat, because Germany is a cold country. With lots of snow.

I’m in Texas now. And it’s hot. “So hot the hens lay boiled eggs”. “Hotter than a honeymoon hotel”. “Hotter than a stolen tamale” . “Hotter than a fur coat in Marfa”, which when I first heard it I thought was “the mafia”, until I discovered Marfa is a town in Texas. And I learned all these phrases during my first week because not only was it very hot – to be fair it’s now a little colder – but boy do Texans like to talk. They can “talk the hind legs off a chair”, these “chin musicians”, with “ten gallon mouths” to match their ten gallon hats.

I was rather alarmed when one of these women, who could talk the German right out of Texas, asked me if I was a mail order bride. When my friend stopped laughing at my facial expression long enough to talk, she said that mail order brides are, by reputation timid – my shocked silence was being taken for shyness.

Can you blame me for being as “nervous as a whore in church”? These Texans, like the state itself, were larger than life, with vocabularies to match. But I didn’t want to get written off as someone with “henhouse ways”, who “wouldn’t bite a biscuit”. So I decided to bite the bullet, and have a go at the Texan lingo.

So I asked a Texan to teach me how to talk. It didn’t hurt that he was a particularly fetching Texan.

I blushed a lot. Texans like to talk about sex, usually assuming the high ground. So a woman – always a woman – might be “naturally horizontal”, or called “the local radio station” because “anyone can pick her up”. But I also learned marvellous phrases like, of someone who is rather too fond of themselves, “he broke his arm patting himself on the back” and my favourite insult of all time “he’s so ugly even his cooties have to close their eyes”.

And so soon the locals started accepting that I wasn’t necessarily stupid – “as sharp as mashed potato” – just exceedingly foreign. And maybe a little mad. “A couple of sandwiches shy of a picnic”.

But I’ve discovered there’s a lot Germans and Texans have in common. We love beer and sausages. Although in Germany we’re less likely to burn them on open flames. And that lovely Texan language coach, well, I’ve kept him around. I’m seeing if he can wrap his tongue around a little German.

I guess you could say I’ve taken to Texas like a “buzzard to guts”, and I’m “happier than a clam at high tide”.



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