Accent Wherever I Go

Amr. Amar? Amr. Amre? Just call me Amouri.

When I first met Amr, we were both first-years in an international high school in Germany. Over the next two years, we shared a room, our hate for chemistry- and math classes and our love for coffee and cigarettes.

Consequently, we became best friends. It took a couple of intimate phone calls with my family until I learned that Amr spoke German fluently. I like to think that because he heard my deepest darkest secrets, it urged him to point out his fluency in my mother tongue to me. I made the connection and asked him what he thought about the things I have discussed on the phone. We developed a habit of talking about our academics in English and personal life in German at first. As time passed the two languages just started to merge depending on whatever word slipped into our minds first. Only when Amr started to include Arabic words into our casual talks, I had to remind him that pronouncing his name alone gave me enough trouble already, so if he could himself back just a little bit that would be greatly appreciated from my side. That only partially worked but I got pretty good at reading context and his facial expression. We worked well together in translation.

Having the beautiful black forest surrounding our school is something to take advantage of, so Amr and I would often go on walks around the city, although they usually started with the intention of buying cigarettes, we would often end up strolling around for a while. One day, we went to the mall to make our purchase. It was the night before that we found a wallet right next to the mall on a big lawn. While peeking inside, I found a visiting permit, a piece of paper with Arabic writing, a picture of a child and 400 Euros. The visiting permit had a picture of a man and his name. We became infuriated if we lost a wallet with this kind of content we would freak out and decided to make our top priority to find this man. I tried contacting him on Facebook but as I would find out later, messaged the wrong guy. Once again on one of our strolls around the neighbourhood, we were just discussing the next steps to get the wallet, which by now was safely stored away in my save on campus, back to its owner. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a face on a bike passing by us which I thought I recognized from that exact visiting permit. I called out his name. The man stopped. Amr and I freaked out in excitement while the man visibly had a lot of questions of what just happened. Amr asked him in Arabic if he just recently happened to have lost his wallet, the man’s eyes lit up and he nodded. Still, in disbelief, I hopped on my bike to retrieve his wallet. When I came back, I found the two chatting over tea outside the mall and was asked how much sugar I’d like to have in mine. Having his wallet back in his jacket, the man revealed his connection to half of the food stores in the two-story-mall and insisted in giving us two huge boxes full of fresh strawberries, after we politely declined the kebap he offered us, we both agreed later that next time when someone invites us for kebap we’re gonna put our politeness aside and just accept it. After we exchanged numbers, the man invited us to play soccer with him and friends and we parted. Later that day, Amr and I celebrated the success of our mission, over fresh strawberries.

Although we have now truly established ourselves as an iconic translation duo (we like to think so), we were both aware that the way we mix up our languages when we talk, with each other and the rest of the school, started to show its impact when we needed to speak or write formally in one of the languages, but we couldn’t really be bothered, there is nothing more disrupting in a conversation than having to think of a word in the language you are speaking at that specific moment, although you know it perfectly well in the other. 

When Amr would visit me in Hamburg over break we would only speak German. When we had dinner together with my mom, he was always in advantage in terms of language. While my mom would laugh or shake her head at me as I would stutter my way through a German conversation over dinner, Amr had a free pass at whatever he would say. I only decided he has gone too far once he started siding with my mom laughing at my German together with her, a display of the uttermost betrayal, how dare he leave me alone in this, I thought. But as soon as we were back in school we were on the same terms again. The two years together flew by and soon our ways parted, Amr moved to Berlin to study at an international college, and I moved to the United States. 

We both speak primarily English in our day-to-day life, although Amr also regularly speaks Arabic and German. Our latest phone call began with us trying to communicate in German until we quickly decided it would be much easier for both of us to speak English. At this point when I speak German, I have an American accent.

By & von John Baller

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