The Germany challenges 2.0: the dentist

Living abroad means dealing with new challenges every day. A different culture, an other mentality, and a new language. Especially the latter can be quite the test, as learning a new language requires not just lot of practice, but also a good dose of courage. I usually struggle to find either when living abroad, but I especially lack the guts to go out and speak a language that is not either Dutch or English. Although circumstances sometimes force me to do so, as was the case in Turkey. When no one speaks English you simply have no choice to use hands and feet and the few sentences you learnt in Turkish class at uni.

Although not as bad as in Turkey, Germany does require some improvisation every now and then as well. Because even though people here often speak some English, they prefer to communicate in German. In my first few months here my conversations in German were limited to talking to the cashier at the supermarket or the waiter at a café/restaurant. That’s good for starters of course, but I noticed my tendency to revert back to English whenever I wanted real answers. Basically anything that was more important than my daily shopping, so to say. That really had to stop, as improving your language skills is impossible when you switch to a more comfortable language as soon as it gets difficult. So I went to the dentist. And did it all in German.

Now everyone who knows me a little is aware of how much I dislike dentists. They tend to rebuke me for drinking too much fruit tea and eating candy too often. And since my first filling, I find them almost as scary as my first boss. So the dentistry appointment was frightening for many reasons. Not only had I decided to try and do it in German, without asking first whether the good Dr. spoke English, I also had to visit a dentistry centre that was not the one I had been going to since I was a little Bri. But you know the proverb about how we suffer most from the things we fear? Well, it was a little like that here.

Dr. Andreas is specialized in patients with fear of dentists. Although I didn’t deem it necessary to book the special introductory appointment he also does (for really, really scared patients, you basically get to see the place and shake hands with the dentist, and after that you’re out again) I was a tiny bit nervous. Not just about the control, but also about my intent to do it in German. Would I be able to understand enough to do a relatively specialized and technical dentistry visit in my third language? My new Finnish colleague has this unique strategy to just nod whenever he has no idea what the Germans say. That didn’t seem like a particularly good approach here though. ‘Do you want me to remove all your teeth right now? …. Yes, you’re sure??’. That kinda thing.

Well, to cut a long (10 minute appointment) story short: the good Dr. praised the condition of my teeth, asked a few questions about my dentistry history (in German), cleaned a little here and there, and told me to come back again in 6 months time. Hooray! Freedom! And although he of course did notice that I wasn’t a native speaker we did not exchange a single word in English in our 10 minutes together, which is linguistic victory too. I did struggle a little with grammar and vocabulary, but you can imagine my pride afterwards. I did it!! 😀

For those who have come here with the expectations to read about the cultural differences between going to the dentist in Germany and going to the dentist back home: sorry to disappoint you. Although I did argue before that difference here is in the detail, I really couldn’t find any detail here. Basically it works pretty much the same, with the only exception that dentistry controls are included in the health insurance, as long as you don’t skip your control every half a year. But apart from the financial stuff, everything else is pretty much comparable. But although this visit to the dentist did not lead to new antropological insights in the German community, it was still a satisfying experience in terms of linguistics.

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Photo credits: Conor Lawless/Flickr/CC-BY-2.0


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