Back in those days when I first moved away from England I missed the easy access to my own language, to the words that brought some interest to my day; I missed the windfall moments of standing in a newsagents and not realising that I'd skimmed the front pages of all the tabloids whilst waiting to be served and somehow I knew all the non-news. I missed knowing about the stuff that I wouldn't actually bother to find out about; I missed hearing the first half of a sentence but still knowing exactly how it would end because I'd unconsciously picked up the information from eavesdropping. I really had taken my language, and my ability to understand and manipulate language, so much for granted.
In that land-locked country to the south of me I spent a lot of my time being utterly bewildered because I was surrounded by signifiers that signified very little to me. I remember needing to get some photographs taken at an automatic booth and it said that I needed a 10franc schein – my dictionary told me this was a certificate so I decided that this probably meant that I needed to get a card or a voucher to put into the machine and so I went to the cash desk with my 10franc note and asked where I could get a schein for the photo booth. After a couple of minutes of farce where everyone else was getting the joke but I was just getting pretty angry I learnt that a schein in this context is also a banknote. I was effectively asking him to give me a banknote for my banknote. It's funny now – to be honest, it was pretty funny about two minutes after it happened because it wasn't one of my bad days. For me, that sort of situation is the best way of learning and remembering a word.
Now I sit on buses and catch words and attempt to make sense of them – sometimes I do, but sometimes I just make stories from them. But in many ways I'm much more aware of words now than I ever was before and I'm conscious of how often the same words are used. Los is very popular and is used frequently in many different contexts. It's pronounced 'lows' with the 's' more of a hissing noise. The ways I know it are for asking what's wrong – was ist los, or to say that I'm leaving – ich muss loss gehen, but there are many many other ways of using it and I haven't quite got them all yet, but I hear the word a lot and I have a sense of it.
Today offered me a Douglas Adams day on the bus where I got the answer – it was 31 – but I have no idea of the question. The lady who answered was older than 31, so it wasn't her age but I don't think she was old enough to have a child who was 31. It's a mystery, but it's not an unpleasant mystery any more not to know everything, not to understand everything. Probably because I understand enough. And as someone once said, enough is as good as a feast.