print that door

I have a funny story.

The first time I went to Germany was back before my last year of high school.  I was getting to visit a friend who had been a pen pal for a long time.  (Hi, S!)  I enjoyed my visit and was thankful for the chance to finally meet my pen pal and see a country that spoke the language I had been attempting to learn for years.

But I discovered that there are some things you don’t always notice when learning German in a German class in school, college, or anywhere other than in a German-speaking country.

using doors

Such as door instructions.

From having switched my main Gmail account and my computer’s operating system to German, I had learned that the German verb drucken means to print. When I was exiting customs at the airport, I noticed something.

The doors said drücken.

It turns out that drucken means to print, but drücken means to push.  The similarity between the words kind of makes sense if you see a printer as something that pushes paper.  (If you see a door that says ziehen, by the way, pull on it, don’t push.)


But it really struck me how many words differ by a very minute detail: the umlaut.  The little dots over ä, ö, and ü.  Not all of the words that differ by just an umlaut have similar meanings, either.  Schön means pretty, but schon means already or almost.  Not similar.  It isn’t hard to tell which is being said from context if you know the difference between schön and schon, but for a non-fluent German speaker such as myself, learning new words that are very similar in spelling but very different in meaning is bewildering at times.

At least living in a country that has words that differ by just two little dots over one letter gives me plenty of opportunities to laugh at myself.  : )


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