mahlzeit! / by mrm

I love mahlzeit.

Once a month, I leave the hustle and bluster of Munich and bahn it to Lindenberg im Allgäu, a town nestled in the foothills of the Alps whose most ready descriptors are almost inarguably small and cute. For three days, I teach English classes at Liebherr, stay at the Bayerischer Hof and wander around, to the amusement and puzzlement of the locals. When I go out for dinner at one of the town's restaurants, my entrance causes heads to turn and conversations to falter. She's not from here, everyone agrees. It's not, I think, that I look so different. It's more that everyone knows everyone here. Being here is a kind of inverse celebrity: I am noticeable and noteworthy because no one recognizes me. So they stare. I am inevitably reminded of the stranger coming in through the swinging doors of a Wild West saloon. Howdy. You're ain't frum around these here parts, are you? Indeed, I ain't. After a moment someone nods, offers a quiet "Abend," and everyone goes back to their beer, their games of cards. Someone gives a small bowl of water to the tiny grey poodle under the table. I pick a quiet corner, and pull out my book. Currently, Borges Collected Fictions. This inadvertently made a great impression on a man with a slightly weaving walk, who, as he passed me wished me "Guten Appetit," then peered at the cover of my large book. "Auf Englisch?" he asked, with a shake of the head. It's much more impressive that I read long books in English if you think my native language is German. It's much easier to think my native language is German if I keep my mouth more or less shut. I smiled. When I finish my meal and leave, everyone wishes me "Schön abend."

Once a month I have lunch in the company canteen. On my way there, while I eat, and on my way back to my classroom, I have the same conversation with everyone I see. "Mahlzeit," they remark. "Mahlziet," I reply. This is said in a matter-of-fact tone; again, rather like cowboys in an old western Awful hot. Sure is. There is no good translation for "mahlzeit" into English. The closest idea is "Enjoy your lunch." But, as I explained to my students, this is a wish for the future. It is not an appropriate remark to make to someone who has obviously just finished eating. A nearer meaning is "lunchtime," however, it is nothing short of amazing to me to think of this as a greeting in English. "Lunchtime," "lunchtime." Over and over. You might say it to thirty people in fifteen minutes, and they to you. I have happily despaired of translating this idea. It's not even German, really, it's part of this small company town. A word most commonly used here, a sub-strand of Allgäuisch, the local dialect. Engaged as I am in constantly explaining how to say things from one language in another, it's nice to have been given something that really has no equivalent. More than nice, there's something exciting about it. It forces me to remember the inventiveness and possibility of language, of communication, of nuance, of thought.

Mahlzeit ist die schoenste Zeit.