Blog: Shedding the Conceits

Shedding the Conceits
Shedding the Conceits
Date: 2019-Apr-19 21:33:50 EST

Got back from Berlin late Thursday. Gave me a lot to think about - the two sides (vacation first, then conference) were pretty different, but they had some common themes. With both, the role of other languages was brought into focus - for a very long time I've lived with a number of languages I kinda know as extra parts of my mental world - they didn't play the role that human languages do so much as a private code, part of my personal myths. And my cosmopolitanism was turned at an angle because I've become reclusive; I've hoarded these things for primarily myself, and rarely tested them against other people or reality. In that sense, the trip to Germany dragged a lot that was private for me out into the light, letting me see them from other angles. This is hard to express correctly, but I think the above does at least a reasonable job.

The trip was, the above complexity aside, a good practice of my German language skills, and I learned that apparently my pronunciation is not bad once I'm immersed, and I usually can make myself understood with little effort, although any followup questions easily go outside my vocabulary. I think it wouldn't be a lot of effort to hit fluency if I were to have more frequent exposure. More difficult was navigating a foreign city - not knowing how to navigate the transit system, cultural norms (e.g. not eating pizza with hands, and tap water being largely unavailable), things like that. Broadly, I found it easier to interact with people there in some ways - my concerns and interests are less alien and the cosmopolitanism that I believe in is also fairly common. I was able to get answers to some questions on the meaning of some lyrics in German bands I like, talk about things that felt consequential, and I felt far less lonely than I normally do. There are still some things that I regret, as usual - a need for connection often means I open up more than I wish I had, and when I revisit the conversations in my head I wish I had kept back more.

Things to see:

  • Checkpoint Charlie - Terrible tourist trap, like Times Square
  • Museum of Technology - Very nicely done
  • Tempelhof Former Airport - Conceptually interesting, beautiful building. I wish I had been more warmly dressed, but I'm very glad I went
The flight back (which had a connection in London) was also nice - chatted with some Brits in Tegel while waiting for the flight. One of whom was pretty friendly - we talked politics a bit. He voted leave (for largely the same reasons I likely would - that the EU is not bad as an idea but as currently implemented it's not representative and a huge mess) but felt that the government had entirely failed to manage the leave successfully - if there were another vote he wasn't sure which way he'd go. Heathrow Airport, meanwhile, is the worst airport I've ever been in. The terminals have very poor mutual accessibility, and there were parts where the only way to get to your gate were to go through a designed-to-be-long winding path through a gift shop.

The day after I got back I went to an IQ2 debate on whether solar engineering to assist in lessening climate change is a crazy idea. I brought a coworker whose company I enjoy and his wife. It was a good, educational, debate, but also strange in that it was won (for the nay side) by a very wide margin based on their successfully framing the debate a certain way - that more research is warranted, and that the proposal of the debate (interpretation of crazy) was that it was so clearly a bad idea that no further research is warranted. Having successfully done that, their victory was sealed. I wasn't caught by that framing, but I think most of the audience was and so they won by one of the biggest swings I've ever seen. A strange win.

It's good to be back home with my cats, in a city which I entirely know how to navigate, and whose norms and how I fit into them I understand fairly well.