31 January 2012

Tschau and the cosmological constant

For those who don't know yet, I embarked on a new journey. And I must really like winter, because after I extended the past one going to Brasil just when winter was starting there, this time I decided to pass winter in an even colder climate. The climate of the alleged "owners" of Europe, the Germans.

The city of Frankfurt is actually very pleasant, but the german language is at the moment the main obstacle for me, who came here without understanding one word of the language. Not that I can't make people understand me, because almost everyone speaks English (and don't mind doing it, unlike what I heard in some urban myths), but because I always have this habit of wanting to pass by as a native person. As such, I keep every little German word I catch in order to use in the next chance. The problem is that after I say Ein Milchkaffee bitte they answer me with a bunch of stuff that I can't understand, and I end up having to ask them to speak English. Anyway, just me being stubborn.

But what has this to do with the cosmological constant? Well, first I have to explain what that is. No wanting to go into much detail, but going in some, because I don't want my readers to die stupid, the cosmological constant was an artifact created by Einstein for his general theory of relativity, which he needed to make it consistent with a static universe. However, after Edwin Hubble (the one that named the telescope) discovered that the universe was permanently expanding, Einstein realized he didn't need the constant after all, and even said that that was the biggest mistake of his career. In spite of all this, years later other scientists brought the cosmological constant back, because it turns out they actually needed it to explain why the universe expands even more faster that was predicted. Enough science for now, the important thing to retain is the definition of a cosmological constant as something that was created as to be right, then discovered to be wrong, then discovered to be right after all.

All of this to explain what happened in my first days in town: after I meet my new coworkers and start getting used to an anglophonic work environment (which I did without problems), at the end of day one of them left, he said Goodbye to everyone, and I throw him a Tschau!, portuguese style. Even after being speaking English all day, it just came out like that.

I suddenly realized that I had said something that no one understood there, and immediately tried to explain myself, taking advantage of the presence of an italian colleague to say the the portuguese Tschau was equivalent to the italian Ciao, although we only used it when saying goodbye. They understood, and I was pleased for having corrected my mistake.

Imagine my surprise when, in the next day, I hear two German people saying goodbye each other with a Tschau.

And then I see my coworkers doing the same thing! After I asked around to see what was going on, I learned that, in addition to the more formal Auf Wiedersehen and the more popular Tschüß, the Germans also use Tschau as a form of goodbye. So the portuguese Tschau that I had said earlier was also correct as a german word! And that's why Tschau is my cosmological constant.

Bonus: although I quickly learned terms like Danke, Bitte and the latest Kaputt (for instance, "my card doesn't work" - meine Karte ist kaputt), at first I was a bit traumatized for not knowing how to say "I'm sorry" in German. Just being able to pronounce Entschuldigen Sie took me more than a week. Until one day a german lady stumbles at me in the tram and says Pardon, french style, which turns out it's a word the Germans also use. Oh well...

(versão portuguesa)

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