I tell white lies from time to time. I’m a white liar.
Here are some of the pale little fibs that find their way out of my mouth;
- How much something cost.
- Details to make a story better, funnier, scarier, etc. (Not in this blog, though, obviously.)
- The actual portion size of something I ate when I type it in to My Fitness Pal.
- If someone is telling me about something that happened, and they say, “He looks a lot like that actor in the show such-and-such. You know who I’m talking about?” I’m likely to say, “Yeah!” even though I have no clue. Just to keep the story moving.
- When someone asks if I did something I was supposed to do and forgot.
I know I’m not alone in this…right?
But sometimes one comes out that doesn’t serve any purpose at all. For example, I might tell a friend I went to bed at 8:30, when it was really 9:15. Or someone might ask what I did on a Sunday and I’ll say I went out for dinner at Sahara Restaurant. But, in reality, I went out for lunch at Sahara Restaurant.
Why would I lie about something like that?
Seriously, I have no idea.
Then Todd and I exchange mutually confused glances like, why did you/I just say that? And then, to make it worse, he’s the type of super honest, loyal to all rules, ex-military guy who says, “No we didn’t—we went there for lunch!” to which I smile and say, “Really, babe? Are you sure? I thought it was dinner?” And he says, “What are you talking about? It was noon!” and I say, “Oh? It felt so much later than that!”
The whole time I have my eyelids open as wide as they go, smile frozen, bugging my eyes out in an attempt to say please shut up and cover my lie! It’s embarrassing to look guilty and insane. But–I know–I do it to myself.
But Todd’s still in trouble. 😉
My most common white lie is provoked by having plans I want to cancel. Sometimes, even as I’m making these plans, I’m already thinking of potential white lies I can say to get out of them when the time comes. Because that makes sense?!
My friends aren’t so demanding that they’d be mad at me for canceling. But, how do you call someone up and say, “Yeah, I know we have this whole fun outing planned, but I’d prefer to be alone.” That sounds potentially Emo, unreasonable, and like a flat out lie in itself. It could easily be negotiated and talked out of. So, guilt and a fear of pressure goad me on.
The easiest thing to do would be to say that I’m sick. But I don’t play easy. My white lies are overly complex. I’m much more likely to say something like, “Yeah, so I was just getting ready to come over and something weird happened to our washing machine! I better stick around here and clear out the bubbles.”
And then, with my bad luck, the person will try to help out because their next-door neighbor just happens to fix washing machines (of course.)
So I have to lie harder and say something like, “Oh, no, actually that won’t work because I’m supposed to be sticking around for this gas meter person and I’m assuming they don’t like it when other workers are in their way. Yeah, actually, now that I think about it, that’s another reason I can’t come over. I forgot all about this meter guy…”
There’s no way anyone is buying this. But, I can’t relax about canceling unless I deliver what feels like a non-negotiable, totally uncontroversial excuse. Even if I’m a terrible liar and no one believes it, anyway.
Another of my most commonly used white lies relates to how long I’ve lived in Germany. And, I do have an actual reason for this one.
I’ve been here for fifteen years (give or take a few because I lived in London for two years and back with my parents after I had visa trouble.)
Fifteen years is quite the chunk of time. Fifteen years comes with expectations. I should undoubtedly be speaking flawless German and know all the idioms and be able to talk my way through topics as dense as anthropology, mysticism, and the pathology of developing conversational habits in four year olds.
Now, my German is not bad. If Todd were reading this over my shoulder, he’d probably swipe my fingers away from the keyboard and say, “Yeah, that’s a white lie right there. Your German is fluent.”
But, it’s not fifteen years fluent.
I’m trying to see if I can rank it on a scale of some kind. That’s tough to do, though, because a lot of factors come in to trying to weigh down on something like this.
For instance, if we were basing how fluent I am given a situation where I’ve been speaking German all day, every day, for fifteen years straight—meaning at my job, at home, with my daughter, etc.—then I’d say my fluency is not all that impressive. I’d be at the level of someone who’s been here six months. Baby talk, if you want to put it that way.
But, if we look at the factors of how life has actually been in those fifteen years—i.e. I have a minor in German, which is helpful, but work at an English speaking school, am married to an American, have mostly English speaking friends, go home to Buffalo for large chunks of time, and am not involved in any clubs or otherwise German-intensive experiences—well, then, I’d say my language level is better than one would expect. Some might even say my German is…good.
(I’m not sure my scale scenario is working.)
Suffice to say, when people ask how long I’ve been living in Germany, my lies turn white. Moon white, Wonderbread white, Michael Jackson’s final days white.
I think what pushes the fib is that things start out so well.
I can steer my way through most topics, and would even say I’m somewhat of a master when it comes to vocabulary for expressing disdain about Umweltverschmutzung (environmental pollution—there was a unit on it every language class I took in college. I’m thankful for this. It’s a valid, frequent topic of conversation around here.)
So, a German’s initial reaction when speaking to me (probably given that, sadly, many Americans they encounter can’t speak more than a few butchery words of the language) is pleased surprise.
“Ah, Sie koennen sehr gut Deutsch sprechen!”
I fan my hand in a downward arc of modesty that says, “Nah.”
“Doch!” (That’s their little word to say no, really, it’s true!)
They go on with a few more compliments about my language prowess and I’m just starting to bask in the glory when they ask, “Und seit wie lange sind Sie hier in Deutschland?”
Saying FIFTEEN YEARS will kill it! It will turn this whole pleasant exchange into something judgmental and embarrassing and un-cool. That pleased surprise will morph into that look where someone tucks their neck in, giving a triple chin effect, and raises their eyebrows before saying, “WHAAAAAT?”
So, I say, “Ein Paar Jahre.”
And then the compliments keep coming.
And I feel good about myself.
And I feel guilty.
Along these same lines, I’m prone to pretending I understand things that are said to me when I actually don’t. This happens with my doctor, or my taxman, or the waiters at restaurants we frequent.
They’ll say things to me, often very important things that I need to understand, and even if I don’t understand I’ll nod and say, “Ja. Das klingt gut” or else mumble something that sounds as generic as possible to pass the comprehension test.
Reason being, these people know how long I’ve been in the country. It’s not acceptable to be unable to understand something they say.
The group of people I feel most self-conscious speaking German to are children. My mouth opens and what comes out is the inner goo of clams. Or else, nothing. Mostly, I just do a lot of nodding and try to get away from them as soon as possible.
First of all, if you mispronounce a word or mess up grammar, children don’t have the cognitive ability to reconstruct what you said and keep the conversation going. They can’t do the dirty work for you. They don’t supply words. They don’t let you off the hook if your response doesn’t match the question. They don’t slow down their speech. They don’t choose elementary words (smart-ass kids these days.) They don’t have proper grammar mastered, yet, which makes things even harder for the non-native speaker.
Instead, they just give you the fully honest facial expressions of the very young. Frowns, raised eyebrows, looks that say, “Um…what? Are you some weirdo or something?”
And so, when I talk to them it’s generally all one giant white lie. Lots of nodding and pretending we’re engaged in a mutually coherent conversation.
In my mind, kids are the ultimate judge of just what level your language skills are at. And, if you can’t even converse with a five year old…? So therein lies the whiteness of my lies.
So, let me just take a thirty-second turn at psychoanalyzing this. Why do I tell white lies in general? And when do lies move from the symbolically innocent shade of white, to a more gruesome shade—like neon green? And why don’t I do something to improve my German if I obviously don’t want to admit that the level I’m at doesn’t reflect fifteen years of living here?
(Because in my heart I know that it should reflect that time. I think it’s easy as an expat to make lots of excuses—oh, I work in English and am married in English and have babies in English. But, there’s always a way to immerse and improve. If you really want to make the effort.)
As far as the white lies go, when I looked back over this post it seems like the common denominator is embarrassment. When I don’t feel like doing something I should feel like doing, or ate more than I want to admit, or spent more than I want to admit—that’s what propels the lies. But as for the weird, foundationless ones? I have no idea.
So, are white lies acceptable in these cases? Am I an evil person? Or should we force ourselves to be honest and embarrassed?
And as for what’s going on with my German. Well, when I first moved here I was completely motivated to learn. I threw myself into learning the language like some people throw themselves into polygamous relationships.
But then I actually taught German for a number of years and felt like a complete hack doing so. It’s almost like someone who loves to play Frisbee in their free time. They play it day in, day out. They live for the flick of a wrist. But then they become a professional Frisbee player and no longer enjoy it? Does that make sense? And especially if they were never even a very good Frisbee player to begin with, but got picked for this national team they had no business being on? And were just waiting to be found out?
Yeah, that would take some of the fun out of Frisbee, I’d say.
There’s a whole story about my time as a German teacher hack that I’d love to share. But, it deserves a post of its own.
How about you? Do you tell white lies? About what? Are we inherently evil?
23 thoughts on “My Lies Are White Or Neon Green”
Hahahahahahaha!!!! I am laughing out loud… and thinking back over our very long history to decide how many white lies you have told ME over the years! Given your post, I would have to guess A LOT! Also, what in the world would make you come up with FRISBEE as your example :-P?? Are there a lot of professional frisbee players in Germany? Are there ANY professional frisbee players? Oh, and “as white as Michael Jackson in his final days”? Bwahahahahahaha
In all seriousness, I don’t think you are alone! I remember reading a study in grad school on how often people lie. I don’t remember the numbers now, but I am pretty sure it was the majority. I think my white lies are when feelings are involved. I hate thinking I may hurt someone’s feelings… “Yes, that shirt is adorable!” “I CAN’T volunteer to help you because I already have an appointment.” You know… I am sure you do those ones as well! I love you Sarah. Thanks for making me laugh.
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I love you, too, Jodes! You are my girl, and I can’t wait to be home in just one month and spend time with you!!!! We need to take Laken and your kids places, together. I have a thing with zoos lately. Can we go to the zoo? As for lies, yes, I believe that study whole-heartedly. After I posted this I continued to think about my lies and realized I could add a lot more to what I listed, haha! 🙂 But I’ve never lied to you. Except that one time when we did trances when we were little and I claimed to be possessed for a while. I’m pretty sure some of those ‘episodes’ were lies, too. 🙂 I love and miss you and read your email–so glad you would relactate for me!!!!!!!! I’ll write you back in full tomorrow. I’m exhausted. Laken JUST went to bed and it’s 845 p.m.!!!!!
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Gawd, you are SUCH a liar 🙂 I lie by saying I have to pee when I really have to poo, I lie when my friend asks me if I like the color green she painted her living room, I lie if I say I “missed” your call or haven’t seen your text that I just haven’t got around to, but sometimes I lie for good. My friend wanted a paw paw tree (how Southern do I sound right now?) and I knew money was tight for her, so I picked one up ($21) and told her it was in the plant hospital section for $2. I felt zero bad about any of those lies.
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Okay, first of all I have to look up a paw paw tree because I have no idea what that is! But, it sounds cute! And, what a great lie. 🙂 I also loved the saying you have to pee when you have to poo. I usually go for the old, ‘My contacts are bothering me! I’m just going to go soak them for a minute and then I’ll be right back.’ 🙂 That way there’s no time pressure, see. I like that you included a nice lie, by the way. I didn’t even think about that as I was writing my post. Some of those come out from time to time, too!
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They mention a pawpaw in The Bare Necessities in The Jungle Book.
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I’m going to see Jungle Book this weekend and I’ll pay attention to that one!!! (because I had no clue either) and it’s more fun that way then having to watch the song on youtube 😛
Little white lies are something we all do and I suspect that even if your friends know you’re lying sometimes they forgive you because they’ve done it too. But it’s good you’re going out of your way to not sound Emo. I tried that for a while. I’d get out of things by saying, “I was walking by this guy who was hammering and he called me a paranoid little weirdo. In Morse code.” I even did it in an Emo Philips voice.
Yes, I’m totally lying about that. I have never tried to get out of anything by impersonating Emo Philips, although I used to do a great Gilbert Gottfried, but that’s another story.
As for your issues with German, I think your white lie about the time you’ve spent there is acceptable because it cuts through your perfectly good reasons for not being more fluent. You’re not immersed in the language. German is also tough. As Mark Twain said, “I heard a Californian student in Heidelberg say, in one of his calmest moods, that he would rather decline two drinks than one German adjective.”
And I don’t think he was lying.
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I swear, every time I come to the line ‘but that’s another story’ in either your posts or a comment, I laugh out loud. I absolutely love that! Too, too funny. Your comments are just as witty as your posts, by the way. You make me sort of sick! 🙂 Thank you for being supportive of my lying about German. I mean–I may have downplayed my fluency a bit (I don’t want to come across as someone who can’t speak it at ALL because I actually have worked pretty hard at it.) But, yes, seeing as I speak English 99% of the day, progress hasn’t really been made in the way that one might think for someone who has been here fifteen years. Twain is right on with his thoughts on German! He actually spent some time in Heidelberg (and in Buffalo, coincidentally) so I feel like we’re kindred spirits. (Except…he wrote things like Tom Sawyer and I wrote things like ‘I named my child sheets.’) 🙂
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I lie. Sometimes for no reason lol I think it’s to make me look cool(er). My stepmom said to my dad one time that I am a pathological liar, but I think she’s got bigger issues than my teenage white lies lol I used to lie to mom when I was little so I don’t get into trouble, and somehow she would find out! She didn’t find out about all my lies, but enough to prove her point that “lies have short legs”. Years later, when she came here, and we went camping for the first time, I shared some of the lies she never found out about lol and we had a good bonding moment and her go “deer in the headlights” from time to time hahahha
I don’t know why but I lie about what time I go to bed… I used to be the biggest night owl! university all-nighters were an every week thing. NOW??? lights out by 9-9:30, but I like to say my bedtime is around 10-11. WHY???? I HAVE NO CLUE! only a few close (very close) people know the truth.
I lie about how many chickens I have – not on my blog – to face to face people. Here’s why. When city people hear you have 50-100 chickens they are amazed and “omg that’s so cool. and fresh eggs and meat. and entertainment. and I wish I could be like you”. When farm people hear 50-100 it’s all about “omg you know the limit is this much. do you have/attract a lot of coyotes around. are your dogs friendly. do they roam?” So my answers change depending who I talk to 🙂
I lie at work to stay out of trouble. “oh Laura did you end up getting a hold of so-n-so?” oh shit.crap.I forgot “Oh I tried calling but no answer, I’ll try again now”… nobody gets hurt!
I consider all these white lies because I don’t have to keep track of them lol I don’t have to remember what I said about what, to whom and why… rumours don’t get spread! It just makes me feel a little better for the moment, then onto next adventure 🙂
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I love your comments so much. You really think about the post and then share your own experiences (and you always write from the heart!) Sorry for my delayed reply! I swear, the week gets so busy because I am constantly making lots of plans for Laken and I during the day. It’s easier to have her out and about and all over the place, rather than just at home! 🙂 Anyway, I thought it was really interesting when you said that you lie about farm people and telling them how many chickens you have! Hmm…no pressure…but it would be interesting to read a post of yours where you talk about this dynamic with other farmers? What types of conversations do you have? What issues come up? Haha I’m all about suggesting topics to people today. NO pressure. 🙂 Anyway, that’s funny about your bed time…I do the same thing! And no night owls over here, either! We are in bed by 8:30 sometimes!!! The other day I told a ridiculous white lie. I ran in to an old friend of mine who I haven’t seen in years. He said, ‘oh, you’re still in Heidelberg!! I thought you moved???’ and I was like, ‘Yeah! But we moved BACK!’ I have no idea why I said this!!! We did NOT move…we’ve always been here! So then Todd pointed out that when we invite him over it’s going to look pretty strange that we live in the exact same house as we did last time we spent time with him (five years ago.) I have no clue what we’ll say to that! :-))) Anyway, I’ll keep your bed time a secret!!! And, I’d love to meet up for that coffee in Buffalo if that somehow works out with your schedule!!!!!
OMG what a faker you are :wink wink:. I think we all do a little lying. I lie about phone calls/texts, I lie when people ring my doorbell and I pretend I’m not home and then Matt asks me if I heard to doorbell and I say “No honey, I was in the shower” damned doorbell camera, I lie and make up excuses to get out of things that my mouth decided to say yes to without my permission, I lie to my husband when he is deployed because I don’t want him to worry about me. I mean come on, there are often situations where it is better to lie, and some where the lies just fall out. It’s the big lies that’ll get you into trouble and as long as you stay away from those it’s all good!
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Sorry for my super delayed reply! This week was really, really hectic for some reason. I’m just catching up with blogs and see you posted a couple new ones! I’ll be checking them out today, for sure! 🙂 I like your lies–that’s a good one about when your mouth says yes without your permission. That happens to me all the time! I sometimes find myself saying ‘yes’ and even as I’m saying ‘yes’ I’m thinking about what white lie I can come up with for why it won’t work out after all. 🙂 I guess the fact that I lie so often about how long I’ve been living in this country, though, is a definite sign that I’m embarrassed by how patchy my German still is. I can definitely speak it and I guess people would call me ‘fluent’ but I’m not 15 years fluent. I’m just going to try to be more motivated about it and then I won’t have to lie so much! :-))) (And that’s sweet about your husband. I hadn’t even thought about that…that would actually be an interesting post, wink wink!….white lies you tell your husband when he’s deployed so he won’t worry about you. 🙂 Just an idea! 😉 It’s a selfish suggestion. I want to know what some of the things you lie about are, and whether or not it works!
Sarah Blackwood – I will never believe anything you ever tell me ever again. I told my first lie about how long I’ve been living in Germany the other day. Well it stressed me out way more than the embarrassment I would have felt by confessing the truth that despite after living 5 years in Germany, having a German husband and two kids, plus 5 years at secondary school learning German twice a week, my German is still RUBBISH! As in I can’t pass the beginner test to get to the next level!
Sarah – You take lying to the next level! What? you mean I’m not really ‘super skinny??’ And to think i totally believed you…….😜
You’ve kind of really dug yourself a grave with this post!! Hilarious read tho!
loved the ‘as white as Michael Jackson in his final years!!
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Am I behind in my comment replying, or what? Now, listen here, Anna…I’m going to need your help with the latest accidental lie situation (regarding Hans!) I need a good story about how we used to live in this house, moved away, and then came BACK to this house! :-))) You have to be my back up since Todd won’t do it! And now I’m being 100% honest (no white lies) when I say that your German has really come along!! You’ve most definitely advanced–what’s this with the beginner test? We need to talk. And you really are ‘super skinny.’ See, my white lies are only things that happen when provoked. I don’t just make up a white lie and say it. You ARE super skinny and we need to get more Milka chocolate bars in you. Xxx
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I use hyperbole quite a bit. I consider it a tool in my writer’s toolbox. If whatever I’m telling people elicits a glazed look or a yawn, I embellish. I stretch the truth. I add a few hundred pounds, a limp, a butler. Whatever works. I’m lying right now, writing this. I’ve never inserted a butler in my stories because all my friends and family know I live in a playhouse the size of a refrigerator, and where would a butler stand?
The thing about white lies is that the more convoluted they become, the more likely it is that whatever caused you to lie will be forgotten by the person you’re lying to, so it’s quite effective in letting yourself off the hook.
Then again, if you’re ever caught in your white lie, you’ll most likely feel embarrassed. Which is exactly what you were trying to avoid by lying. So instead, look the person dead in the eye and tell the truth. Then let the red creep up your face but don’t let your gaze waver. It will provide endless fascination for the person watching.
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I like your idea about telling the truth and seeing what they say! That might be my approach to the latest white lie fiasco. (Seriously, I’m not this crazy dishonest person. It just struck me that I tell all of these little white lies without thinking, and therefore the post. But it’s not, um, a problem or anything.) 😉 Anyway, just recently I mean in to a friend I haven’t seen in YEARS. He said, “I thought you moved away!!!” to which I said, “I did–but we moved back!” Now…this is one of those weird white lies. We did NOT move away. And, we’d like to get together with him sometime soon, so he’s going to come over and see that we live exactly where we did last time we hung out. I’m going to have to do what you suggested and look him dead in the eye and tell him the truth. Ugh, I don’t understand why I agreed to his comment that we’d moved away. I think I was just embarrassed that we fell out of touch, or that I haven’t made contact, or whatever. It all just took me off guard. 🙂 I think you should continue on with your butler line simply because it sounds fantastic! Every self respecting person needs a butler in their stories, no matter how big the playhouse is. (He/she can crouch down.) 🙂
Oy. I keep seeing these questions about lying and how terrible it is, and how you’re evil if you indulge. It’s like the dubious virtues of ‘sharing’ or ‘being nice’. Highly overrated. I’m not sure why you’d feel the need to lie about having dinner instead of lunch, and I think you should see a professional ASAP.
On the other hand, you like to write creative non-fiction, and can chalk it all up to ‘research,’ ‘visualization’, and ‘becoming your character’. We’ll let it all pass based on your proclivities.
That being said, I don’t believe anything here. You probably live two miles from me in Vegas.
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I love this comment! 🙂 That’s a great idea about chalking it up to research, etc. That makes my lies not only sound acceptable; they sound NOBLE. I couldn’t ask for a better solution to this problem of mine. Awesome! 🙂 Honestly, I think I learned lying from my day job. Kids are so fun because they believe every last thing you say! I’ve convinced them I’m everything from a nun to a professional skateboarder. It becomes addicting after a while. 🙂 Do you miss teaching at all?
OMG. That is too funny. I’m always talking about how I’d lie to seventh graders. They were so easy!
Yes, it is a NOBLE pursuit, Ms. Hemingway.
I’m so busy, and having so much fun writing and going to the pool, and trying to Get Rid of Stuff, and taking my dog to the park, that I don’t have time to miss it. And since I was a lowly sub, there isn’t much to miss.
OMG, I love you so much, Sarita. I’m totally dying, because I do this myself. ALL.THE.TIME. about the dumbest things ever! It’s like, as soon as the white lie leaves my mouth, I’m like “why did I do that?” I love that you look to your hubby like, “HELP ME IN MY LIE!! YOU ARE AN ACCOMPLICE NOW!” bwuahahahhaha!!
Also I never really thought about that but I can see what you mean re: older kids not really having a filter and exposing you in your lies. I’d just nod along too and just talk about umweltverschmutzung. Sarah, you totally got this and you know some big ass German words that I’m SURE would knock any kid off of his/her socks. Or whatever that dumb expression is. You know what I mean. See? I can’t even speak my own language. And I was an English major.
XOXO love you, sweet pea 🙂
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Aw, Chars!!! I love you so much! You’re the best! :-))) God I miss you. It’s crazy that we only see each other literally every decade (that’s kind of our track record so far) and yet you are and always will be my sister from another mister. I can always perfectly hear your voice in your writing. When I was looking at your Holland pics I could hear your voice going ‘Reeeeeet!’ and laughing. I don’t know why, but I just remember you saying ‘Reeeeeet’ a lot, haha! 🙂 I’m glad that I’m not the only compulsive liar about absolutely bizarre things! And as for kids, I just try to avoid them! But, the scary thing is that Laken just got in to a daycare starting in August and I’m terrified because when I pick her up there will be ALL THESE KIDS I’ll have to pretend to understand! YIKES! :-))) Love you, too!!!
I mostly fib to keep myself out of trouble with the husband. Nothing divorce worthy, don’t worry!!!!! 😀 It’s mainly to cover my arse when I’ve done something/forgotten to do something that has caused issues in the past and he has to keep reminding me. ‘Have you checked your emails today? There’s a note from the school about blah.’ ‘Yep I’m getting through them, haven’t got to that one just yet’. (Haven’t looked at emails for a week.) or ‘What time did you get to bed last night? Must’ve been late…’ ‘Not that late, a bit after 11…’ (More like a bit after 1am, cursing myself for lack of discipline but unwilling to admit it). ‘Have you put in that form for Rory’s passport?’ ‘Yep did it yesterday’. (Forgot AGAIN and we’re travelling in just over 2 months!)
I’m sure it frustrates him because it certainly frustrates the hell out of me!
And I understand your German fibs too – after a year in Japan I felt so self-conscious about how crap I felt my language skills were I avoided speaking any Japanese at all. I’d meet a Japanese and completely neglect to mention I’d lived in their country for an entire year because I worried I’d spend the conversation groping for words and lapsing into English anyway. As a result I didn’t practise and my Japanese did indeed get crap!