Tag Archives: humour

The literal nature of the German language

16 Mar

The other day I was thinking (and I have no idea why before you ask) about the German word for breakfast. I have no idea why I was thinking about Frühstück while I was waiting for my tram but I was. If you deconstruct the word, you are left with früh which means “early” and stück which means “piece”. The word literally means in English “early piece”. This make so much sense because breakfast is the first meal of the day and my theory is that the word “piece” is fitting for the German speaking world because most people have a croissant or a piece of bread as their first meal.

This doesn’t really work in the English language because we tend to have more lavish and complicated breakfasts. We don’t just take “a piece” and go. Can you imagine if you took a piece from an English breakfast and you mistakenly end up with a baked bean? That won’t stop you snacking until lunchtime.

This got me thinking about other German words which are literal in their meaning. The word for shoe in German is Schuh and the word for glove is Handschuh. So Germans genuinely think of a glove as a shoe for the hand, which it sort of is.

The German word for a sloth is made up of the word faul meaning “lazy” and tier meaning “animal”. I’ve watched David Attenbourgh and that animal is lazy by anyone’s standards.

It is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that there are some laughable mistranslations when Germans try to speak English. I mean laughable in the nicest possible way. One mistake that is frequently used in the office is emails that start with “Hello together”. In German the email would start with Hallo zusammen meaning dear all. The problem is that zusammen also means “together”. You can say Wir gehen morgen zusammen which means “We are going together tomorrow”. I have a colleague who proudly walks into the office every day, cheerily declaring “Hello together”. Part of me thinks I should politely point out to him his mistake, the other part of me thinks it might be a bit rude to say anything at all. It’s a modern-day dilemma.

Other howler is the use of the words “some when” which is directly translated from the German word Irgendwann (irgend meaning some and wann meaning when in the precise sense of what time). A friend asked me if I wanted to go to the cinema with her some when. I pointed out this way wrong. Firstly, she is my friend and secondly, she specifically mentioned that it’s ok if I pick her up on mistakes. The modern-day dilemma was clearly avoided in this case. When I told her the question should be “do you want to go to the cinema some time?”, she looked at me a little confused and said “when do you use some when?” To which I replied “well, never. It doesn’t exist in English in the way that you mean it”.

The verb to ski in German is Skifahren, literally “to drive skis”. This time I was on the receiving end of the confusion when a friend told me he would like to drive with me. I had to stop myself from saying words to the effect of “That’s lovely. Maybe we can drive somewhere later but right now I would like to go skiing”. Then it dawned on me what he meant and I smiled and followed him down the mountain.

These miscommunications, while at times can be frustrating when learning a language, provide light relief. In some of the above cases, it makes it easier for me to remember phrases in German because of the funny story or association behind it. At the moment, I wish there were some more funny stories that would stick more vocabulary in my head; recently my memory has been like a sieve and I need a way to bung those holes up!

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Getting things right

8 Feb

Why is it that no matter how old you get or how experienced you are, there are just somethings in life you never seem to get quite right? Practice as hard as you might, it never turns out quite right.

There are big things, like relationships, that people get wrong. Like saying the wrong thing at slightly the wrong time. We have all at some point opened our mouths to comment on something and immediately regretted it. As soon as the words tumble out of your mouth, you realise that you have miscalculated big time.

The classic is example is asking a woman when her baby is due. The nanosecond after you ask how long she has left for her pregnancy, you know she isn’t the slightest bit pregnant and she is just packing a few extra pounds and has missed the last few Weight Watchers meetings.

Or, loudly gossiping about someone, only to watch the eyes of your co-conspirator glaze over to give you the indication that the person is stood right behind you. There is categorically no way that they didn’t hear what defamatory comments you were making about them. You start to mumble and try to apologise but this just make things worse. It would be much less embarrassing to turn to the subject of your idle gossiping and explain that you were indeed talking to them behind their back and they weren’t meant to hear any of it.

There are also small things that seem largely irrelevant but even with practice you never seem to get them right. Things like being able to cook the right amount of rice spring to mind. I am sure that you can easily find a website on the Internet to tell you how much rice serves the amount of people you are cooking for but who has time for that? We are living in the 21st century.

Recently, I used a glass, smaller than a whiskey glass, to measure out rice for two people. Surely that can’t be too much? It turns out it was enough to fed the British army and probably some of the French army as well if they had been well-fed at breakfast time.

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I am coming to the conclusion that the absorption of rice changes overtime, because the exact opposite has also happened to me. A table full of hungry dinners arrive and I am feeling quietly confident about the abundance of rice that I have simmering in the pot. That feeling is quickly replaced by a feeling of panic, terror and abject horror when I come to serve up the rice at the dinner table and everyone has 30 grains of rice each.

While saying the wrong thing and cooking life seems to be the bane of my life, I will just try to keep my mouth shut and keep away from rice based dishes. Life is easier that way.

 

Things that I miss about home

29 Aug

After almost 11 months living in Switzerland I have come to appreciate and miss some things from home that I have taken for granted. It is funny the things that you end up missing.

This list is not exhaustive but it is around 80% there.

  • Conversations – my German is still pretty appalling and I don miss having a proper natter with, not just a native English speaker, but a native British speaker. Otherwise you can get yourself messed up in all sorts of problems trying to explain what the different is between a bonnet and a boot or how to pronounce ‘aluminium’ proper with an American. And I miss innuendo. yes, it’s childish and immature but it’s bloody good fun.
  • Washing machine – this one sounds bizarre. But from leaving my washing machine behind in the UK, of which I was the sole user, I now have a communal machine to use. I can only wash on certain specified days and at certain specified times which can be annoying. Creeping down to the basement to check if the machine is free and waiting until the machine is free, reminds me of university days when you used to be desperate to do washing but all the machines are free. Every Tuesday and Sunday I can do my washing. What if I want to go out? I then lose my time and I have to go without. It’s frustrating. I am now at the point where I have to organize my washing around my social life. What I can’t understand is that I have a dishwasher in my apartment. Surely it would make sense for each apartment to have its own washing machine and do away with the dishwasher? All the times when I set the washing machine to on without a care in the world at home is now a million miles away.
  • Food – while being in Switzerland I have eaten quite a lot of foods that I haven’t had before, like lobster, sushi and sashmi, but there are some times that you just want a British classic. I can’t remember the last time I had chips and gravy, or steak and kidney pudding and chips, or a Boost! Being away from home makes you crave comfort food; food that reminds you of the good old days of your childhood. And you can’t find those classics over here. In fact you can’t find a chippy over here FULL STOP. I actually think it’s a huge opportunity to make money by opening a decent British chippy, with the large British expat community. Once I work out where to source the fish from (Switzerland is a land locked country after all) then it’s all systems go!
  •  Humour – sort of related to point 1. Having a common point of reference is the basis for most of the funniest jokes. If you have to explain the joke it isn’t going to be funny; more a long explanation of yet another cultural difference. Everywhere I go people tell me that the British have a wicked sense of humour. But, trust me, we don’t when we are far away from home.
  • Family and Friends – perhaps the most predicable one of them all. Leaving behind a country, a house, a job is the easy part. The hart part is finding new people to share your new experiences with. No one can suddenly fill in a gap which used to be filled by your oldest and bestest friend. I have hear a quote that it is sharing the little things that are what really make relationships. I think it takes a long time to find the right person to share those little things with. And little by little, I can see myself drifting slowly away from the lives of people that I know back home. I hope when I’m next home for a visit there are no hard feelings and we can carry on from where we left off.