One of my favourite German dishes is Maultaschen. In case you haven’t heard of them, these are pasta squares filled with minced meat, spinach, breadcrumbs and onions, and flavoured with various herbs and spices. I can only recommend trying them.
Last night, however, I was not eating Maultaschen; I was having a consolation drink with my pub quiz team in cosy HOME Bar after a particularly dismal performance. To cheer everyone up, I told them about my new favourite German word – Sandwichkind (literally, sandwich child). I guess “Malcolm in the Middle” was called “Malcolm is the Filling” in Germany, although I might need a German to corroborate that.
Norbert: Hey, you want to hear another funny thing?
Me: Funny funny or German funny?
Me: OK, go on.
While I was aware that Maultaschen (probably) translates as “mouthofananimalbag”, I hadn’t really given much thought to the origins of this delectable Swabian treat. Clearly I should have for it turns out that the Swabians are tricky, non-God-fearing buggers, as Norbert explained.
Maultaschen are traditionally associated with Lent, which is when all good Christians are encouraged to refrain from eating meat. Like me, the Swabians obviously decided this was a load of nonsense. So they invented Maultaschen, the idea being that because the meat is covered by the pasta dough, God won’t be able to see it. Genius, right? There’s even a Swabian nickname for the dish – Herrgottsbescheißerle – which means “small-God-cheaters”.
Me: Bah haha! That IS funny!
Herr God, if you’re reading this, I made it all up. Can the Swabians and I still go to heaven? We’ll bring you some Maultaschen…
I have recently become a devoted follower of “Gefragt Gejagt“, the German version of the ITV quiz show, “The Chase”. Of course, it’s great for my German – a little small talk with each contestant, a quick-fire round that’s pretty challenging, written and spoken questions in each individual “chase”, and useful expressions like “stop the clock!” and “the chase begins…” Aside from the practical though, it also means that for around 45 minutes every weekday, I get to drool over the rather delectable Alexander Bommes. (Sorry, Manfredas.)
With his cheeky smile and twinkly eyes, he’s more than enough reason for me to shut down my laptop at 6 p.m. on the dot. He also has a penchant for randomly bursting into song – which I have been known to do on occasion.
So, there I was one day last week, not fantasising (much) about being the first “Jägerin” (female chaser), Alexander falling for my devastating wit, humour and intelligence, and how a Bommes-von Grady duet might sound, when I was startled out of my reverie by a question.
“Which of these terms describes a type of wardrobe malfunction?”
A. Tittenbrief (tits-letter)
B. Arschfax (pretty obvious, I think)
C. I can’t remember anything after Arschfax.
Arschfax turned out to be the correct answer.
For once, the Jäger, the contestant, lovely Alexander and I were all stumped. What on earth is an “Arschfax”?
It turns out that it refers to when the tag of your underwear or trousers sticks out so that it looks like your arse is receiving a little fax. Like so:
I mean, in English, we’d just say “Your tag/label is sticking out.” In German – “Bah haha, you’ve got an arsefax!”
English is so boring sometimes.
(P.S. If anyone has Herr Bommes’ number, let me know. My bum would look great in those shorts.)
On Sunday evening, I went out for a meal with Manfredas. As part of my stirring dinner conversation repartee, somehow the conversation turned to mice. (Don’t ask me how – I normally have so many random thoughts milling around in my head, it’s hard to tell where one burbling session ends and the next begins.)
Me: So, das Maus…
Manfredas: Die Maus. Not “das” Maus.
Me: Well, that just makes no sense.
Manfredas: Why not?
Me: (sigh/eye-roll combo) Becaaaause Maus ends in “s” and so does “das.” Easier to remember. And it’s “das Haus” and “Haus” rhymes with “Maus.” Das Haus, das Maus. The house, the mouse. Simple.
Me: Wait, so all mice are feminine in German?
Me: What about Mickey?
Manfredas: Still DIE MAUS.
Me: So, what… just because some German grammarian says so, Germans have the right to give one of the most iconic cartoon characters of all time a sex-change? I mean, it’s all well and good for Minnie but poor Mickey! Walt Disney must be spinning in his grave!
Me: You know, “mickey” is Irish slang for “penis.”
Manfredas: What does that have to do with anything?
Me: Absolutely nothing.
Me: It’s DER Frosch (the frog), right?
Me: Good, so Kermit is safe. But DAS Schwein (the pig)?
Me: Miss Piggy will not be best pleased with the Germans.
Manfredas: Are you going to go through the entire cast of The Muppets?
Not really sure what Gonzo is supposed to be, I decided to quit while I was behind and get on with the business of eating.
And yes, in case you’re wondering, I am available for dinner parties.
A company that I teach at has recently moved offices. Unfortunately, their new conference room is a bit like a fishbowl, surrounded by around 50 other people who waste no time in gawking in at my highly entertaining lessons whenever they happen by. While I have no problems with having an audience, my Germans (believe it or not) are a little on the shy side.
As a result, they’ve decided to have their lessons in one of their offices. This would be fine but for the fact that desks, shelving units and files take up most of the space. Being the short-arse that I am, I also can’t see my students’ faces over their computer monitors. In short (ha ha), it’s not ideal but I persevere.
On Friday morning, the usual dance of manoeuvering chairs around the desks and wheeling extra chairs in from another office began.
Me: Jesus, it’s like musical chairs in here.
Bertha: What is “musical chairs”?
Me: Oh, you know that game that kids play. If there are six kids, there are five chairs. When the music stops, they have to stomp on each other to get a seat.
Bertha: Oh! Yes, Germans play that, too!
Me: What’s it called in German?
Betlinde: Stuhltanz (chair dance).
Bertha and Bertilda: NEIN! It’s “Reise nach Jerusalem”.
Me: What? Journey to Jerusalem?
Me: But why? What does Jerusalem have to do with anything?
Bertilda: I know not.
Me: Don’t know.
Bertha: Maybe they have not enough chairs in Jerusalem?
Me: Don’t have. Hmm, it seems unlikely. Jerusalem has been in the news quite a bit recently but I don’t think I’ve seen any mention of a shortage of chairs…
Curiosity sufficiently aroused, I did a Google search when I got home. It turns out that nobody really knows where the name “Journey to Jerusalem” originated but there are a few educated guesses. It could date back to the mass migration to Jerusalem during the Crusades when space on the ships was limited. It could also refer to a military manual from Byzantine times when (yawn) Emperor Maurikios devised a method to (yaaaawn) identify enemy spies…
Curiosity sufficiently dampened, I was about to close the window when things got interesting again. Seemingly, “Stuhltanz” is the East German term, and “Reise nach Jerusalem” is what the West Germans call it. They also call it “Journey to Jerusalem” in the Philippines, probably because the Philippines are so similar to Germany in every possible way…
I’m not sure how accurate the following translations are (I found them on a website called grandparents.com) but they tickled me so here you go – a short list of what “musical chairs” is called in other languages:
Japanese:”Isu tori game”(The game of stolen chairs)
Romanian: “Pǎsǎricǎ mutǎ-ţi cuibul” (Birdie, move your nest)
Swedish: “Hela havet stormar” (The whole sea is storming)
And my personal favourite:
Russian: “Скучно так сидеть” (It’s boring sitting like this)
If anyone has any more to add to the list, I’d love to hear them. My thirst for largely useless information really does know no bounds!
If you thought you were finally getting your head around the German language, I’m sorry to disappoint you – you now have 5,000 new words to remember.
Yes, the Germans, in their infinite wisdom, have added 5,000 words to the Duden, the official dictionary of the German language, first published in 1880 by Konrad Duden. Back then, there were only 27,000 lovely entries you had to remember. Fast forward to 2017, my intrepid language learners, and you will have to get your head around 145,000 of the tricky “little” blighters. Or I guess you could just go around shouting “DOCH!” at people all the time instead, something I’m considering doing.
For anyone still convinced that the Germans are all about simplifying processes for the sake of efficiency, the Duden is now in its 27th edition, comes in at a whopping 1,264 pages and is published in 12 volumes, which include Die Deutsche Rechtschreibung – The German Spelling Dictionary, Die Grammatik – Grammar, and Das Synonymwörterbuch – Synonym Dictionary. Yes, it’s simple alright – simple German-style.
However, for native English speakers, the news isn’t all bad as a lot of the new words come from the English-speaking world. Consider, if you will, some new German verbs – facebooken, taggen, tindern and liken (to “like” or “heart” something on Facebook). What gives me some comfort, and amusement, is that Germans are just as likely to be confused by the changes as foreigners.
Jochem: So, what did you get up to last night?
Jochen: Oh, you know, not much. I facebookt for a while. Wait, facebookt? Facegebookt? Gefacebookt?
Duden.de reliably informs me that the correct form is “gefacebookt”, which sounds more like a horrible condition than a fun way to spend an evening. They also, helpfully, give a few examples of how to use this new horror-verb:
es wurde die ganze Nacht gefacebookt
sie facebookt und twittert über das Leben in Japan
In a weird way, this actually makes life easier as you no longer have to worry about pesky prepositions. Am I bei Facebook? Auf Facebook? Who cares!? Now you can just say, “ich facebooke” – genius.
German spelling also just got easier with the disposal of, well, the German spelling of certain words. “Majonäse,” “Ketschup” and “Anschovis” are now simply mayonnaise, ketchup and anchovies.
Laptop, Selfie, Tablet, Emoji and Hashtag have all made the cut – a sad day for fans of the word “Klapprechner”. The official German word for Brexit is… Brexit. Post-truth is post-faktisch, cyber war is Cyberkrieg. It’s all starting to sound a bit Denglish, right?
Still, some German German words are also in. Here are a few of my favourites:
Kopfkino – (literally “head cinema”) meaning to daydream.
Die Wutbürgerin – An angry female citizen. The male version, der Wutbürger, had already been added but I guess now women can officially be angry citizens too.
rumeiern – (literally “to egg about”) meaning to amble aimlessly around and not really get anything done
ick – how Berliners pronounce “ich” (I). I have, in the past, been lectured for saying “ick” but now it’s official; ick can ick away to my heart’s content.
So, what do you think? Likst du the new additions or do they make you want to be a Wutbürger(in). Ick just can’t decide…
Eight Hungarian men have moved into my apartment block. Thankfully, the only hot one moved into the apartment opposite mine. He has a propensity for walking around half-naked which I find pleasing. We have mildly flirtatious conversations that I can barely understand as he only speaks Hungariman. They don’t seem to go to bars but, instead, enjoy knacker-drinking on the roof of the parking garage which is just below my balcony. I feel like a bit like Juliet some nights, if Juliet had had eight Hungarian Romeos, that is.
On one such occasion, they offered me some Hungarian moonshine. (If you want to know what that tastes like, go and swig some petrol.) We all ended up at a party in one of their flats and I immediately impressed with my one word of Hungarian – “egészségedre!” Where I could have picked up the word for “cheers!” in Hungarian (and around 15 other languages) is a mystery…
Anyway, on Sunday, I decided that a major blitz of my flat was necessary. I had amassed enough paper over the last year and a half to start my own recycling plant. Five sacks of paper and general rubbish (separated, of course) sat in the hall and I proceeded to lug them down to the bins one by one. On my fourth trip, I bumped into the Hungarian who acts as an interpreter for the rest of them. He looks a bit like Chris Evans, unfortunately not the hot Hollywood one.
He also likes wearing socks and sandals.
He kindly unlocked the front door for me and I trudged back upstairs. I was hoping he’d have finished his cigarette by the time I went back down with bag number five but no, he was still there.
András: Wow, so much rubbish.
Me: Ja, heute ist Putztag.
Luckily, he hadn’t seen me schlepping down with the first three bags. He opened the door for me again and then paused on the steps.
András: Em, Linda, can I ask you something?
Me: Sure, (whatever your name is).
András: I’m looking for someone to practise my German with and I was wondering if you’d be interested.
Me: I’m not sure I’m the right person for that job. I’m pretty sure your German is better than mine. (Educating someone on the art of the Sitzpinkel does not make you an expert on the German language; it merely means that you have a rather unhealthy fascination with the peeing habits of German men and like talking about it when you’ve been drinking Hungarian moonshine.)
András: (peering at me intensely through his black-rimmed glasses) I’d like to try though. I can cook dinner for us. Monday?
Me: Erm, no, I can’t tomorrow. I have a pub quiz.
Me: Erm, erm… Maybe. I have a late lesson though so… we’ll see. Maybe. Byeeeeeee!
On Tuesday, I arrived home, put on my slippers, spooned some beans into a saucepan and started up my laptop. I hadn’t even had time to enter the password when there was a ring at the bell. Scheiße.
Me: Oh. Hi.
András: Are you coming?
Me: Well, I’m really tired and I’ve just got in the door. (He lives directly under me so he had obviously heard me coming home.) Would you mind if we left it for another night?
His face fell. More.
András: But I’ve already cooked.
András: It’s 20 minutes out of your life and I’ve already prepared everything.
Me: (Sigh.) OK, then.
I then flopped around the flat, sighing loudly, sulkily taking off my slippers again and angrily bunging my poor beans into the fridge. I gave the bottle of wine in there a last wistful glance and walked wearily downstairs.
When I stepped into the living room, I was comforted to see that András had his laptop on and was currently browsing a website full of terrifying-looking knives.
Me: Em, what’s that?
András: Oh, it’s a hobby of mine. I make knives.
Me: … Cool?
He then opened a cupboard and proceeded to show me his collection. Just in case I wasn’t convinced by the glinting blades, he then shaved a chunk of hair off his arm to demonstrate how sharp they were. Tufts of ginger hair floated lazily to the floor.
Me: (Hmm, I wonder if I should throw myself through the window or try to make an attempt for the door…) Um, wow, impressive. Oh, is that a photo of your family?
Immediate crisis averted, we sat down to eat. To be fair, he had gone to quite a bit of effort. He’d even bought wine. I tucked into the goulash while making what I felt were appropriately appreciative noises. We chatted a bit about his family in Hungary, his work here and the joys of learning German. He pulled out the book he was using. It was quite possibly the most boring book I’d ever seen.
András: I’m using this book.
Me: (Say something positive, say something positive) Bah hahaha! That’s probably the worst book I’ve ever seen! It’s just table after table of conjugated verbs! It’s so dry!
András: (Peering at me over his goulash) You think your books are better than my books?
Me: (Say no, say no) Yes, for sure. They have pictures and dialogues and useful everyday German. I can lend you a couple if you like?
I polished off my goulash and got ready to make good my escape.
András: I’ll get the main course.
He set down a plate of grilled chicken and a pot of vegetables. I refilled my glass.
Me: Mmm, this is really good, thanks.
András: You know, I don’t want to be… wait, I don’t know the word.
He started typing the Hungarian word into the translator app on his phone. The German word appeared letter by letter:
Me: (Gulp) Violent? You don’t want to be violent?
Me: And are you?
András: I don’t want to be. But when you said you didn’t want to come tonight after I’d prepared everything…
At that moment, I knew exactly how Julia Roberts had felt in “Sleeping with the Enemy”. Door it was.
Me: Well, that was delicious but I really must be going now. Thank you for dinner!
András: Next Tuesday?
I scarpered back upstairs and gave Manfredas the abridged version over Messenger.
Manfredas: Double lock your door.
Manfredas: And your balcony door.
Me: Also done. I mean, he has a wife and kids, but then, so did Fred West.
The real tragedy of the story is that I never did get around to eating the beans.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain