A Dozen Years in, and Still Bristling

We are not new to living in Germany. I’d like to think that after more than a decade, I’ve matured with regard to my GMV1 and mellowed the ire that rises in me when someone paints me or My People with their broad brush.

Two anecdotes this week indicate this may be wishful thinking.

#1 “…und dann werden die blöden Amis das sofort abkaufen…”

I was standing in line at the coffee shop at work with my colleagues in front of a couple of middle-aged white guys in suits who caught my attention with their animated conversation about getting the upper hand on the “die blöden Amis2 in some market-related situation.

I didn’t have any further context. I didn’t have any other reason to assume these were racist, nationalistic, snide people, but “die blöden Amis” still gets my dander up. I think I’ve managed to get over the erstwhile pejorative connotations of Ami as an abbreviation for Amerikaner, but apparently not when it’s combined with a definitely-not-neutral adjective like blöd.

I turned around, faced them, interrupted them and said “Entschuldigung? Was war das über die blöden Amis? Erzählt bitte mehr über meine Nationalität.3

The guy who used the term hemmed and hawed and explained that it wasn’t intended as a racist or nationalistic statement about Americans, but that it’s just a common term for Americans, just like the Chinese use of “Langnasen4 to describe Westerners. “Oh, like Schlitzaugen, which they probably also condone,” I thought to myself. “This is not a person who will entertain a discussion about what it implies to refer to an entire nation of people as stupid, if it’s comparable, to him, to classifying people by facial feature.”

I let it go at that point, turning back around. A moment or two later, while they were standing at a table near my colleagues and saw me approaching, they packed up and left before I got there.

#2 “…die reden Englisch” = sie können kein Deutsch?

Last night Sarah and I hit a local restaurant for dinner. It’s a burger bar attached to a parking garage, popular on Friday nights. We’ve been there a few times. There was a table for two available next to another table for two, where two biker-gang-looking types sat. Black denim jackets with patches sewn on, mohawky haircuts, piercings, the works.

Sarah and I were discussing the menu options — in English, like we always do. The waitress came over and asked if we’d already decided on drinks. Before either of us could get a word out, biker-gang-dude next to me interjects to our waitress with “Du musst mit ihnen English reden — sie reden Englisch miteinander.

I looked over at him and said “Ja, wir reden nur Englisch untereinander. Mit Deutsch kommen wir aber auch gut klar, danke.” And Sarah told him “Wir wohnen hier. Wir können Deutsch.” He seemed to be feeling a little sheepish; after we got our drinks order in, he said “tut mir leid, wollte nur helfen,” to which I gave the typical local “apology accepted” response in my best Bavarian accent:

basst scho

I guess that is the kind of assumption I mind less — at least it came from a desire to be helpful.

Lektion5

You never know who is listening, and even when you think you do, you could be wrong.

Musical Accompaniment

  1. gesunder Menschenverstand — sort of like common sense, but with emphasis on neuro-typical human behavior []
  2. The stupid, silly, foolish, dense, fatuous, imbecile, etc. Americans. Blöd is a Schweizer Offiziersmesser of an insult. []
  3. Pardon me? What was that about the blöden Amis? Please tell me more about my nationality. []
  4. Long-Noses — perhaps akin to “Round-Eyes”? []
  5. Lesson []

On the wings of … wait, what?

Center map
Get Directions
Sarah and I rented a car this weekend to head up to Hirschau for the Annual Jentry‘s Throwin’ A Party! party. (This is the same party as last year around this time, to which I now refer as The Toenail Party). We rented a car from Sixt, who have conveniently moved to a mere 15-minute walk from our apartment. We showed up, signed off, and checked out the car.

I was poring over the list of documented dings, dents, and scratches when I stumbled upon a word I’d never seen before. Thanks to German being such a fan of compound words, and having acquired a decent vocabulary in most of the last decade, it’s not often (anymore) that I encounter a stumper. But this one threw me:

Kotflügel

Continue reading On the wings of … wait, what?

Celebrating the local dialect

The weekend before last was the Mundart Festival in Regensburg. Apparently this is something that happens here, periodically, but we’ve never noticed it before.

Check out the announcer guy in the video below: this is the flavor of Bairisch native to Regensburg. That’s what you hear at work (to a certain percentage) and what you hear on the street, at the markets, and among neighbors. It sure ain’t what you learn at the Volkshochschule. Continue reading Celebrating the local dialect

Can you hold your own with a six year old comedian?

I enjoy puns, and I have as long as I can remember. I’m not ashamed of it. I revel in groaners.

I like to think that if I get the humor in a foreign language — even on par with a grammar school student — I’m doing OK. I ask my native speaker pals to explain the ones I don’t get (just a few of the ones below) — even though I know everyone hates to have to explain a joke — and I add them to my word treasury. Continue reading Can you hold your own with a six year old comedian?

the home stretch to WEBMU 2011 in Cologne

As noted on expatbloggersingermany.com, there are just three weeks left until WEBMU 2011 in Cologne is officially underway. (Unofficially, it gets started with a side trip to Aachen one day earlier.)

Our knowledgeable hosts have designed a stimulating agenda, made accommodation recommendations and even summarized the local Kölner ÖPNV* system for you — all on our discussion board over at http://www.expatbloggersingermany.com/meetup/. Sign up there today, if you haven’t already, to get the full scoop. Any expatriate in Germany blogging in English is most welcome!


*I love how some concepts, like “mass transit” are expressed in English sometimes with just a few syllables, but have huge German counterparts, like Öffentlicher Personennahverkehr. But they retain that reputation for efficiency, deservedly or not, for compacting those ten syllables down to just four in everyday usage. Similar examples:

English German (full) German (shortened)
Trainee Auszubildende(r) Azubi
Public broadcasting fee collection agency Gebühreneinzugszentrale GEZ
Technical Inspection Association Technischer Überwachungs-Verein TÜV
Terms & Conditions Allgemeine Geschäftsbedingungen AGB

It’s like St. Patrick’s Day

Everyone’s Bavarian at Oktoberfest!

To help get you in the mood for the festivities, Sixt has come up with this site. As I recall from some of our non-Bavarian WEBUM conversations, Bavarian is still a mystery in many an experienced expatriate mind.

Here are some rules, off the cuff, using the examples from that Sixt promo:

  • Don’t use ü if you can help it. Sometimes you’ll see it converted to ia as in “Griaß eich” (stressed), sometimes it’s converted to a simple ‘u’ as in “zruck” (unstressed).
  • “eu” generally becomes “ei.” Also as in “Griaß eich.” (Figured it out yet? It’s “Grüßt euch!“) And have you ever wondered what a Preis is?
  • Forget everything you learned about voiced and unvoiced consonant pairs: g becomes interchangeable with c/k, t with d, and b with p.
  • The letter ‘L’ following a stressed syllable is often (usually) converted to an ‘i’, and thus, “willst” becomes “wuisd” “holen” becomes “hoin”
  • ‘ich’ and ‘mich’ and ‘dich’ are shortened respectively to ‘i’, ‘mi’ and ‘di.’
  • The ‘ah’ sound of ‘mag’ drops down lower to ‘mog’, and that’s why you see those heart-shaped gingerbread cookies that say “i mog di.” This is also observable in words like “wagen” and “sagen” (“wong” and “song”). Note the consonants melting together there, too.
  • Lots of trailing r’s become a’s – like as in “zua”
  • “ö” is at least sometimes converted to “ee” &mash; as in “schee!” (“schön!“)
  • “An” as separable prefix generally becomes “o” and the past participle prefix “ge-” is generally avoided — which is where Obatzda comes from (“Angebatzter“, presumably).

There you go. Prost!

Flat-Rate Mitarbeiter

Late in the workday today, Herr B. stopped by my office (shared with 3 other colleagues) to inquire whether my desk neighbor R. had already left for the day or would be back. It was a little odd; pretty much everyone knows R. starts his workday early so he can leave early too.

“Ist R. noch da?” Herr B. asked me. I pantomimed looking at my watch and with an exaggerated expression, replied “Och nee, R. ist schon längst heimgangen.”

“Und Sie? Sie machen als Flat-Rate Mitarbeiter ruhig weiter, nicht wahr?”

I had to chuckle at that — I’d never heard the term Flat-Rate Mitarbeiter before, but I kinda liked it.

“Na, bin koa Flat-Rate Mitarbeiter. Ich haue jetzt auch gleich ab.”

“Einen schönen Abend und eine gute Besserung wünsche ich Ihnen dann.”

I haven’t had so much as the sniffles in quite a while, so the fact that I’ve caught whatever cold was going around here seems to have raised some eyebrows…once they’re sure it’s not swine flu.

But that started me thinking. What other inventive uses of English words have surprised you in your Daily German Life context?

Oh, and this next question is posed to the readers out there who, like me, came from a “salaried” job in the home country where overtime was like a bad joke and comp time was hard to justify to one where every minute on (and off) the job is counted, overtime carefully measured, and only rarely gets paid out (but more often results in big comp time blocks). Isn’t that weird? I was kind of offended at first (in 2004) when they explained to me how to fill out my monthly timesheet, since I’d not had to do that since leaving my food service and mall jobs, but dang…Considering what I stand to lose (at least in the short term), becoming a true Flat-Rate Mitarbeiter can wait, if you ask me.

If pie ≈ Kuchen and Kuchen ≈ bread, then bread ≈ pie?

And how does Torte figure in here?

Sarah’s been experimenting with crusty baked goods lately, ever since she got back from Poland with some equipment. We’ve shied away from pies, quiches and tarts our since having moved to Germany because of the crappiness of the oven in our old place. Now that that’s no longer an issue, we’ve got another desserty avenue to explore and share with the locals (which I often do at work).

But, were I to bring in a cherry pie to share (last night’s test run was definitely worthy), what would I call it in German? dict.leo.org suggests Kuchen for pie. I would have guessed Torte, I suppose, but maybe my concept of tarts and tortes is off. And if pie translates to Kuchen, and the pumpkin/banana/zucchini bread I bring in to share counts as Kuchen what does that imply about pie’s relationship to bread? Should just give up and introduce it as “Cherry Pie” and be done with it?

I am sure this is one of those math things.