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.


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 []

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

Beware the Ides of March

Yeah, I know. We’ve still got a couple weeks ahead of us on that topic.

But a colleague of mine plans to return to Germany / Regensburg / the office on that day after a big long business trip around several of our company’s Asian locations. When asked, he said he’d return on March 15th, which you and I know as the Ides of March.

I said

Whoa. Be careful.

He said


I said

March 15th! On that day Julius Caesar was murdered!

He said

Cliff, what are you talking about?

I said, with disbelief

Um, “Et tu, Brute?” and all that?

His eyes told me he had no idea what I was talking about.

I said

OK, March 15th is pretty famous as a bad luck day because Kaiser Julius got stabbed in the back by people he trusted on that day.

He said

Wow, Cliff, you know a lot about history.

He walked off and I stood there, shaking my head. This is country of Asterix and Obelix. This is the country whose Gymnasien made me sit through 4th-year Latin classroom instruction, reading Pliny the Elder and tales of Roman conquest and exploration throughout Gaul and Brittania (uh…18 years ago…maybe things have changed since then). This is Shakespeare’s spiritual Heimat (as far as they are concerned). This is the country of Roman baths and where people know what Q.E.D. stands for.

But the Ides of March — or even the significance of March 15th — is a mystery? But that reminds me of a similar incident a few months ago: another guy in our same office is getting married on May 8th.

I say

Congratulations! May 8th, May 8th, May 8th, why does that sound familiar to me?


Oh right, ‘L’ — I guess you’re capitulating, huh?

L says

Uh, what?

So then I told him about V-E Day, and how Russians celebrate it on May 9th, and all I got were those polite nods and grunts you receive when the conversation has lost its relevance and can we please just go back to looking at our computer screens?

gotta go back to Flanders or explore the Netherlands

I got this email after purchasing some WiFi bandwidth on our downtime at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport today and it reminds me that we need to explore some low countries some more, if only to take in the neato language.

If you can read German and English, you can read Dutch. Right? I’m struggling to find a word here that I can’t derive from German or English.

Beste klant,

Dank voor uw aankoop en welkom bij HotSpots van KPN. Uw transactie is succesvol verwerkt. De factuur voor deze transactie is in deze e-mail bijgesloten. De factuur kunt u ook downloaden, indien u op de inlogpagina van KPN HotSpots met uw account inlogt. (www.kpn.com/hotspots)

U heeft het volgende product gekocht:

Tegoed: Schiphol 30min
Prijs: EUR 6,00
Account: ********

Meer informatie over de diensten van KPN HotSpots kunt u vinden op www.kpn.com/hotspots. Voor technische ondersteuning bij het inloggen kunt u contact opnemen met 0900-HOTSPOTS, ofwel 0900-46877687 (0,45 euro per gesprek). De helpdesk is dagelijks geopend van 8.00 uur tot 22.00 uur. Vragen kunnen ook gesteld worden via het vragenformulier op www.kpn.com/hotspots, onder ‘vragen.’

Veel plezier met draadloos internet op HotSpots.

Met vriendelijke groet,

M.P. de Kinkelder
General Manager

Veel plezier met de Nederlands!

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!

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.

Romanian Airports: ce faci?*

I just got back last night from another trip Romania. I think the trip was a success, but we’ll know for sure in a few days (hopefully not weeks) and ultimately in the long term over the next year or so.

View Larger Map

I was headed to Iaşi, my most frequent destination in Romania (I have been known to visit Timişoara from time to time and Sibiu once — so far). There are no direct flights to Iaşi from Munich or Nuremberg. But you can get to Iaşi after stopping and changing planes in Timişoara, Vienna, or Bucharest (or maybe others?).

It’s fine, as airports go, I guess. But it really gets on my nerves that that there is apparently no way to go from the domestic arrivals to international departures (or the way around) without going past the ticketing windows and through the security lines a second time — the first being when you boarded your first plane.

Am I just crazy, or don’t other airports allow you to exit one plane and get on another without an additional trip through the metal detector and x-ray machine? The infuriating thing at Bucharest is that when you’re exiting the plane, you can see a clearly labelled path intended for transfers so you to shortcut past the ticket windows, but there’s a security dude there (looking mighty bored and scowly) shooing anyone who tries to use it up the stairs and out of the secured area. So everyone taking a connecting flight has to get re-screened.

*”Ce faci?” (pronouced like [chay fahtch]) means “How are you?” or “Zup?” or “What’s going on?” as near as I can tell. I wonder if it’s a literal translation of “what does [he/she/it] make?” Romance language experts, what do you think? I like looking at Romanian words and finding their cousins in Spanish and the little bit of French I’ve gleaned from three vacations there the past couple years.

Reminds me of
Romanian Phrase Spanish French Italian English meaning
(Bună) dimineața mañana demain (good) morning
la revedere arrivederci goodbye
Nu înțeleg I don’t understand
urgență emergency
târziu tarde later
Cum te cheamă? ¿Como te llamas? What’s your name?
Cu plăcere with pleasure (you’re welcome)
Atenție Attention! Look out!
sete sed thirst
Unde e toaleta? ¿Dónde está ..? la toilette I’m off for a slash
șăptămână semana semaine week

Ay-ay-ay; i.e., “ie” or “ei”?

It bugs me when English speakers get the German pronunciation of sounds made by the vowel combinations “ie” and “ei” wrong — especially those English speakers who have lots of interaction with Germans and by extension lots of opportunities to practice reading these sounds. My much more tolerant wife explained to me why this happens so often:

  1. Those sounds are not represented consistently in English (think “receive” versus “achieve”).
  2. Not everyone knows the simple rule English speakers can use to pronounce “ie” or “ei” correctly everytime.

I can’t do anything about #1, but I can help you with #2, so here goes:

The sound that the combination “ie” or “ei” will make is always the same of the English name of the 2nd letter.

Thus, the electronics conglomerate is pronounced “see-mens” and not “sigh-mens” and the intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era is prounounced “zyte-guy-st” and not “zeet geest”. Likewise, it really is “franken-styne” and not “franken-steen,” despite what Gene Wilder’s character proclaims.