Among the many things that can cause confusion – generally in this world, but in particular to persons like many of yourselves, dear readers, who live in a country where the main language is not their mother tongue – are words that sound the same but mean something entirely different in two languages. Here’s why you should never bring a ‘gift’ to a German home.
Further to what has been discussed in “Gute Fahrt, Mr Krabs!” a while back, I would like to take you on another little stroll through the maize of acoustic pitfalls between English and German. Let the following tales be a gentle warning to any unsuspecting Yorkshire dinner guest.
One of my office mates, a sound engineer, once told me that she was involved in designing and naming a new mixer console, which was to be marketed globally. All was well, the hardware had been assembled to all the international stakeholders’ content, alas a suitable product name was to be found. The Germans came up with a name that sounded entirely unconspicuous, even professional, to the ear of a German sound mixer. The Americans, however, emmed and erred about the name, saying it didn’t quite work for them, without being too explicit. The Germans, had no idea what was wrong with the name they had so carefully concocted, until someone eventually took pity and explained what Uranus sounds like in American English (‘your anus’). (Oh, hello, Austin Powers!)
Another anecdote takes us to the north of England, where a fellow German has dinner with his English girlfriend and her mother. They are having a take-away from the local fish-and-chip shop – cod, chips, mushy peas, the whole shebang. So, with a northern accent, the mother asks the prospective son-in-law, ‘You like mushy peas?’ His face drops. What did she just ask me? Surely, she can’t have said ‘Do you like Muschi …?’ Muschi, you see, is like ‘pussy’ in English. It could just be a cat, but to the average adult it’s female genitals.
Well, and of course you may bring gifts to a German home, just don’t say ‘Das ist ein Gift’ or something, as Gift in German means ‘poison.’ Which reminds me of a very common brand of children’s bicycles in Germany, PUKY (pronounce: ‘pookie’, with a short ‘oo’ sound, or [ˈpʊki]). It’s a made-up word with no particular meaning, and, of course, it sounds nothing like throwing up in German.
So, here you are, just be careful what you say (or hear) … and enjoy dinner with your in-laws!
The Pommes Buddha says: I have a Master’s from FU Berlin.