The Mouse

Field Mouse. isolated. striped field mouse

Every country has its famous kids’ TV programmes. When I was in Gymnasium, one of my German teachers told the teenage class, much to the latter’s incredulous amusement, that his favourite TV programme of all times was Die Sendung mit der Maus, a kids’ show. Learn more about this ominous mouse and why it’s still all the rage today …

Well, to tell you the truth, my English husband loves that programme too. It may not be obvious to first-time watchers, but the best part of the show are the so-called Sachgeschichten, the documentary-style stories that tell you about things or show you how things are made. Most of these clips are truly interesting, even to adults, because often we’re not aware, for example, of all the steps involved for a posted parcel to reach its recipient (see this clip) or how an episode of Shaun the Sheep is made (see here).

What is more, the Sachgeschichten are excellent for learners of German because, as it is targeted at children, complex processes are explained in plain, slow-spoken German.

Just like the popular board game Mensch Ärgere Dich Nicht, Die Sendung mit der Maus is a proper German invention and not an adapted format from another country. You will find more background information on the programme on Wikipedia.

Having two small children, my husband and I get quite a few opportunities to watch the programme together with them. (It is aired every Sunday morning on ARD, annoyingly at different times, and repeated on KiKa.) When we watched it one Sunday earlier this year, we were all particularly delighted because it was a special about Great Britain. I do recommend watching it and have put it on my Links page. Here are the direct links to both parts: Teil 1 and Teil 2.

You may think of it what you will. The show is (or has been) sexist to some extent, as most German TV still is today. But within its cultural context, it is simply one of the most popular German TV programmes ever for children.

Each episode offers something for different age groups: the mouse cartoons are targeted at smaller children (for our two-year-old, that’s all she wants to watch), the other cartoons and fun stories are for older children, and the documentaries appeal to nerds of all ages (and, as we all know, most parents are nerds).

I just wondered why it actually is that most parents are nerds. I think it’s because children ask so many questions. And parents need to find a child-friendly way of explaining all kinds of things which they have no clue about at first. (Seriously: no prep-time! You’re in the bathroom brushing your teeth, next thing you know, you have to give a full-blown presentation on the solar system. Impromptu-speech practice at interpreting uni class was a walk in the park in comparison – at least there we had five full minutes to prepare!) So you start being inquisitive and wanting to find out how things work.

First you tell yourself, it’s all for your child. But after a while you realise you’re totally into it yourself. And isn’t that the best bit about parenting when everyone gets something out of it?

Here’s another thought: I recently read that things that used to be seen as nerdy are now in demand because they are analogue and provide a haven from our busy digitised lives. Things like gardening, vinyl, board games, hardcopy books, crafts etc.

So modern parents are nostalgic nerds. And loving it!

The Pommes Buddha says: Go on and have some cheesy fun!

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Nimble fingers

Zwei Hnde drcken die Daumen

This week’s text is a sequel to my German entry Fingerfertigkeit. Have you ever seen a German shake their fist at someone? No, I don’t mean in the menacing wait-till-I-get-you! kind of way of James Bond villains. I mean in a kind, encouraging manner, smiling and wishing the other person luck. How does the luck get into the fist is what you’re asking? You’ll find out in a minute.

Well, first of all, it’s not a real fist. It’s a fist that as a child in my first ju-jitsu class my teacher told me not to make, i.e. one with the thumb inside all your other fingers. If you punch someone like this, you’ll sprain, if not sever or worse!, your thumb. This type of fist is referred to as Daumen drücken (‘pressing thumbs’) in German. And it’s not a fist for fighting. It’s a fist for wishing.

A Canadian friend, who suggested this gesture as a blog topic, said when she first heard this expression, she was not sure what to imagine. She thought perhaps people pressed their extended thumb against the thumb of their other hand – or someone else’s.

It’s not clear where the thumb-pressing comes from. In one of its episodes, the popular children’s TV show Wissen macht Ah! by regional broadcaster WDR, which explains all kinds of phenomena and is generally a good source of information for learners of German, explains a thing or two about Daumen drücken.

For those Germans who haven’t (Brit slang alert!) cottoned on: Brits, Canadians and Americans (and certainly many others) don’t ever press their thumbs for any reason. When they wish someone luck, they cross their fingers. So when you mean to say ‘Ich drück’ dir die Daumen!’ to native speakers of English, you need to make an entirely different gesture (cross index and middle fingers) and say, ‘Fingers crossed!’

This gesture, which is said to be based on the Christian symbol of the cross, is not unknown to Germans. We use it to secretly break a promise we make (this being a common variety of use in several English-speaking countries as well) or to emphasise that two people are really close or get on very well (‘Die sind so!’).

Wieder was gelernt, as your German friends will say. Or Man lernt nie aus – you live and learn. Well, fingers crossed you’ll know who’s behind you next week!

The Pommes Buddha says: It’s not evil. It’s magic.

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