Big business

Last week, we visited the bathroom. It’s only a small step further to a facility that lends itself to extensive cultural studies. In many Asian countries, the sounds produced by a person using a WC are considered very private and shouldn’t be witnessed by other people under any circumstances. Therefore, lavatories are often equipped with sound machines imitating the flush to mask any possibly embarrassing noise (replacing the use of the actual flush, which had led to an exorbitant waste of water). So what about Germany? Here’s a bit of German loo etiquette. Read more

The land of tailor-made terms

One of the many reasons I love the English language is that it allows for almost unlimited interchangeable usage of word classes. You can turn a noun into a verb (‘to pool’) and vice versa (‘mix-up’) – and even combine the two! (While this is grammatically true for my native language, German is far less tolerant of neologisms.) Here are some examples of inspiring English ‘noun-adjectives’… Read more

The foodie trap

As you may have guessed, the realm of culinary delight is an area I am fond to delve into. But like in any other field, there are countless ‘unknowns.’ As an interpreter, one often has to translate restaurant menus ‒ a bloody minefield! I can’t tell sole from plaice even in my native language to start with. Here are some other examples of food-related pitfalls. Read more

The Pout

Every culture has gestures or facial expressions that have a meaning even without words. Every person brought up in a particular culture (or having spent a sufficient amount of time in it) will understand them. For example, Italians are particularly renowned for underlining their utterances by countless gestures (please find examples here). However, in a foreign culture, one will at times encounter non-verbal communication one can’t quite locate… Read more

Haare außer Kontrolle

Manchmal kommt einfach alles auf einmal. Es ist ein ungewöhnlich kalter, verregneter Junitag, man wacht mit einem steifen Nacken auf, hat verschlafen, der Kaffee ist aus, die Kinder heulen – und so setzt sich der Tag fort. Am liebsten wäre man im Bett geblieben. So ein richtiger Pechtag … Gibt’s das auf Englisch auch? Read more

Sizzling efficiency

Germans are renowned for their efficiency. We don’t ‘fart-arse around’, as my English husband would say. We get things done. The same is true for our language. Often, my husband asks something like, ‘What’s this word in English?’ (‘this word’ being anything from ‘Ausfahrt’ to ‘Zollstock’). Having got past the first obstacle (the initial reply any translator will offer, i.e. ‘It depends on the context’), he is frequently surprised to find that there is not a clear-cut, one-word English equivalent. Let’s look at another example… Read more

What a load of buzz

The other day I witnessed an incident or, shall we say, an ‘act of communication’ that made me think of a certain type of office game. I was sitting in a café in Cologne when a group of businesspeople walked in. As they had turned up late, the table they had booked had been given away. This prompted one of the ‘suits’ to ask whether it was still possible to find room for six. Only, he didn’t say ‘possible’. Read more

Berrying 101

Yes, Sir, I can berry. Well, at least if I’m a speaker of US American English. Intriguingly, the Americans can transform anything into a verb (this process is called ‘verbing’). So Yanks can breakfast, they can shower and they can berry (aka ‘pick berries’). Even though they can’t berry, the Brits, just like the Americans, love blueberry muffins. (By the way, can you ‘blueberry-muffin’? ‘What did you do during the coffee break?’ – ‘I blueberry-muffined. Yummie!’) Let’s find out what the deal is with Germans and blueberries… Read more

Fucking hell

I’m terribly sorry if this title offends you, but, in my defence, it is not what you think it is. This week’s story, which is related to a subject discussed here in all seriousness before, starts in a village in Austria situated 33 kilometres north of Salzburg. Just like a considerable number of other places in Bavaria and Austria, its name ends in –ing. Can you guess what the first part is? Read more

German disease

My husband and his colleagues often discuss how strange the German language is to them. They find it amusingly logical that gloves are called ‘hand shoes’, love the fact that the end of a working day is called ‘celebration night’ and wonder why women’s football teams are called Mannschaft (literally: ‘manship’ – the related matter of sexism in the German language will have to be discussed in a separate entry). Another one of those peculiar words is Krankenhaus. Read more