Language Matters: C-Words of Difference

A while back, I had a facebook chat with an American friend who left the US about a decade ago and settled in Costa Rica. It went something like this:

Her: So, now you’re in Spain… how’s your Spanish coming along?

Me: I’m getting there. Curious though that no sentence seems to be complete if it doesn’t contain either culo*, mierda** or coño.

Her: What is coño?

Me: Uhm… CUNT.

Her: ?!?

[*arse **shit]


The fact that my American friend, who’s certainly no prissy, had not encountered this term, despite having lived for many years in a Spanish-speaking country (and being fluent in Spanish), speaks volumes. Latin Americans, on the whole, aren’t given to peppering their soft, mellifluous language with expletives.

The Spanish, on the other hand, have a reputation for being straight-talking and potty-mouthed. Since I’m quite partial to this communication style myself, I fit right in, but, I must confess, even after four years in Spain, I’m still a bit shy of the c-word.

I should get over myself. Cunts get dropped into conversation left, right and centre. It’s no big deal. You could be showing someone an infected mosquito bite and they’d exclaim, ¿Qué coño es esto? – What the hell is that!? Or you might have had a glass of wine too many at the expense of coherence when your still relatively sober drinking buddy confronts you with ¿De qué coño estás hablando? – What the hell are you talking about? 

¡Coño! as an exclamation by itself can mean a million different things, like “Are you shitting me?”, “What the hell were you thinking!?”, “WOW!” and “FFS!”. You get the idea.

If something’s “a big bloody hassle”, then it’s a coñazo – literally: a BIG CUNT.

So, there you have it. The Spanish are comfortable with their cunts.

Until they move to an English speaking country and discover that not everyone else is.

A Spanish friend of mine, who’s been living in London for more than two decades, avoids the ubiquitous little English word “can’t” at all cost.

The subtle differences in English vowel sounds are a real coñazo for Spanish speakers. Spanish only has five vowel sounds, while English has more than twenty. For Latin Americans living in the US, this is not so much of an issue in this particular case, but in British English pronunciation, can’t and the unmentionable are dangerously close. Too close for comfort for my friend, who painstakingly resorts to “cannot” instead.

Hair My Cry, O Blog!

When you move country, the first thing you’ve got to occupy yourself with is finding those people (and services) without whom your daily existence would be a living hell. For example:

  • Somebody who gives you a place to kip and store your belongings
  • Somebody who plugs the internet into said place
  • Somebody who tosses you a handful of peanuts every month for whatever tricks you’ve learned to perform along the way
  • Somebody who fiddles files your taxes so you don’t go to prison
  • And, most important of all,  somebody who slashes the unruly growth on top of your head every once in a while so you get to maintain the outer appearance of a humanoid life form

I thought my move to Central Spain a few years ago was a brush stroke of genius on the follicular front. It is a dry region. Unlike North London. Those with curly hair will understand.


Remember this one going round on fb? = ME AT 7AM!

Shortly after my arrival, I stumbled into a nearby hairdressers called “Diseños” (Designs). Sounded like a creative sort of a place, I thought, and the fact that La Friseuse in attendance was close to my own age and also sported curly hair, gave me hope. I’m gullible like that. I imagined her channelling her creative juices into giving me a flattering cut that would, perhaps, make my witch’s chin stick out a bit less.

But no. My veteran Figarette happened to be of those people, who had figured out their solution to their hair troubles, and that would just have to do for everybody else. She herself had resorted to straightjacketing her wiry mop into a rectangular shape, which kind of suited her, but sometimes, one glove does not fit all.

This is actually pretty much matches my appearance as well as my facial expression post-redesign - just imagine a sticky-out chin instead of a snout.

This pretty much illustrates the result. And also my facial expression post-“redesign”. (Just imagine a sticky-out chin instead of a snout.)

Since I don’t really care for having a square head – I’m already German, let’s not forget – and adding the fact that the salon’s “design” component referred more to its prices than the craftsmanship, I went in search of a new chop shop as soon as my rebel locks had managed to break free from their cuboid confines.

This time, I asked about the price first. Twelve bucks, I was told, and one can’t argue with that. In North London, you wouldn’t even get a drunk on the Tube to drool on your head for that. Like I said, I’m gullible.

Now, haircare professionals do have a bit of a reputation for enthralling their captive audiences with tales of their all-inclusive summer break at CattleProd Resorts, but THIS was something else.

If you are acquainted with British English, you may have heard the expression “talking the hind leg off a donkey” – a disparaging reference to a tedious person’s excessive loquaciousness. At forty minutes in, I was very nearly at the point of fearing that my extremities would drop off due to necrotic tissue damage induced by the most inane of moronic monologues I had ever been subjected to in my entire life.

But the ceaseless chatter wasn’t the worst part. What really drove me to distraction was that the girl would stop short after every snip in order to accompany her onerous outpourings with wild gesticulations. At one point, überchatty scissor sister was exposing all the parts of her body to me which had ever been nibbled on by a mosquito. Don’t ask me how we got there. I can only assume that those bloodsucking creatures are, in fact, totally soundproof.

No, I told her, a blow dry really wasn’t necessary. Yes, I was aware that it was the midst of winter, but putting on my woolly hat would probably stop my dripping fringe from freezing to my eyebrows on my way home, and I’d see myself out, thank you very much.

On my second visit, it was the owner who cut my hair. (I had made sure he was holding the fort all by himself after peering through the window at a stealth angle). He was pleasant, professional, and, above all, soothingly SILENT. I was in and out of there in twelve minutes flat. INCLUDING a blow dry. An 87% time saving on my first visit. And the cut was good.

This week, it was high time to excise the felt mats once again, and so when I walked past the salon on Tuesday afternoon and found it empty but open, I  decided to seize the opportunity. I wish I hadn’t. As soon as I entered, I spotted her, slithering out from behind the spiral staircase. Miss Verborrhoea.

As she led me to the washbasin, I felt my eardrums tighten in anticipation. So far, she’d not actually uttered anything besides standard salon protocol. Maybe she’d been on speed last time, and had sworn off it since then.

All was well for about five more minutes, until she suddenly stopped working the warm lather into my pelt. Did I mind if she nipped off to the toilet for a second, the water tablets her doctor had prescribed made her want to pee every five minutes.

Did I enquire, with a caring look on my face, what terrible affliction would require such a sprightly 20-year-old to be popping diuretics? You bet I did not. But I would find out. In excruciating detail.

Thank heavens it’s still summer here in Spain. My hair dried in an instant as I shot through the door into freedom at supersonic speed an interminable hour later.

Lake Tegernsee and Wasserburg, Bavaria

Not another lake, I hear you groan. Not the Bavarian Alps AGAIN…! But yes, I’m afraid, I’ve just got to cram one more in before I’m done with this year’s home visit ;-)

Tegernsee is another one of these fabulous destinations just an hour from Munich on the train. Although it is most definitely a tourist destination, foreign tourists don’t really know about it, so I’d say that probably 95% of tourists are Germans.

Lake Tegernsee 1

Who said Germany didn't have great beaches...??

Who said Germany didn’t have great beaches…??

Rottdach Egern

Traditional Bavarian dresses (

Traditional Bavarian dresses (“Dirndl”) on sale.

Tegernsee Boats

Tegernsee at dusk

Tegernsee Fire Station :)

Tegernsee Fire Station :)

And now, to give your Alps-and-lakes-weary eyes a rest, a couple of shots from a trip we took to Wasserburg, a medieval town in Upper Bavaria, circled by the river Inn.

I did not take this photo of Wasserburg myself, but I didn't want to deprive you of the beauty of this pespective

Aw, look, how pretty! (Note: I did not take this photo myself, it comes from

Wasserburg Town Centre

Wasserburg Town Centre

That's my mum there in the white skirt

That’s my mum there in the white skirt

Wasserburg Houses

VW Beetle


There's nothing as tempting as a shot of someone's privates...

There’s nothing as tempting as a shot of someone’s privates…

And to finish off:

Another portion of fabulous apple fritters! I had a bit of an obsession with them on this trip...

Another portion of fabulous apple fritters! I had a bit of an obsession with them on this trip…

Nothing Separates A German From Their Sausage

Vegetarians of the world please avert your eyes. What follows is pure carnage. Of the most delicious kind. Let’s do the food porn first, and leave the educational bit (I am using that term very loosely) till later, shall we?

Currywurst is a legendary German invention... this one was devoured on a hike through Munich by the river Isar

Currywurst is a legendary German invention… these two were devoured my mum and moi on last week’s hike.

My brother and my mum beneath a sign in Munich advertising the most famous of Bavarian sausages: The Münchner Weißwurst.

My brother and my mum beneath a sign in Munich advertising probably the most famous of Bavarian sausages: The Münchner Weißwurst.

What is a Weißwurst, I hear you ask…

It's this! Actually, I don't really like them...

Here’s a pile of them. The while ones, obviously. Actually, I must confess that don’t really like them all that much… SACRILEGE!

And of course, you can get them canned

And of course, like any kitchen cupboard staple, you can get them canned. For emergencies.


A small selection of a local supermarket’s sausage offering


Those bits in there are finely sliced tongue, in case you're wondering

The chunky bits are finely sliced pieces of tongue, in case you’re wondering…

A seven-pound pack - now that would make for a nice afternoon snack

The seven-pound pack makes for a tasty afternoon snack

Now imagine this potential nightmare scenario: You’re at home, it’s late, you desperately fancy a meaty midnight morsel BUT YOU’VE RUN OUT OF SAUSAGE! If you happen to be living in a semi-rural area like my folks, 24-hour supermarkets or convenience stores are far and few between. What is a desperate sausage-dependent German to do?!?

Well, there is hope: My tiny little village of 700 inhabitants, which only has one restaurant and no shops at all, sports one of these:

YES! There is a God!

YES! There is a God!

The day is saved!!!

Just look at that shapely line-up…the day/night is saved!!!

By now, you’ll have gotten the point. Germans have a very special relationship with their sausages. Not only are burly bangers ubiquitous in local fast food outlets, butcher’s shops, supermarkets and vending machines, but they have also wormed their way into the common vernacular in the form of countless expressions. Here is a selection:

Picture the scene: There’s a terminal struggle going on. Everything’s at stake. It’s a matter of life and death. This is when, for a German, “es geht um die Wurst” (it’s about the sausage). And that tells you all you need to know about how we feel when it comes to our precious meat products.

I’m quite partial to the (British) phrase “I don’t give a rat’s arse!”. The German equivalent is “das ist mir Wurst!” (It’s sausage to me!). This appears to contradict the aforementioned “es geht um die Wurst”, but it’s really just proof that the sausage is all things to all people. (To all German people, at least.)

Some sad individuals love nothing more than to be offended by anything and everything. These bothersome thin-skinned types are liable to earn themselves the title of “beleidigte Leberwurst” (insulted/offended liver sausage). And while they stomp off in one of their huffs, they might well call the hapless culprit who (probably inadvertently) caused their latest grievance a “Hanswurst” (a buffoon).

When Germans get philosophical about the finiteness of things, they like to point out that “alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei” (Everything has an end, only the sausage has two).


[For those interested in German food-related expressions, you will enjoy this post: How To Be A Hater With German Food Phrases]



The Bavarian Has Landed

I hereby announce my return to The Fatherland. My darling brother picked me up from Munich airport, and it took no longer than the 40-minute drive to my mother’s place (aka The House of Cakes) to remind me exactly where I was…

Within ten minutes of hitting the Autobahn, we got stuck behind this vehicle... but who could possibly mind?!

Within ten minutes of hitting the Autobahn, we got stuck behind this vehicle… but who could possibly mind… when it’s clearly urgent medical supplies!

Why would you have a picnic by the river when you can actually be IN the river!?

Why would you have a picnic by the river when you can actually be IN the river!? (Note the guy in the hammock at the back, and, most important of all – the crate of BEER in the front!)

...the latter of which warranted a close-up. (Two missing already at 3.30pm on a weekday...)

…the latter warranted a close-up. (Two missing already at 3.30pm on a weekday…)

Just don’t expect anything serious out of me for the next three weeks…



Baby’s Got Whiff? Dip It In Perfume!

Spanish babies are a malodorous breed. To disguise their offspring’s offensive stench, Iberian mamas have a powerful weapon at their disposal: Half-litre bottles of “Baby Cologne”. You want proof? Here are some pics I took this very morning in my local supermarket:



“Low in alcohol”

Now, I must confess, I know nothing whatsoever about miniature humans or the fancy potions that are meant to maintain their olfactory acceptability. It was my Spanish teacher who first drew my attention to this cultural difference in paediatric hygiene a few years ago, when she told me about her frustrations in trying to hunt down such a product in North London chemists after the birth of her first daughter, reaping nothing but raised eyebrows and contemptuous glares.

I can’t get my head around the concept either. Surely, most people dunk their whelps in a warm frothy bath at the end of the day in order to remove suspect residues, probably employing some sort of industrial cleaning product which is already lightly perfumed. Why would anyone expose their little princess’s pristine peachiness to any more chemicals than are absolutely necessary? And chemicals they do contain:


Contains one third less alcohol than other brands, apparently. And a healthy dose of Tirdeceth-9 Octane… WHAT?!  Oh, but look, it’s soap-free!


The question at the top reads, loosely translated, “What does it do for my baby?”, and then goes on to explain that the product lends an “original smell and wellbeing”, and that it “stimulates [the baby’s] senses owing to its special fragrance and your cuddles, which it loves so much”. I guess nobody would want to risk making physical contact with an untreated beast… Theres’s also a series of warnings, including “avoid contact with eyes”, “do not ingest”, “keep out of the reach of children”, “do not use near naked flames or heat sources”.

I’ve already professed my abject ignorance on the subject, but I thought I’d check some figures before hitting the ‘publish’ button. Owing to my work, which I do on rare occasions to finance my cake habit, I have access to a vast database detailling the sales of consumer goods by country, including toiletries and cosmetics. From this, I gather that “Baby and Child-specific Fragrances” are chiefly sold in six countries: Brazil, Spain, Mexico, France, Russia and Italy. This does seem to be a bit of a Latin thing…

Spain is the world’s second largest market (after Brazil), generating retail value sales of US$55.3 million in 2014, and Nenuco and Johnson’s (see my photos) are indeed the leading brands here in Spain. In annual per capita terms, Spanish consumers spent US$9.60 on its defenceless victims aged 0-11 years of age,  while Brazilian parents dowsed millions of tiny botties with US$11.50 worth of the stuff in 2014. Sales in the other countries I mentioned were rather minimal by comparison, hovering around the 1 dollar mark per child.*

So, people, do tell me, are babies sanitised in this way in your country…? Or do they prefer them au naturel?


[*For data source, click here]