Monthly Archives: August 2013

A Lingering Look At The World’s Smallest Window!

I’m not usually one for blowing my own bugle quite so unashamedly, but my entry to this week’s A Lingering Look At Windows photo challenge seriously rocks. In my opinion, anyway.

Without further a do, let me give it to you: The World’s Smallest Window, according to the Guinness Book of Records (though, I admit, I’ve not double-checked this factoid):

Here it is, with my friend Reyes, who works as a guide in Toledo

Here it is, with my friend Reyes, who works as a guide in Toledo, and who kindly pointed it out to me

It has a proper window cross and everything. Don't ask me what the Arabic inscription means, I haven't the foggiest.

It’s not just a hole in the wall, it has a proper window cross and everything. Don’t ask me what the Arabic inscription means, I haven’t the foggiest.

The embarrassing thing is that this little gem is less than 400 yards from my house, and I’d never noticed it until last Tuesday, when Reyes gave me a free tour!

Language Confusion Buster: ‘Dried Fruit’ Is Not What You May Think It Is

On my arrival in Spain, I noticed that many local shops featured the words “Frutos Secos”, which, directly translated, means ‘dried fruit’, on their signage. It did make me wonder whether dried fruit was the equivalent of hot cakes in Spain, or why else would a little shop keeper spend his hard earned money on advertising this on his (surely quite expensive) shop sign? Here’s a corner shop close to my house in Toledo:

Whatch out! This is the most expensive corner shop in the Western hemisphere. Do not go in there. Ever. Not even for an emergency pack of chewing gum. You'll come out with the shirt ripped off your bleedin' back, missing an arm and a leg. (O un riñon, si eres español.)

Whatch out! This is the most expensive corner shop in the Western hemisphere. Do not go in there. Ever. Not even for an emergency pack of chewing gum. You’ll come out with the shirt ripped off your bleedin’ back, missing an arm and a leg. (O un riñon, si eres español.)

But my bafflement over dried fruits’ powers of customer attraction isn’t really what I was going to talk about. (Besides, I’ve since figured out that “Frutos Secos” is a generic term for this kind or establishment, to which, in the UK, we’d refer to as a “corner shop”.) So, as I discovered a few months down the line, frutos secos are not what an English (or a German) speaker would naturally assume them to be, i.e. this stuff:

DriedFruitNo, for a Spanish speaker, frutos secos is this:


Dried fruit, it turns out, is “fruta deshidratada”, which, at least, is not totally counter-intuitive.

The conundrum was not quite resolved, however. There was yet another twist in store for me.

If frutos secos means nuts, I wondered, I  what the hell are “nueces”?? I I took that to signify nuts. Nuez/Nueces sounds just like nut/nuts and Nuss/Nüsse in English and German, respectively.

Una nuez

Una nuez

Well, it turns out that nueces, in fact, are walnuts, and not nuts in general. Up to that point, I’d been referring to all kinds of nuts as nueces. Ooops.

As to the difference between fruto and fruta: Fruta is what you will find in a fruit bowl, while fruto is a more general term describing not only nuts and inedible fruits produced by all manner of plants, but also the “fruits” of one’s labours (el fruto de tus labores), the fruit of Mary’s blessed womb aka Jesus (el fruto de tu vientre), etc.

Have you been using a word in another language incorrectly for ages, only to discover much later that it was, in fact, one of those treacherous ‘false friends’?

Photo Challenge – Look Up, Look Down: Bavarian Church Steeples

I’ve been looking up, up, up all the way! My neck will never be quite the same again… but it’s a price well worth paying for being part of travelwithintent’s weekly photo challenge Look Up, Look Down.

So, here we have one of the imposing steeples of Munich’s emblematic Frauenkirche:

Frauenkirche - Rechter Turm

You’re probably more used to seeing it from this angle:

These are Munich's most famous landmarks - the towers of the Frauenkirche and the Mariensäule

These are Munich’s most famous landmarks – the mighty twin towers of the Frauenkirche, and the Mariensäule. It took me ages to get the column in the middle… I was nearly trampled to death by the tourist hordes in the process!

The next shot is of a church steeple located in the beautiful historic centre of the Bavarian town of Landsberg:

Landsberg Church

It seemed really tall from down here!

To view some of the amazing medieval buildings of Landsberg, click here

The Weekly Don Quixote – The Shoplifter’s Nemesis

Well, wouldn’t you know it… I bumped into our Noble Knight again this week. He was not just strategically positioned, but fully armed(!), and ready to jump on any unsuspecting yoofs planning on making a fast getaway with this shop’s tourist tat* precious merchandise stuffed down their pants.

Don Q shopsYou’ll notice little Sancho Panza lying in wait, just inside the door to the right, cunningly obscured by the white bin, his beady eyes homing in on potential kleptomaniacs. Nobody rustles anything past those two!

(If you’re new to this blog and none of this makes sense, you can catch up on the Weekly Don Quixote series by clicking here.)

*Toledo’s shops are crammed right up to the rafters with…erm… classy gift items. If you think you can take it, click here… but if your eyes fall out, there’s no point blaming me, and you won’t find the ‘send’ button anyway.

Cake Porn: Hi, My Name Is Poppy Streusel

…and I’m about to come in for a darn good forking!


Erm…actually, it’s a snap from a family breakfast outing that took place a couple of weeks ago in my birth town in Bavaria. The one with the fork poised for attack is my brother, and that’s my mum on the left.

My categorical cake statement of the day: You can only get a decent poppy seed cake in Germany or Austria.

I’ve Just Had A Scary Email From WP Mission Control…

So, my dearest blogging buddies (and I mean ALL five of you!), what exactly happens when you get Freshly Pressed?

Will I need to make four days’ worth of sandwiches in advance and puree them so I can suck my hands-free meals through a straw? Practice peeing in a bucket (using a different coloured straw)? Employ a crew of PAs and draw up a shift rota as watertight as that of Santa’s elves the week before Christmas? Toss all Wifi enabled devices into the Tagus and book myself in for a looooong weekend on Tristan Da Cunha? Tell my clients to stick their article deadlines where the sun don’t shine?

I know some of you have had this happen, and more than once. What sort of traffic volumes should I prepare myself for? What if REAL nutters (as opposed to mildly deranged folk like you) find me?????

I was about to upload a post entitled “Cake Porn”… am now re-considering…



The Three Types Of English (According To Me)

There are a myriad of ways of classifying all sorts of different ‘Englishes’. Since leaving the UK and moving to Spain, I think about this a lot more than ever before, and it strikes me that I’m dealing with three different kinds of English on almost a daily basis:

1. Native-Speaker Level English
2. International English
3. The kind of English only understood by non-native English speakers who share the same same native tongue.

Let’s start with number 1. Needless to say, not all native English speakers understand each other, and even if they do, they like to squabble over whose version is the ‘correct’ one. I quite relish these little disputes, and, as a non-native English speaker myself, I enjoy the privilege of picking and choosing what takes my fancy without being sneered at as a ‘traitor’ to my linguistic roots. For example, I’ve adopted “gotten” as the past tense of “get”. A Brit would rather take a swig of sulphuric acid than let that one pass his lips. For the most part, though, I stick to British English, ’cause that’s what I know.

As for International English, it is arguably THE tool of global communication. But oh, it’s insipid, bloodless, without zest, stripped of all cultural context and regional idiosyncrasies, which make communication rich, satisfying, stimulating and amusing. International English is like a corpse that you revive to perform a particular task, and while its heart is beating and its lungs are pumping, it has no soul.

Twins :)

Twins 🙂

The third category is one that all adult learners of English (or any other second language!) inevitably pass through. They start using English by bending it to the pattern of their own native language, and while a Spanish-speaking person’s beginner’s level ‘English’ will easily be understood by a fellow Spanish speaker, an American or a Korean will sometimes be at a loss.  Two English learners of the same nationality conversing can be a bit like infant twins babbling to one another in their own secret language – they ‘get’ each other, but their jabberings are largely unintelligible to outsiders.

There are two obvious reasons why this happens: First of all, there is the issue of accent. Spanish, for example, only has five vowel sounds, while English has more than twenty. For a Spanish speaker, it is extremely difficult to hear these subtle differences, never mind reproduce them accurately. So, they will pronounce the words “sheet” & “shit” and “low” & “law” exactly the same. Most often than not, the meaning will  be clear from the context, but often it won’t be, especially if you’re not used to listening to a particular accent, or if there is not enough accompanying context.

The second hurdle to outsider intelligibility results from the translation process. Especially in the early stages of language learning, people directly translate what they want to say, often word for word, from their native into the target language. It’s the raw “Google Translate” mode, which yields famously unpredictable results. Just a few days ago, I had this email response from a potential new language exchange candidate:

“Ok, but I go few to Toledo. If I go, I tell you. At any rate, if you don’t come bad and you want, we can talk by the computer”

If I don’t come bad?! If you happen to speak Spanish, you’ll understand exactly where he’s coming from. The Spanish expression “Si te viene bien”, which, if you translate it directly into English, results in a non-sensical “if it comes you good”. But it actually means “if it suits you”. He’s used it in the negative here (that wouldn’t work in English anyway), which is akin to an informal version of “if it’s not too inconvenient for you”.

I know that a lot of the people who read this blog are either EFL teachers, or avid foreign language learners, or both. I’m hoping for some amusing anecdotes in the comments 🙂


You may also be interested in my specialist language blog, see here:


Ailsa’s Weekly Travel Theme: Play – A Fabulous Playground

On our recent trip to Lake Starnberg, my mum and I came across this really cool kids’ playground. Perfect, I thought, for Ailsa’s Weekly Travel Theme, which, for this week, is PLAY 🙂




Well, you can’t play all day, so we sat down to relax to this gorgeous view stretching across the lake to the Alps:

...and then this appeared! Magic :)

…and then this appeared! Magic 🙂 Cherry streusel and PROPER whipped cream (not that watery stuff out of a can), if anyone’s interested in the specifics.

For some lovely and relaxing pictures of Lake Starnberg, take a look at this post.

Who Drinks The Most Wine?

Wine is in the top five on the interminable list of things that I should know about but don’t.
Working class Germans are just not wine drinkers, and so when I grew up, I learned that there were three kinds of wine: Sour (all German wines fall into this category, my parents would not have touched those with a barge pole), drinkable (only sweet wines would fall into this category, and they would most likely be of Italian origin), and fizzy (consumed only once a year on New Year’s Eve, and it had to be as sweet as lemonade. Champagne would have been relegated to the “sour” category).

I had a little more exposure to wine after I’d moved to the UK in the 90s. OK, it’s not exactly a country of wine connoisseurs either, but the supermarkets, even back then, offered a fairly wide range of wines from all over the world, including German ones. The concept that some German wines could be considered “good”, was a total revelation to me and took some getting used to.

Admittedly, I didn’t learn that much more about wine during my two decades in the UK, but I internalised one golden rule: when bringing a bottle with you to a social gathering (of people you were fond of), you should not spend any less than £6 on a red or £4 on a white, otherwise it was likely to taste nasty.

Now I’m in Spain, and they certainly seem to know their wine. The emphasis being on the word their, because they don’t seem to be familiar with anything else but their homegrown vino. I’d go as far as to venture that the average Spaniard is not even aware that countries like Chile and Australia also make the stuff, and that some of it ain’t half bad.

I do drink more wine now than I did before, it’s pretty much standard issue when having a meal out, but I’d struggle to I exceed 6 glasses a month. Totally pathetic, I know…

Tinto De Verano - A Spanish summer favourite. It's kind of like Sangria, but with less alcohol and far more refreshing

Tinto De Verano – A Spanish summer favourite. It’s kind of like Sangria, but with less alcohol and far more refreshing. I love it!

Now let’s look at the figures*. Owing to sheer population size, China is the world’s largest market for wines. Of the 28.6 billion litres guzzled globally in 2012, China downed 4.2 billion litres, the USA 3 billion litres, Italy and France 2.5 billion litres each, and, to my utmost surprise, Germany pops up in fifth place with 2.1 billion litres.

But what’s most interesting, I’m guessing, is per capita consumption levels. Instead of giving you the per head consumption for every man, woman and child as usual, I’ve selected per capita intake from legal drinking age onwards.

So, Portugal leads, with 51.5 litres per head in 2012, followed by Italy (47.6l), Switzerland (really???) (42.6l), France (38.7l), Austria (37.7l), Argentina (35.3l), Belgium (33l), Greece (31.7l), Netherlands (30.7l) and Germany is in tenth place with 29.9 litres.

There are always a few surprises, and Spain ranking 13th with just 25.8 litres was definitely one of them. I mean, that’s barely a thimbleful ahead of Ireland and the UK, with 25.1 and 23.3 litres, respectively.

The US managed a paltry 13.4 litres, and Chile 16.6 litres, which isn’t very much, considering both are major producers. Canada did marginally better with 18.3 litres, but at least they don’t pride themselves in growing the stuff, as far as I’m aware.

OK, that’s enough stats. I don’t want to be responsible for sending anyone’s head spinning without even having indulged in a lovely glass (or six) of red.

So, what’s it for you? Red or white? Or beer…?

[* For data source, click here]

Photo Challenge: A Lingering Look At Windows – Bavaria

Another photo challenge. This is getting out of hand…!  But here I am, in the thick of it, thanks to Dawn’s Lingering Look At Window’s weekly challenge, which she puts on each Thursday. I’m submitting a handful of window shots I took in Bavaria during my annual family visit a couple of weeks ago.

The first two are typical Bavarian farm houses, snapped in a town called Kochel-am-See:


Window boxes replete with red geraniums are a very Bavarian affair 🙂


A farmhouse in Possenhofen, by Lake Starnberg

A farmhouse in Possenhofen, by Lake Starnberg

Windows of a Department store in the heart of Munich

Windows of a Department store in the heart of Munich, which has also kept to the national geranium theme!

Landsberg Window

Windows of a house in a residential street in Landsberg. Not Geraniums, but very nice and kinda quirky 😉