Tag Archives: Cultural Differences

Four Annoying Things That Spanish People Do

Talking VERY VERY LOUDLY

When Spanish people socialise, even if it’s just two or three of them meeting up for a coffee, a curious thing happens: They seem to lose any awareness that there are other people around them. I’ve had to raise my voice on many occasions to keep communicating with a friend sitting  a few inches away from me because of a group of diners in another corner of the restaurant. They were not drunk or rowdy, just Spanish.

In the UK or Germany, this kind of behaviour also happens.  Usually, though, the perpetrators of  noise pollution are either hormone-crazed teenagers or legless lager louts. In Spain, well-dressed middle aged ladies have no trouble outhollering a busload of pupils on their annual school trip – after all, they have half a century of practice under their belts and are eager to demonstrate that they are not fettered by the shackles of consideration for others or any such social niceties. The louder the merrier!

Kids everywhere, at all hours

Spain has one of the lowest birth rates in the world – just 1.3 whelps per woman in 2015. Even child-averse Germany’s is higher (1.4).

And yet, you cannot get away from tantruming toddlers. A true paradox.

A visiting UK friend remarked to me once, on seeing a 5-year old being wheeled around in a buggy one late Saturday afternoon, “That child is too old to be in a push chair!” Indeed. What she didn’t know was that the vehicle wasn’t about saving the poor little blighter’s legs, but about saving everyone else’s nerves much, much later on in the day. That buggy, was, in fact, a mobile bed.

The parents were going to be out till the wee hours, enjoying good food and wine. After running around and shouting its little head off, the sweaty, worn-out sprog would eventually collapse into the wheeled sedan chair around 1am. It’s my personal theory that this is why events like concerts start so late here in Spain – everyone has to wait patiently until the kids finally pass out on their own accord before people can get on with the adult stuff.

In Germany or the UK, a young child in a restaurant (or any public place) after 8pm is a rarity. There’d be disapproving looks. The little one needs its sleep. Some would consider dragging a cranky minor around in the evening to be kind of child abuse. Not so in Spain, school night or not.

Incidentally, Spain has the highest rate of “fracaso escolar” (lit. “school failure”) in the European Union. According to Eurostat data released in 2015, 21,9% of Spanish students abandon the education system prematurely without any qualifications, compared to an EU average of 11.1%. Am I the only one wondering whether, perhaps, there may be a possible correlation…?

Finders Keepers

If you happen to lose your bag, your wallet, your favourite pen, etc, you may as well say goodbye to it the second you notice. The chances that anyone will hand it in or, if you’ve left it in a shop or a restaurant, keep it under the counter in case you return, are extremely slim. If you’ve forgotten it at someone’s house it’s perfectly safe, of course, but strangers encountering lost property seem to operate a strict finders keepers policy.

This miserly mindset, you may be surprised to learn, is sanctioned by a saint. Yes. A saint. An Italian one that goes by the name of Saint Rita, aka the patron saint of impossible causes.

There’s a Spanish saying that’s commonly evoked when someone is blessed with some unexpected providence: “Santa Rita, Santa Rita, lo que se da, no se quita”. Loosely translated: Saint Rita, Saint Rita, what is given cannot be taken. In other words: finders keepers.

I lost a nice pair of sunglasses once here in Toledo, in either one of three shops that I frequent on a weekly basis. They never surfaced again. I also lost a laptop in Copenhagen, which duly found its way back to me. Thankfully, nobody’s ever heard of bloody Santa Rita in Denmark! I rest my case.

She said you can keep it...

If she says you can keep it… who’s to argue with divine providence?

The smoking

Before moving to Spain, I’ve never really had any close friends who smoked. It’s not that I’ve consciously avoided making friends with smokers, but it just so happened that people I connected with didn’t usually smoke.

Smoking prevalence is higher in Spain compared the UK, where I’ve spent most of my adult life – 21.1% of Spaniards smoke compared to 18.4% of Brits. In the US, just 16.3% of the population are smokers and in Canada it’s 15.6%.

Another factor, in my observation, is that in Spain, just about anyone, regardless of social background or level of education, may whip out a cigarette on a balmy evening. In the UK, the US and Germany, by contrast, people who went to university are much less likely to be hooked on tobacco.

Smoking is forbidden in Spain in bars and restaurants, and this is widely observed, but if you’re from North America or Northern Europe, you may be in for a surprise if you get invited to people’s private houses for a meal, a party, or some other type of social gathering. They will light up. Right there at the table. In a closed room. It will fill up with smoke, your eyes may be streaming, your unprepared respiratory system may start to convulse in distress. And nobody will give it a second thought. You have been warned.

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Disclaimer (of sorts): I admit, I was scraping the barrel when I wrote this post… the positives of hanging out with Spanish folk far outweigh the negatives. I gather from other blogs that, in many countries, new arrivals, especially those who are longer in their early twenties, tend to find it hard to enter into rewarding friendships with locals. In my experience – and I’m far from being outgoing, personality-wise – this is not a problem here in Spain, where people, on the whole, are welcoming, open-hearted, generous and inclined to strike up a conversation with a stranger and show genuine interest in them.

As an aside, the old stereotype that Spanish people are notoriously unpunctual, is, in my opinion, totally unwarranted. People may, on occasion, be a few minutes late. I may be a few minutes late. Noting out of the ordinary. The bizarre thing is that the Spanish seem to have internalised this belief about their chronic unpunctuality, and are highly apologetic about this perceived shortcoming – particularly those, it seems, who are rarely late themselves. I’m not quite sure what that is about. I’ve heard that poor time keeping is particularly rampant in the south of the country rather than in the central/northern parts, but since I have little experience of southern Spain, I can’t really comment on that.

 

You may also be interested in my specialist language blog, see here: http://multilingualbychoice.blogspot.com

 

The 5 Most Annoying Pieces of Language Learning Advice

The more arduous a task, the more pages you’ll find devoted to “shortcuts” and “revolutionary techniques”. Language learning is a prime example. Bah humbug, I say.  Below are my five all-time favourite bullshit tips. (Incidentally, they all have one thing in common: Their faulty rationales are based on a tiny nugget of truth. Once you shine a light on them, though, they quickly turn into fool’s gold.)

“Learn like a baby”

This one has got to be the top fallacy coursing through the language forums. Actually, it’s not so much learners’ forums that propagate this myth, it’s companies trying to sell their “super effective” language teaching method, which will have you learning your new language with about as much effort as a rosy-cheeked infant sucking a candy cane.

Yeah. Right. First of all, have you ever observed a young child learning its first language? It makes a ton of mistakes and is corrected by its elders every two seconds. It’s definitely NOT a doddle for anyone involved. And neither are these companies going to supply you with a set of “language babysitters” to bake cookies with you and follow you around the house imparting all that useful domestic vocab every three-year-old has down pat.

Second, you are NOT a child. You cannot learn as fast as they do. And there is an even greater obstacle: You already have at least one language firmly installed into your brain. An old dog CAN learn new tricks, but there’ll be blood, sweat and a lot of yowling involved.

Any new language will, inevitably, be filtered through the linguistic framework that is already firmly imprinted into your hard-as-dried-window-putty grey matter; your adult mind is irreversibly “contaminated”, it will never revert to its pliable, pristine, virgin state. Besides grappling with unfamiliar grammatical structures, you’re highly unlikely to ever reproduce the full register of sounds. In other words, no matter how good you get, you’ll be speaking your second language with an accent, even if it’s only a residual, barely noticeable one.

Expecting an adult to acquire language in the same way a young child does is like expecting a frog to sprout a fifth leg. Well, bad news: that leathery old croaker is no longer a nimble little tadpole. And neither are you. And that’s that. That new leg will have to be a strap-on.

OldFrog

Grain of truth: There is something to be said for copying native speakers conscientiously, learning the appropriate language for a given situation and, above all, not overthinking things. A capital advantage, that very young children have, is that they do not question, they just accept. (Well, actually, kids DO ask a lot of questions from a certain age, but those are mainly to do with their surroundings). An adult language learner would do well take a leaf out of their book and not get bogged down in examining every single idiomatic expression in minute detail. “But it’s NOT logical!” is not an argument you can ever throw at a language and expect to win. Nor are you likely to hear it from a toddler.

“Start speaking the language from day 1”

Nice idea.

Now back to reality: You cannot launch into a conversation if all you have is two dozen words and no clue how to string them into an intelligible sentence. Most people need a great deal more input and many hours of conscious listening before they are confident enough to actually speak. There is nothing wrong with that.

And, even more importantly: there is nothing whatsoever wrong with YOU if you don’t feel much like talking in the early stages. In fact, the most accomplished foreign language speakers I know are reluctant speakers who took their time before starting to verbalise their thoughts.

Grain of truth: Your mouth actually needs to practise making those new sounds, and the earlier the better. It’s no good just listening and thinking the words. Some people even practice with themselves in front of a mirror. I’ve not tried this, but I can imagine that it might actually work. You need to say the words out loud, repeat what you hear, and, whenever possible, be corrected by a native speaker. It’s just that I would not really class these early attempts of parroting words and phrases as “speaking the language”, but this is how certain language courses market themselves.

“Don’t translate – just think in the language!”

The rationale behind this little gem of ill-conceived tripe is as follows: Thinking first of what you want to say in your own language and then translating it into the target language takes an aeon. Hence, if you just ditched that time-consuming first part, you’d be virtually fluent straight away!

Let me give you an analogy: A management consultant is called in to make an airline more efficient. The objectives are to save on fuel and get the planes to their destinations faster. The consultant analyses all the processes, procedures, inputs and outputs in great detail. Then he puts his conclusion to the senior pilot: “Well, it seems that 60% of your fuel and 30% of your time input goes into take-off and ascent. We need to get rid of these two phases and just focus on cruising.”

You see the flaw in the logic, huh? In order to get cruising in a new language, you first need to get your capabilities up to the right altitude. You cannot possibly start off there. I no longer translate from German to English or from English/German to Spanish or whatever, I just switch. It took me years to be able to do this. I still have to laboriously convert every sodding word into French (since I’m a beginner), and it’s a total bitch.

Grain of truth: You will not speak fluently while you’re still needing to translate every word and every phrase. However, you cannot magically circumvent this phase – that would be a classic case of putting the cart before the horse! Translating in your head does not mean that you are inherently inefficient, stupid, or doing it wrong. You are just at that stage in your learning right now, that’s all.

“Adopt another persona – act like you’re of X nationality”

I remember being quite horrified when I came across this one for the first time. I can’t even think of how it might work in practice without having to cringe. Gallic shoulder shrugs performed by French learners to the point of articular dislocation? Students of German yelling “Jawoll mein Oberst!” at four hundred decibels like in a WW2 movie?

What could “impersonating” someone of another nationality/culture possibly entail if not a rendition of lame stereotypes? If there’s one surefire way of alienating the people whose language you’re trying to learn, then this has got to be it. Humans across the globe, as diverse as their cultural backgrounds may be, do not generally take kindly to fake people, and even less so if they appear to be ridiculing them.

Frenchman

Grain of truth: Once you’ve lived in another country for years, you adopt new mannerisms, hand gestures, facial expressions, cadence and speech rhythms etc. We mirror what we see around us, this happens quite naturally as we gradually adapt to a different social environment. It’s a basic survival mechanism. When a bi/multi-lingual human switches between languages, their way of thinking changes and a different aspect of their personality comes to the fore. It’s not an act. It’s who they are.

“You just pick it up”

It’s a pervasive misconception that all it takes to learn a foreign language is to go and live in a place where the language is spoken, and, hey presto, give it a year or two, you’ll be gabbing away like a native.

Remember, you’re an adult, not a preschooler. Without at least some targeted study of these alien structures, your brain just won’t know what to do with all this confusing information. It’s like seeds bouncing off a parched, unploughed field – in this unreceptive environment, they have nowhere to take root. 

In order to assimilate new input, your brain needs to be taught to recognise, sort and categorise before it can deploy. You actively need to help this process by constructing a whole new set of “boxes” in your mind. New boxes have a habit of arriving in flat-pack format and they turn into a usable facility only by filling them, bit by bit, with new grammar, vocab and idiomatic expressions acquired by focused studying and real-life input working in tandem.

Grain of truth: Immersion rules.

Cake rules, too!

Cake rules even more…

Have you ever been seduced into following some ingenious-sounding language learning advice which absolutely did not work for you? What was it and why did it fail? I’d love to have your feedback 🙂

You may also be interested in my specialist language blog, see here: http://multilingualbychoice.blogspot.com

 

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Language Matters: Gender Benders On The Rampage

If there’s one thing that really vexes native English speakers when embarking on learning a second language, then it’s the curious feature of grammatical gender. The concept that nouns can be feminine, masculine or neuter is most baffling to them. English is one of the few Indo-European languages which do not have gendered nouns. Or, rather, it no longer has them.

Since English is the haughty offspring of an ancient variant of German, it once boasted three genders, just like its parent. But sometime after the Norman conquest, the genders bit the dust. German and French genders were clearly no love match and battled it out until total annihilation.

In my observation, the biggest hurdle for native English speakers is not the existence of grammatical gender per se, but all the mental energy they waste in their futile attempts to find logic in it. So, once and for all: THERE. IS. NO. LOGIC. It’s just like the weather. Or taxes. Or what happens to pairs of socks in the laundry.

It would probably be a bit harsh to imply that native English speakers are the only numpties in this regard. I have witnessed several curious reactions when speakers of a gendered language are confronted, for the first time, with another language whose genders don’t match theirs. I remember one instance, in a Portuguese class a few years ago, when my Spanish classmate, a builder in his early fifties about to start a job in Brazil, was dumbfounded by the discovery that a Portuguese ballpoint pen (caneta) was FEMININE, when, to his mind, pens (bolígrafo in Spanish) were MASCULINE.

“Look, Pablo,” I said, “if it ain’t got a dick or a cunt, how do you know what sex something is?!” (Note to aghast US readers: In Spain, such evocative vocab does not usually cause affront*)

But even this seemingly convincing line of argument has to be approached with extreme caution: In German, for instance, while man (Mann) and woman (Frau) are respectively masculine and feminine, the German word Weib, which is an outdated (and in modern usage a vulgar) term for “woman” closely related to the English “wife” is, in fact, neuter and NOT feminine.

The German word for “girl”, Mädchen, is also neuter, although there is at least some logic to that one, as it’s the diminutive of the (also outdated) feminine noun Maid (maiden), and all diminutives are neuter in German.

And, returning to our colourful vocab once more, it gets even more paradoxical: In Spanish, for example, the aforementioned naughty words for male and female genitalia are feminine and masculine, respectively, not the other way around, as you might expect.

In the native English speaker’s mind, this sort of thing causes mayhem. Let me illustrate: I respond to queries on language learning forums, and a few weeks ago, a Brit had a minor existential crisis over the fact that person (persona) is feminine in Spanish, and that, when referring to himself as a person, he would – shock horror! – turn into a GIRL! Oh, the indignity of it! Just imagine what will happen the day he finds out that the…erm… most masculine of his male parts is a feminine entity in Spanish. At least grammatically speaking.

Taking the genders of nouns in one’s native language to be universal brings some interesting problems. A Spanish friend of mine told me once that he had encountered some toilets in a German restaurant labelled not with the internationally recognised stick man and woman, but instead with a sun and a moon. In German, the sun (die Sonne) is feminine, while the moon (der Mond) is masculine. In Spanish (and all other Romance languages, I believe) it happens to be the other way around. I leave it to you to imagine the rest of the anecdote…

As a native German speaker, the concept of gendered nouns gives me no trouble, but I am nevertheless experiencing a maddening – and unexpected! – predicament.

I speak Spanish fairly well by now and know the genders of most nouns. I cannot, however, for the life of me, get my adjectives and pronouns to consistently agree with my nouns. This is not so much of an issue when the adjective either immediately precedes or follows the noun: una chica gorda, un buen hombre, etc. easy peasy.

But if the adjective or pronoun appear in a different part of the sentence at some distance from noun they refer to, or in another sentence altogether, I find that my brain will often revert to the GERMAN gender rather than the Spanish one, because that’s how genders were first installed on my hard drive.

On some primal level, a table will always be masculine to me rather than feminine as in Romance languages , and, hence, it takes an immense amount of concentration to maintain gender agreement in my Spanish/Portuguese/French sentences. When I’m tired or my attention slips for just a few seconds, my brain will go straight to its native-language default setting – how could it be any other way? Since I’m pedantic to the extreme conscientious in my linguistic exploits, I find this insanely frustrating.

Messing up difficult grammatical constructions and features, such as the subjunctive, is one thing, but coming to terms with the fact that I probably won’t ever be able to get something as basic as adjective-noun gender agreement down to a pat, is, quite frankly, a crippling blow. Just how am I going to get over it?!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ah yes… something like this sure dulls the pain 🙂

[*For those interested in colloquial language, you may enjoy reading about how the most worstest of bad words in the English language is part of everyday parlance in Spain: Language Matters: C-Words of Difference]

 

You may also be interested in my specialist language blog, see here: http://multilingualbychoice.blogspot.com

 

Germans Like It Explicit!

Everyone knows that Germans have a set of rules for everything. And if there’s no official rule consecrated by some recognised authority, then you will usually find detailed “suggestions” not only on HOW to do something, but also WHY.

I spotted this little gem on the notice board in the block of flats where my mother lives, right next to the Hausordnung (house rules):

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Someone’s got a Phd in Laundry Room Physics… 

Translation:

Please note:

The drying of laundry in the basement leads to high air humidity.

This, in turn, causes already semi-dry items of clothing to re-absorb moisture as well as any newly pegged-out washing to dry more slowly.

For this reason we would like ask you, during times of high humidity (i.e. when a lot of washing has been hung out to dry), to open the windows in the drying room for a short duration of time in order to allow the air to circulate.

Please do not forget to close the window again afterwards.

If only the Kyoto Agreement had been drafted by my mother’s landlords, it would never have failed…

Here’s another example of instructive cajoling, fresh from my village green, aimed at the pooch-owning general public:

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Translation: Dog owners – BE CONSIDERATE! Just in case…for now or for later. Pull bag. [Some hooligan has slapped a parody FC Bayern München sticker right across the pictorial guidance, but at least it matches the dispenser’s colour scheme]

 

What gets me is the utterly redundant “just in case… for now or for later”. I mean, not even German German shepherd dogs plant their malodorous pine cones like clockwork every day at the same hour in the same spot. So, if you’re walking your four-legged poop machine and you ain’t got a poop bag and you see a poop bag dispenser, you’d know what to do, right?

I suspect that the company was so proud of its word play, that it just had to get it out there. Let me explain: The word “Fall” in the idiomatic expression Im Falle eines Falles (= just in case, or, literally “in the case of a case”) has another meaning: fall/drop. So, in case something happens to…erm… drop from your dog unexpectedly… ah haha… ha.

As you can tell, I didn’t have to go very far to find both of these examples. They are everywhere. But WHY?! Do Germans really think that their fellow human beings are not smart enough to work these things out for themselves? Or do they just enjoy being patronising?

I think the issue is two-fold. First of all, Germans are, on the whole, a bunch of pragmatic realists. As such, they accept that about a tenth of the populace consists of morons. What Germans do not accept, however, is that those 10% are let off the hook on account of being dimwitted. Therefore, they resort to stating the bleedin’ obvious. On every noticeboard, on every street corner.

The other reason is linked to their compulsive drawing up of rules for everything. Rules have to be pretty watertight, not only for the benefit of the cretins, but also for the 10% situated at the opposite end of the spectrum, namely the very special breed of German Smart Arse (“Klugscheisser”). If a German Smart Arse flouts a rule, their first recourse is to poke their sausage finger at an omission or ambiguity in the rules.

This gives rise to the need for detailled written instructions for even the most common-sense behaviours meant to ease communal living. It’s the German way of creating social pressure for a special sub-species of the German Smart Arse, aka the Lazy Arse Klugscheisser, by obliterating their first line of defence, which usually goes something like this: “Wo steht das?!” (Where does it say that?!).

[For some more Germanalysis, see this post: The German National Character Explained in Three Culturally Loaded Phrases ]

 

 

 

 

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]

soap

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.

 

You may also be interested in my specialist language blog, see here: http://multilingualbychoice.blogspot.com

 

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:

lala

Lalal

“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:

lalla

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!

lala

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]

 

 

I Know I’m In Germany When It’s…VERBOTEN!

We were on another one of our Bavarian city tours yesterday (in Regensburg, more about that in a later post), when my Mum spotted this notice on a door:

"The depositing of free newspapers and advertising in front of the door or the letter boxes is forbidden Violations will be prosecuted! The administrator"

“The depositing of free newspapers and advertising in front of the door or the letter boxes is forbidden.
Violations will be prosecuted! The administrator”

But…

Ha ;-)

Ha 😉

And no, the intrepid violators weren’t the two of us, in case you were wondering…

I’m linking this to travelwithintent’s Look Up, Look Down photo challenge, which, coincidentally, is all about signs this week 🙂

 

How To Be A “Hater” With German Food Phrases

Being totally food obsessed, I’ve long been meaning to concoct a post on German phrases connected to food and drink. As I started compiling them, it struck me that they had one thing in common: they are all depreciative.

I’m not sure what that says about German food culture… but let’s not fixate on that. Instead, let me serve you up a fabulous selection of wholesome German staples, replete with sausages, beer, sauerkraut, mustard and cheese, and show you how to deploy them to put any Teutonic blogger – or commenter! – in their place.

Das ist mir Wurst!
Probably the best translation for this phrase is “it’s all sausage to me!”. What it means is that you just don’t care, that you don’t give a rat’s arse about whatever. Very handy on the interwebs, that one…

Quite recently, this phrase made a quick little dash through the European media. When Austrian performer Tom Neuwirth, who won the Eurovision Song Contest a couple of months ago in the guise of his gender-bending alter-ego Conchita Wurst, was asked about his eclectic choice of stage name, he explained that it was based on the German “Wurst” expression, because, whether boy or girl, it was all the same to him.

OK… he may have been just a smidgen disingenuous (and quite witty) here, because we all know what pops into everyone’s head at the mere mention of the word “sausage”, right?! And on top of that, “Conchita”, which Neuwirth claims he borrowed from a Cuban friend, while being a fairly common first name in the Hispanic world, has a saucy double meaning: “Pussy”.

ConchitaWurst

Meet Ms “Pussy Sausage”. [Photo courtesy of my blogging buddy Debbie, from travelwithintent.com, who accidentally gatecrashed the Austrian artist’s photo shoot in Amsterdam a few months back.]

Das ist nicht mein Bier
“This is not my beer” brings to mind the English expression “It’s not my cup of tea”. However, the meaning is not the same. If a German says that something is not his beer, he’s telling you that, whatever it is, it’s just not his problem. A nifty little phrase, I think, for dissing an irrelevant comment that has nothing to do with a post, and everything to do with the commenter’s own agenda.

The Polish have, I believe, put it like this: “Not my circus, not my monkeys”.

Jemandem das Kraut ausschütten
When you “spill someone’s cabbage”, then something you said or did has seriously pissed them off. Maybe you failed to remove your sock fluff from the apartment block’s communal dryer? Played your antique MC Hammer CD 15 decibels above the permitted noise emission level at 9:25 on a Sunday morning? And no, this won’t just blow over. Germans know how to hold a grudge. I’m afraid, you’ll have to bake a strudel or something to make amends.

What strikes me is that a great number of bloggers and commenters are not only experts in this field, but they are positively lying in wait for somebody to offend them! For some, their cyber success is entirely based on this…erm… “skill”. Luckily, they’ve not found me yet…

Before moving onto the next culinary gem, let’s dwell, just for a minute, on the word “Kraut”. It’s the Brits’ favourite pet name for the Germans, but I’m quite convinced that the majority doesn’t actually know that “Kraut” means “cabbage”.

For those of you ol… mature enough to remember, Germany had a chancellor named Helmut Kohl in the 1980’s (see pic below). “Kohl” is another word for cabbage. Now, if that’s not fodder for a jolly good joke, I don’t know what is, but I never came across any chuckles in the British press about the Chieftain of the Krauts being called “Kraut”. Or did I miss something there…?

OK... looks like somebody DID get the joke.

OK… looks like somebody, at least, did get the joke…

I trust that some of you will have tried “Sauerkraut”, a type of pickled cabbage that serves as the most traditional accompaniment of German pork sausages.  The term, which the nickname “Kraut” was originally derived from, literally means “sour cabbage”.

What has long baffled me is that far more people seem to be familiar with the French term “choucroute”, which is but a screwed up French way of mispronouncing the original German word. I can’t actually get this aberration over my lips, try as I might. And neither should you. I am hereby launching my campaign to re-instate “Sauerkraut” as the only correct way of referring to, well, Sauerkraut! [Note that the “au”, which features twice, should be pronounced like the “ow” in “chowder”, or, for that matter, the “ou” in “sour”. It’s as simple as that.]

Seinen Senf dazugeben
This one’s very important. In fact, any self-respecting hater or troll is an expert on this – it’s their raison d’être.  The expression, which translates as “to add one’s mustard”, means to give one’s opinion, though the implication is that nobody asked for it in the first place. Adding one’s mustard has always been a cherished human pastime, but the internet has taken things to new heights. And lows.

As an aside (ha!), Senf is a quintessential German condiment. Many kinds of sausages and meat products simply CANNOT be eaten without mustard. Germany is home to hundreds… what am I saying… THOUSANDS of different types. And we take our mustard matching much more seriously than picking the right wine.

So ein Käse!
Another staple item in the hater’s toolbox. If you want to deride a German blogger’s reasoning abilities, or just trash a post with one crisp little phrase, you can do so by poo-pooing their precious writings as “cheese”.

This should be of particular interest to Spanish speakers, because when my Spanish friends refer to someone as “being like a cheese” (“¡está como un queso!”), they will usually be drooling over a hunky guy. So, amigas (y amigos), if you’re trying to pull a German, it might be best to steer clear of cheesy pick-up lines.

Du gehst mir total auf den Keks!
“You are totally getting on my nerves!” “Keks” means biscuit or cookie. There’s another, slightly less savoury version of this, where the biscuit is replaced with “Sack”. Sack means sack in both German and English, but it’s also a German colloquial term for scrotum. You get the picture…

Kalter Kaffee
“Cold coffee” is old news. So, when a blogger bores the pants off you with trite statements or an in-depth analysis of last week’s headlines, you can express your dismay by pouring cold coffee into their comment box.

Not what you were expecting? It's a tough life...!

Not what you were expecting? It’s a tough life…!

Incidentally, Germans do like their coffee cold, especially in the summer, when we drink “Eiskaffee”. But watch out: Eiskaffee is NOT iced coffee. Instead of a refreshing coffee slushie, what you’ll get is a caloric missile of coffee laced with at least two scoops of ice cream and a whipped cream & chocolate sauce tower on top. There may even be a Keks or two sticking out. If you’re surly enough to send it back, you’ll run into serious risk of spilling the waiter’s cabbage…

 

 

 

 

[If you want to expand your repertoire of choice German phrases even further, you might enjoy this: The German National Character Explained In Three Culturally Loaded Phrases]

I Spy, I Spy With My Little Eye…

…the curiosities on offer in my local butcher’s.

I bought some rather boring chicken thighs with the intention of making a giant curry, in case anyone’s wondering.

Is it me, or is it looking a bit sheepish...?

Is it me, or is it looking a bit sheepish…?

In case you’ve missed them, here are two more typical local offerings:

 

What’s With The Sailor Suits…?

There can be no doubt: Communion season is just around the corner. For several weeks, the shops in Spain have been displaying a selection of breathtaking outfits:

Communion outfits

If it’s trashy enough, Toledo has it!

I shall not got on about the dresses… though I could (hell, I wore one of these frightful contraptions myself at the tender age of 9!). What struck me were the sailor suits. Only a few months ago, I was watching a popular Spanish TV series set in the 70’s, and the communion boys were strapped into these garments, ready for their first crunch of the sacred wafer. (Though you’re most definitely not allowed to crunch them!). It would seem that the naval theme has not suffered a decline in popularity since then, at least here in Spain.

Rummaging around in my own childhood memories, I don’t recall seeing these when I was shunted through this most Catholic of rituals. My male peers, as far as I remember, just wore ‘normal’ monkey-sized dark suits.

My initial guess was that Bavaria not having a proud (or any kind of) naval tradition may have played a role in the absence of sailor suits, but then, I suddenly remembered that I was in possession of my granddad’s First Communion picture! Here it is:

HIs enormous shoes were most likely borrowed from a grown-up relative.

My Granddad! And the collar most definitely smacks of seafarer’s style, don’t you think? Gotta love the short trousers 😉 This picture must have been taken around 1940. His family was dirt poor, so these enormous shoes were most likely borrowed from a grown-up relative.

I’d love to hear from my readers… are sailor suits (still) popular as formal wear for boys where you live? I’ve just been googling around a bit, and I discovered that Japanese school uniforms frequently feature this style.

Enough about clothes, let’s finish off with some food:

I've posted these bread flowers before, so feel free to ignore them, but look at the advertisement behind: Communion cake! I never one of those, and I'd be sure to remember, believe me... I'd have traded that in for a stupid white dress any day!

I know I’ve posted these magnificent bread flowers once before, but look instead at the advertisement behind: Communion cake! I never got one of those, and I’d be sure to remember, believe me…! I’d have traded my insipid white dress for a succulent cake in a flash!

On the other hand… that cake does look a bit dull and prissy for my taste… (and, at the same time, strangely phallic). (Sour grapes, me…? Nevah!)

In any case, I’ve no real reason for retrospective cake envy, as my birthday cakes  were quite something… here’s the evidence, in case you missed that mouthwatering post with all the bad hair:

70’s/80’s Flashbacks: My Love Affair With Cakes