Tag Archives: Cultural Differences

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”.


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

Bake? Me?! Not In A Million Years!!! …Frankenkipferl, Anyone?

I EAT baked goods not MAKE them. Everybody knows this. And I stick to my principles.

But my resolve buckled on Saturday, when my friend Lorena asked if I wanted to come over to make Vanillekipferl with her. Those are one of the many kinds of traditional German Christmas biscuits referred to as Plätzchen, and it is every German female’s patriotic duty to churn out 100 trays of them between December 1st and Christmas Eve. If you fail to do this, and, God forbid, you are a mother, your children will be taken away from you.

Anyway, back to the story. I’ve never made Plätzchen in my life, except, of course, with my mother when I was little, and the irony of being roped into this quintessentially Teutonic seasonal pursuit by a Spanish friend wasn’t lost on me.

Enough butter for a quick heart attack before dinner...?

Enough butter for a quick heart attack before dinner…? Flour, sugar and ground almonds are all that’s needed besides.

Lined up like little soldiers, ready for the oven...

Lined up like little soldiers, ready for the oven…

Now, just to show you what the finished article is meant to look like:

Pro Kipferl

And this is how our long-laboured-over creations emerged from the oven:

Oooops... more slug than kipferl shaped...

Oooops… more like steamrollered slugs than kipferl … but hey, it’s not like I didn’t warn Lorena about my Medusa’s touch with anything kitchen-related

A generous shovelful of vanilla sugar certainly helps to hide their imperfections....

A generous shovelful of vanilla sugar helped a great deal to hide our mutants’ imperfections… almost appetising, you have to admit!

Never mind aesthetics, on the taste front, they were a 10 out of 10 🙂

May I Introduce: My Life Stage Companion… (?!)

Germans, on the whole, say it how it is. Feel free to ask them any kind of question, but be prepared… they will serve it up to you, that answer, straight, raw and brutal.

German thinking is analytical and methodical, and the language reflects this, at the expense of sugar coating. Last week, we had a lively discussion on Duolingo, a free language learning site, about how best to introduce your significant other to a third party.

Generally – and this issue exists in English as well as in German – once you’re well into adulthood, referring to somebody you’re in a long-term relation ship with as your “boyfriend/girlfriend” has a rather juvenile ring to it. And if you’re not married, you can’t resort to the convenient husband/wife label.

Well, just like in English, it’s perfectly acceptable to refer to your other half as your “Partner”, or your “Lebensgefährte”. The latter, literally translated, means “life companion”. “Lebenspartner” is also a common term.

You’d think this was pretty much the end of the story, but German, in its relentless quest for precision, wasn’t quite satisfied with this. After all, modern relationship patterns take many forms, and it is quite common for people of all ages to periodically change their partners.

And so, German, with its great propensity to forge new words the length of the Great Wall of China in order to achieve accuracy, came up with this beauty of a compound noun: “Lebensabschnittsgefährte.”

Now, we already know that the first part of this means “life” and the last part “companion”. The interesting component is the bit wedged in between, namely “abschnitt”, which signifies “segment” or “stage”.

GrtWallChinaWhen I left Germany in 1991, this whopper of a word had not yet infiltrated common usage, and so I had to check with a friend whether, perhaps, it was chiefly used to refer to a past partner one had spent a significant chunk of one’s life with. I mean, “life stage partner” sounds so much less flippant and dismissive than “the ex”, doesn’t it?

But no. It is actually deployed to introduce one’s current consort: “Hi, this is Bobbins, my life stage companion”.

And you are meant to say this while your beloved is standing right next to you.

I must admit, I do, in theory, quite like the life-stage-partner concept. As we grow and develop, our outlook on life and our interests change, and, as I’m sure most of you would agree, we’d rather be with a person who encourages us in our current endeavours (and vice versa), rather than feeling perpetually stifled by having to accommodate someone who’s no longer on the same page as us. In reality, though, I’m not sure I’d actually be all that thrilled to be officially designated “temporary partner” status, regardless of how either one of us happened to perceive the relationship.

I’d love to have some input on this… is there an equivalent term for “life stage companion” in your language(s)?

Also, since I haven’t lived in Germany for quite some time, I’ve not really heard this word being flung about a real life context. If you happen to reside there, do you know people who use it and how does this tend to go down…?


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



Expat 101: How To Give Everyone Culture Shock

If the blogs are anything to go by, we expats are in a perpetual state of culture shock. It’s one harrowing experience after another – waiters don’t smile back at us, there’s hamster paws sticking out of our stir fry, one’s gophers keep ringing the doorbell at all hours for irritating reasons like returning a pile of freshly starched shirts.

And it doesn’t all end when the expat eventually returns to the homeland, oh no. There’s the much talked about phenomenon of reverse-culture shock, when people, after a prolonged period of absence, discover that they don’t neatly slot into their native culture anymore. It’s all very distressing.

How the hell, you might wonder, do expats stay sane?

I’m about to tell you. It’s a well-guarded secret that nobody ever talks about, not even on the blogs. ESPECIALLY not on the blogs.

Culture shock is like an electric current that constantly whooshes through our insides, torching our mental and physical wellbeing. To stop this beast from killing us off, we have to try and discharge some of it by zapping an unsuspecting victim.

Just about anyone will do, but by far the best targets are found among a particularly hapless group commonly referred to as ‘The Locals’. (By Locals I mean people who have not left their country of origin for any significant amounts of time, besides annual holidays or the occasional business trip.)

Individual talent for dispersing culture shock waves varies considerably, of course, but by rule of thumb, the expats harbouring the most virulent strains are those who have spent more time outside of the country that issued their passport than within it. Their power is further amplified by the number of countries they have lived in, and also by how old (read: young) they were when they left.

So, how do you go about offloading a hefty dose of culture shock? One highly effective way is to scramble your conversation partner’s conversational “script” from the get-go.

All Locals have firmly embedded, pre-existing scripts to help them deal with The Great Unknown, which, needless to say, includes foreigners. When confronted with such a specimen, the first question will inevitably be, “Where are you from?”

You answer will trigger a set of script responses. For instance, when I first moved to the UK, the initial reply to “I’m German”  would invariably be countered with, “I have a brother/cousin/ex-window cleaner who’s stationed at [insert name of British Army base somewhere in Germany]”.

Now, I have never seen or been to an army base in my life. These places, as far as I’m aware, are inhabited by a barely literate species typically referred to as  ‘Squaddies’ who only leave the grand hive in search of…erm… certain services that can’t be provided by their fellow drones.

Subsequent script lines would pertain to the Oktoberfest, German cars and, of course, beer. At one point, I seriously considered writing out a set of flash cards with the answers and handing them out on social occasions, with the words, “please read these. Once you’re done, can we talk about something interesting, pleeeeease”.

Well, I was a mere novice back then, but I’ve learnt a thing or two since. For example, that it’s far more fun to throw something at The Local that completely corrupts their script. So, one could say, for instance, “I have a French passport, but I’ve never actually lived in France. I grew up in Norway, went to University in the States, and then I worked on Asian oyster farms for fifteen years.” (Though my own script busters are much less adventurous than that).

For a few long seconds, The Local will assume the semblance of a fish pulled onto dry land, momentarily robbed of the ability to blink, their mouths gaping as if trying to suck in air through their paralysed gills. You can almost make out the cogs spinning behind their glassy little eyes, bashing against their square little brain cells in the desperate hope of extracting a viable comeback. But it’s too late. The contagion has taken hold and a short circuiting event is imminent.

It’s not only The Locals who make suitable targets, but also fellow expats, especially those fresh off the boat. Long-term expats’ accents, for example, can be a great source of confusion. In my case, I get mistaken for a Brit. NOT by actual Brits, I hasten to add, they can tell, but everybody else, including Americans, Australians, etc, are routinely taken in. I do get a modicum of amusement out of that, I must admit.

Once, on a flight to Miami, a Central American lady mistook me for being Spanish. I have no idea how that could possibly have happened (a lot of engine noise??), but it sure cheered me up. On the flip side, I’m sometimes told that my German is really quite good…

But anyway, these “linguistic perks” that are part of the long-term expat package provide a fun opportunity of changing nationality for an evening, enjoy a novel set of script questions (yipeeeeh!), and then, if so desired, go full throttle for the killer reveal.

So, are any of you bored stiff by having the same cliché questions and trite topics flung at you over and over again? What are your least favourite subjects? I might do a separate post on this, so I’m hunting for ideas…

Only In Spain: A Trolley Load Of Trotters

So, yesterday morning, on my way to breakfast with the archaeologists, I passed by my local deli. And did a double take 😉

They were getting in a fresh supply of hams. Note the delivery guy with clipboard, his van’s just behind me.

Ham deliveryHere’s another pic, where you can actually see the interior of the shop, with the hams dangling above the counter.

Ham deliveryThere have been a lot of ham-themed posts lately… just can’t get away from them!