Verwirrendes Deutsch #1

Where to go from here - Headless businessman with question markHave been pretty quiet on the blog front lately. Don’t ask… but am planning to change this soon. One of my students, Lia Konstantinova, gave me a proper kick up the behind about this and even decided to contribute to my site by writing the first part of a series of possible blog posts about issues that generally confuse German language learners.

So without further ado, here is Number One of “Verwirrendes Deutsch” (Confusing German)

 


Deutsch ist verwirrend! …Nicht wirklich #1

1. All alcoholic beverages are of male gender.
Except for beer – das Bier

der Wein
der Wodka
das Bier

Example:
Zuerst kommt der Wein, dann der Whiskey, danach der Wodka und dazu noch ein Bier… bääh…

2. Lernen vs. Studieren
Lernen – we learn something at school, while studieren – we learn something in the university.

Example:
Friedrich hat sehr gut in der Schule gelernt.
An der Uni dagegen hat er eher schlecht studiert.

3. Passen vs. Passieren
2 more verbs that are being mixed up quite often.
Passieren – to happen, while passento suit, to fit.

Example:
“So was ist mir noch nie passiert!” sagte Hilde
“Mein Lieblingskleid passt mir nicht mehr!”

4. Car brands
All car brands are of male gender in German.

Example:
Günter hat einen alten Opel. Dieter dagegen fährt einen neuen BMW.
Der Mercedes gehört Erich.

Can’t we all just be friends? Well…. no!

friendship“Hey guys, let me introduce you to a good friend of mine: That’s Holger.”

It was one of the first nights out during my first trip to Ireland all those years ago and I was stunned.

Here was this guy I had only met half an hour before over a pint at the bar, who I didn’t know from Adam and who I would likely never see again in my life and the moment he met his buddies he introduced me not just as a “friend” but as a “good friend”.

What had happened? Had I unknowingly unearthed the secret on how to make friends and influence people?

The truth was, of course, much more mundane.

I would soon get to learn that whenever you’re introducing someone here you will invariably introduce them as “friends”…. unless of course they’re family or the big important boss from overseas.

Apart from that: Neighbours, colleagues, acquaintances, sports buddies etc etc. They’re all “friends”.

In actual fact: Dare to introduce someone as anything else but a “friend”, you will soon hear: “What do you mean ‘neighbour’?!? We’re friends!!!!”

Yet, would you really call on any of those folks for help or serious advice if you needed it. Y’know the way you do with friends?

Of course not, but that’s the way language is used in this neck of the woods. It’s a convention and break that convention and you’re at risk of alienating a large number of folks.

In Germany, however, we don’t have any of those issues. Freunde are a very small group of people we tend to trust and be able to rely on. They have become friends over the course of a few years – Germans aren’t exactly known for striking up friendships fast but when they do, they tend to be loyal – so anyone who doesn’t fall into this hard earned category gets their own special group:

Das ist Frau Schmidt, meine Nachbarin.

Kennst du Peter, meinen Arbeitskollegen?

Johanna, darf ich dich der Marianne vorstellen, einer guten Bekannten von mir.

Introductions done this way also make it easier to really put someone and their relationship into proper context.

Below a list of common vocabulary that can be used to introduce someone. The list can easily be extended for whatever special relationship you may have and features both the male and female forms of the nouns.

Rest assured, if you want to introduce someone who plays chess with you regularly, has an allotment next to you or meets up for Dungeons & Dragons all-nighters, we’ll certainly have names for those too.

Oh, and if as a male you introduce a female friend you may want to say eine gute Freundin. The term meine Freundin is generally reserved for a romantic link.

der Freund  – die Freundin (a friend, y’know, a real one!)

der Bekannte – die Bekannte (an acquaintance)

der Nachbar – die Nachbarin (a neighbour)

der Kollege – die Kollegin (a colleague)

der Mitschüler – die Mitschülerin (a fellow pupil in a class)

der Kommilitone – die Kommilitonin (a fellow student in university)

der Sportsfreund – die Sportsfreundin (a buddy from a sports club)

 

 

Supergeil…. the evolution of Germany’s favourite slang word

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EDEKA, Germany’s largest supermarket corporation, has long been known for its conservative ethos. Their ads have never really rocked the boat and have never been anything approaching cutting edge.

As such their current campaign showing a Teutonic Barry White singing the praises of a range of their goods in a somewhat funky style involving the expression “supergeil” has come as a surprise.

See, “geil” is one Germany’s most favourite slang words. Anyone who has ever spent some time there and listened closely would have come across it at some stage. Though for obvious reasons it is not a term you’re going to come across in your regular run-of-the-mill text book.

Most Germans are generally not even aware that going back in time, the term used to initially describe a very bloomy fauna, plants that grew extensively.

That meaning, however, has now been completely eroded and most German native speakers would tell you that in its modern usage it first of all meant, ahem, “horny”.

Boah, gestern abend war ich so was von geil!

From then on the word started describing someone of either sex who is “hot”.

Die Melanie/Der Thomas ist ziemlich geil.

Until it then became a catch all phrase for everything that is “fabulous” or “awesome”.

Wie geil ist das denn? (How cool is that?)

Kickboxing ist echt geil.

Or simply: Geeeeiillllllll!!!!!

It was the 1980s where the word started becoming more and more popular. So much so that a duo of English DJs based in Germany even wrote a song about the word that stayed in the charts for a few weeks.

Note how they even reference variations such as “affengeil” which is similar to Edeka’s “supergeil”. Or if you even want to go a step further: “superoberaffengeil”.

EDEKA’s usage of this word is by far not the first time it was used in popular ad campaigns. In actual fact the German electronic discounter Saturn had a very famous decade-long campaign with the slogan:

Geiz ist geil! (Being stingy is awesome.)

With that slogan, Saturn managed to combine one of Germany’s most eminent conservative social virtues with one of Germany’s hippest fun words

Mind you, given the longevity of the term, it is hardly cutting edge anymore. Deutschland’s yoof has long adapted a range of other terms that may at least for a while remain obscure to most of us adults. After all “Babo” was named the youth word of 2013. (And yes, my sister had no idea what it meant but my nephew did.)

Still though, we all still think that the J. Geils Band had one of the funniest band names of all times.

Who’s the Man? – Introduce yourself (and others)

MeetYou Ich heiße Holger.

Mein Name ist Andrew.

Das ist Susanne.

So far so good.

What about:

Ich bin der Peter.

Das ist die Julia.

THE Peter? THE Julia?

For English speakers this sounds at best strange, at worst awfully pompous, yet this way of introducing yourself is pretty common in Germany and you’ll hear it all the time.

There are absolutely no hidden connotations when using the definite articles “der” or “die” in connection with introductions. They absolutely don’t need to be used but if you come across them don’t be surprised and if you feel like wanting to use them in your own speech: Be my guest.

Just remember:

Das hat mir der Holger gesagt.

Mahlzeit! – Greeting rituals in German

mahlzeitHallo! Guten Morgen! Guten Tag! Guten Abend! Wie geht’s?

Tschüss! Auf Wiedersehen! Bis dann!

All very popular ways of saying “Hello!” and “Good-bye!” in German and probably some of the first few words you had encountered when learning the language.

But what about the likes of….

Mahlzeit!

Ever heard that one?

It is indeed another popular greeting you may occasionally come across.

It literally translates as “meal time” and still carries the general meaning of a dish or a meal.

Hmmm, das ist aber eine leckere Mahlzeit. Yummy, that is a nice meal.

Over the last couple of decades it has also become popular as a greeting when meeting colleagues, friends or family who are sitting down for lunch in a canteen or elsewhere. Kind of like saying “Guten Appetit!” when you are not actually a member of the group of diners and just happen to come across them.

Now it can, however, also be heard as a general informal “Hello!” all day long and is no longer necessarily connected to a meal. I was once working with a guy who used this as his general greeting first thing in the morning when entering the office. Not everyone says it and it’s a matter of personal preference but it is quite popular.

There’s one last additional meaning that the word can have and that is in the context of

Prost Mahlzeit!

This is an ironic term of frustration when a small disaster has just happened in your presence.

Someone drops and smashes some plates on the kitchen floor: Na, prost Mahlzeit!

You heard that you’re all made to do unpaid overtime: Prost Mahlzeit indeed

When someone comes over to a table with a group of people already seated around them, you may notice that they knock on the table while saying “Hallo!”, “Mahlzeit” or whatever greeting of their choice.

See, in Germany it is still customary to shake hands vigorously when meeting folks and parting from them. No problem, when you meet one or two people. A complete nuisance when you’re at a large event:

Get off from your chair, shake hands, say Hello and chat. Sit down.

Then get up again from your chair for the next person to come along, shake hands, say Hello and chat.

Wash, rinse, repeat until you’ve said Hi to everyone at which time the first people will start leaving which will require you to go through the same routine in reverse again to shake hands and say Goodbye.

So the cool kids on the block simply come over to a table with a group of people and say Hello while knocking on the table surface. Everyone can then breathe a sigh of relief knowing that hand shakes will not be required.

Depending on what part of Germany (or indeed Austria or Switzerland) you’re in, you may also come across a number of other regional greetings such as e.g.

Servus!

Grüss Gott!

Grüezi!

As these are dialectal variations it may end up sounding strange if you attempted them without really being strongly connected to that region.

Please be aware that some of those (e.g. “Servus”) can be used for saying both Hello and Goodbye, similar to the Italian Ciao!

Elke Sommer sagt No

Elke SommerKnow “Schlager”, know Germany.

Love’em or hate’em but the much maligned Schlager” are an integral part of German life.

The term (der Schlager, plural: die Schlager) describes nothing else but a German pop song. It’s the style of music that for English native ears sounds decidedly Eurotrashy but that for millions of Germans has been the soundtrack of their lives. Even if you end up rebelling against it at a later stage – Believe me, I’ve tried! – these addictive ditties easily become a part of you that is impossible to shake off.

The good news for German learners is that these songs by and large operate with a relatively simple vocabulary that is generally sung very clearly and with a catchy rhythm and melody that makes the lyrics easy enough to remember.

There are countless examples for this type of song and Elke Sommer’s ICH SAGE NO is by far not the most popular but I like the way this YouTube video integrates the German lyrics with a collage of her photos.

Sommer is not generally known as a singer but as part of the post-war “Fräuleinwunder” was one of the few German actresses who have managed to create something of an international career for herself. She acted opposite Paul Newman (The Prize) and Peter Sellers (A Shot in the Dark), appeared in a number of TV shows (The Six Million Dollar Man, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island), was in Carry on Behind and in two films by Italian genre master Mario Bava but my overall favourite performance of hers was as one of a duo of sexy female killers in Deadlier than the Male, the best James Bond movie to not feature James Bond but instead focus on bikini clad vixens who emerge out of the ocean and murder by harpoon.  (Check this YouTube clip to get an idea what I am talking about.)

 

 

 

 

 

Feeling blue?

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Interesting how connotations can change in different languages.

Though the colour blue does indeed translate as “blau”, this colour is associated with different emotional states in both languages.

“Blau sein” means being drunk. “To be blue”, however, can be translated as “traurig/melancholisch sein”.

Der Peter war gestern wieder einmal ziemlich blau. (Peter was pretty drunk again yesterday.)

Heute fühle ich mich ein wenig melancholisch. (I am feeling a little bit blue today.)