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)

 

 

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!