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)

 

 

Heftromane – Pulp Fiction German Style

Perry RhodanOne of the most important aspects of learning German (or any other language) is total immersion. Whenever possible surround yourself with German texts, music, sounds, advertisement etc.

Of course, having the appropriate literature at your disposial can be challenging when your German skills are not quite as evolved yet.

You may want to upgrade from reading children’s stories but don’t have the skill set yet to approach Thomas Mann’s ZAUBERBERG. So what to read next?

Well, one thing you could try is to start reading Heftromane. Heftroman loosely translates as “novel published as a small booklet” and denotes nothing else but the German equivalent of the “pulp novels”.

These days they generally clock in at around 64 pages. They’re published weekly and are written in normal but not too demanding German which makes them good for intermediate learners. The downside: They are usually only on sale in German railway stations and newsstands and difficult to get outside of Germany.

lassiterThey come in a variety of different genres so there’s something for everyone Crime (Krimi), Horror, SciFi, Fantasy and “Arztromane” (romance novels set amongst doctors) for the ladies. Just don’t expect high literature.

Prior to being known as a Heftroman they were also called Groschenroman (i.e. a “dime novel”). A Groschen in pre-Euro days meant 10 Pfennig and referred to the initial cost for the small books. These days the term is anachronistic (they cost more and the currency is no longer around), but it is still my favourite term for that genre though most everyone else now uses the term Heftroman.

The modern form of the Groschenroman goes back to the 1950s and up to this day dozens of series are still around. These novelettes as a general rule are published weekly on cheap paper in A5 format that easily fits into even the smallest pockets. They are generally around 60+ pages long and can easily be read within a short space of just 1-2 hours. Given that they are not published in the more common paperback or hardcover formats, they cannot be found in general book stores, but instead need to be purchased in news agencies and are most widely available in train stations where the low costs, the special material as well as the short reading period makes them ideal reading material for an average train journey.

jerry cottonThey cover a range of genres. One of the most popular is a long running Sci Fi saga called Perry Rhodan that has story arcs that last 100 issues, so you do want to be around for the long run for this one. Most other series, however, have self contained stories in each issue. Jerry Cotton is a popular FBI action Krimi that has been around for about 3000 issues at this stage.

Other genres include Western (Lassiter), War (Der Landser) and Fantasy (Mythor). At some stage you were even able to find some Trucker novels (Trucker-King)! And in case you now think that reading those novels is primarily a guy thing: There are also a bunch of series around that are clearly addressed towards a female readership with romance as well as Doctor or Heimat novels. The latter being a typical German genre, saccharine sweet weepies set in alpine landscapes full of lederhosen and dirndl clad characters.

Groschenromane are often written anonymously or from German language authors with an English pseudonym to give these series a more international appeal. The publishing houses generally insist on some very strong and detailed guide lines and writing codes. The authors are never anything less than prolific.

arztromanGiven these restrictions and the high output the overall result is less sophisticated than other literary genres and the language appeals to a wide range of audiences who just want to be entertained on a train journey or after a dreary day at the office. They are also at times quite endearingly Germanic in their inability to properly describe the English or American Way of Life.

All of this makes them a great entry drug for the determined language learner who wants to dip his or her toes into some prose but who may not yet be ready to venture into more difficult material.

 

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As it happens, the Thalia Verlag is offering a free download of one their most popular titles: Wolfgang Hohlbein’s AUF DER SPUR DES HEXERS. (You will need to register with them.)

Browse even further and you will discover a range of other complimentary downloads on their website, some Heftromane others regular novels.

Current editions of JERRY COTTON in eFormat are available here. That website also has a range of other Heftromane available for download. (You can search by title or genre.)

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!

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.)

For Pete’s sake….

danger

Ah, those nasty prepositions……

Did you ever want to translate “for” but weren’t too sure whether to use the German “für” or “vor”….. just to discover the answer was neither but something completely different?

The trouble with this one is that sometimes “for” does indeed translate as “für” (or indeed “vor”) but often it doesn’t. A whole booklet could be written just about the pitfalls of translating prepositions in general but “for” in particular stands out as one of the chief offenders. With the limited amount of space we have available here, just a few words of advice.

As a general rule of thumb: Anytime you need to translate “for”, make sure you take a quick mental step back to ensure that you really pick the correct translation in this case.

In a lot of instances the term is used in connection with time:

I’ve been waiting here for the last ten minutes.

In this situation we first of all use “seit” in German and instead of the English perfect tense we use the German present tense:

Ich warte hier seit zehn Minuten.

“Seit” is used to mark the beginning of an event and therefore roughly translates as “since”. Some other examples:

Seit Weihnachten rauche ich nicht mehr. (I haven’t smoked since Christmas.)

Seit 1995 lebe ich in Irland. (I’ve been living in Ireland since 1995.)

On top of the choice of words, it is also very easy to confuse the tenses. Remember: the German perfect tense is used predominently in spoken language to express a past that is dead and gone.

Ich habe letztes Jahr mein Abitur gemacht. (I passed my Abitur/Leaving Cert last year.)

The English perfect tense on the other hand refers to something that started in the past but is continuing into the present: In the example above, the speaker started waiting ten minutes ago and continued to wait until now. And for that we use the present tense in German.

Did I just write “ten minutes ago”?

If we were to translate this expression we would use “vor”:

Ich habe Maria vor zehn Minuten gesehen. (I saw Maria ten minutes ago – German perfect tense! – but now she is gone.)

In English we also use “for” to describe the length of time something took, e.g. “I lived in Germany for three years.”

In that instance we would generally translate this as “[length of time] lang”.

Ich habe drei Jahre lang in Deutschland gewohnt.

We also use “vor” when we mean “in front of” with regards to locations.

Das Auto steht vor dem Haus. (The car is in front of the house.)

There are also lots of other expressions where we use either “vor” or “für” in German but do not use “for” in English (e.g.“vor etwas Angst haben” – to be afraid of something) so caution must always prevail whenever any of these prepositions are coming out of the woodworks.