Tag Archives: German Language

Culture Shock 8: How to Out Yourself as an American in Germany (In 2 Seconds or Less)

Sometime in November of 2012, The Wife and I ventured into the university district of Hannover known as Nordstadt. Nordstadt is home to Leibniz University, where watery-eyed nerds go to study science and engineering. (And I bet they eat a ton of Döner Kebabs too. German nerds love Döner Kebabs.)

We found several pubs around the university and settled into one called Gaststätte Kaiser. The word ‘Kaiser’ immediately brought to mind Keyser Söze from The Usual Suspects… and also a round, soft bread roll with a crisp crust. (Delicious!)

The waitress approached our table and I attempted to order beers for myself and my wife. What follows is our interaction if you were to translate everything — directly and literally — into English:

ME: “A pretty evening to you. We here… I mean, the us, would very gladly have two massive pilsner beers.”

WAITRESS: *Smiling* “Two, one-liter beers?”

ME: “Oh God. Um… yes. Stop. I meant one, one-liter beer to me, and a half of a one-liter beer to my German wife.”

WAITRESS: *Giggling* “Okay.”

*The waitress then turned, very obviously, toward my wife.*

WAITRESS: “Would you like anything to eat with that?”

THE WIFE: “Not just yet, thank you.”

Now, the waitress understood me just fine, yet she asked my wife if we wanted anything to eat. Clearly I had outed myself as someone not fluent in German. Perhaps I’d even identified myself specifically as an American, with my accent and proudly displayed ‘Oh God, My Wife Is German.’ t-shirt acting as indicators. But what I really wanted to know was, at exactly what moment — which word or gesture — had given me away.

So, I marched my sweet Yankee butt cheeks right up to the bar and asked her. She replied in English, and explained I had ordered ‘pilsner'; the students in Nordstadt simply order ‘pils.’ Nice, I thought to myself. It was a cultural outing, not a linguistic one.

I returned to our table and shared this bit of insight with my wife. She agreed with the assessment of the waitress, but went on to further explain the reasons for my outing:

THE WIFE: “You pause before you speak German. Like, you take a deep, long breath, and hesitate. Then you speak very deliberately, very slowly, so people think, ‘Is he retarded, or just foreign? Oh, foreign.’ “

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Denglish 55: My German Wife Recommends a Swift Cleansing of the Genitals

My wife and I are still in that stage of our relationship where we enjoy showering together. You know the one I’m talking about; that nauseatingly sweet period of time in which you are perfectly willing to stand outside the spray of warm water, shivering to death in the cold, while your significant other takes her sweet-ass time rinsing some weirdo raspberry and Brazil nut conditioner out of her hair.*

However, we don’t always have time for these kinds of sexy, slow-motion Hollywood showers that totally happen in real life. Sometimes we barely even have time to wash ourselves at all, which plays hell with our hygiene and my wife’s English vocabulary:

THE WIFE: “Remember, we will also shower later, so for now we should just wash our testicles.”

*My wife would like our readers to know she does not use any such “weirdo” hair conditioners as the one to which I alluded above; she uses whichever brand is cheapest and “stinks like hell the least.” My wife would also like our readers to know she does not have testicles.

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Denglish 54: My German Wife Answers Nature’s Call in Washington D.C.

During the long-distance portion of our relationship, The Wife and I flew several times between Frankfurt, Germany and Portland, Oregon in order to see one another. My wife has flown into every international airport in America, so she’s quite the travel veteran, but there’s no getting around the fact that the distance between Frankfurt and an airport like Washington Dulles is over 4000 miles — or approximately 9 hours of flight time — and that is a very long wait when you don’t like going poo poo on airplanes. So, during one such trip, as my wife was trying to make her connecting flight in D.C., she sent me the following text message:

THE WIFE: “I need to use the bathroom. I will first go through security and then I will lay my egg.”

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Denglish 53: Proper German Conduct for Hawaiian-Themed Bars

Back in February of 2011, The Wife decided to join me for my German class at Portland Community College (PCC). We had a few hours to kill before class, so we stopped at a Hawaiian-themed karaoke bar on North Interstate called Alibi, where I ordered a big, steaming pile of macaroni salad. Immediately, I began complaining about the food and the fact that I didn’t feel like going to German class that night, which earned me the following rebuke:

THE WIFE: “Don’t be a dick in a tiki bar.”

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Denglish 50: The German Renames a Famous Scotsman

One weekend in August, The Wife and I put a Netflix movie into our DVD player and settled onto the couch as the trailers began. The first one was for some silly re-release of the Star Wars prequels, in which Scottish actor Ewan McGregor is seen prancing about with his glowing lightsaber at full salute.

THE WIFE: “What is his name? George McGuire?”

ME: “Yes.”

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Denglish 49: The German Evaluates an Ugly American Baby

Ugly Baby with Elephant Stuffed Animal

“KUATO LIVES” – Image courtesy of http://www.motherblogger.ca

Sometime in July of 2011, The Wife and I were enjoying a beer at Crow Bar on North Mississippi. We were sitting near the windows overlooking the sidewalk, when a woman pushing a stroller stopped in front of us. She held a cell phone in her free hand and spoke very loudly into it, in that special way which lets everyone within earshot know she’s kind of a big deal. The baby contained inside the stroller was equally hideous; waving its sticky little meat hooks in the air like a boiled lobster. My wife stared at the baby for a moment, looked up at its mother, then turned to me…

THE WIFE: “Her child looks just like her, which is not a present.”

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For another laugh (and the source of the image above), check out Ugly Baby Alert on Mother Blogger, by Vicki Combden Murphy. And don’t worry — her baby is much cuter now.

Denglish 48: The German Discovers Dave’s Killer Bread

As you may have guessed, my wife is German. And as a German, she has a powerful taste for hearty bread — tough, dark and heavy — with as many seeds crammed into it as humanly possible. She calls it her, “Seedy Bread,” and during the summer of 2011, she discovered a whole new brand: Dave’s Killer Bread. She loves all of Dave’s Killer Breads, including Good Seed, Powerseed and Good Seed Spelt, but her absolute favorite is their seed-covered mini-baguette* (depicted). While at a Fred Meyer supermarket in Northeast Portland, I pointed to one of these baguettes and asked what she thought it was called, to which she replied…

THE WIFE: “It is a peace stick.”

*The Peace Bomb Mini-Baguette from Dave’s Killer Bread

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Denglish 24: What Do You Call A Flip Book (Stop Motion Animation) in German?

I once described flip books to my wife; an animation method using sequential pictures drawn on pads of paper. By flipping each page in rapid succession, you can create simple, 2D movies. She had this to say about it:

THE WIFE: “It is like Thumb Kino!”

(Apparently, “kino” means “cinema” in German.)

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An Initial Impression of the German Language: Gender-Based Nouns Are Just Awful

german-language-gender-based-articles-funny-flag

“Der, die, das? …NEIN.” — Photo by fdecomite (http://www.flickr.com/photos/fdecomite/)

I have something to say to all of the German people on this planet. All of them.

Your gender-specific nouns are unnecessary.

Look, I love the German language — I really do. In fact, I am trying to learn it just as hard as I can. However, I am absolutely baffled as to why your nouns must have genders, and why these genders must be expressed through articles. Oh, and your nouns aren’t just masculine or feminine either; they can also be neutral (or “neuter,” as it is castratingly spelled in German). Next, you add indefinite articles and negations to the mix — also subject to these 3 genders — plus the 4 cases (Nominative, Genitive, Dative and Accusative), and suddenly you’ve given me over 16 different ways to show an entire country full of people I have the linguistic prowess of a mason jar.

It’s hard enough to memorize the nouns of a foreign language — must I also memorize entirely random genders associated with them? “Oh look, a bird!” No no, that’s not just a bird; that’s a male bird (der Vogel). “Wow, I’m talking to a know-it-all genius!” Nope; that’s a neutral genius (das Genie). “How strange. Is this a gun I am suddenly pointing at you?” Foolish American, that’s a female gun (die Pistole).

People of Germany, I must conclude your articles were designed specifically to confuse and embarrass me. That said, I will continue to learn your language, but I will do it the American way; with turdcutter stubbornness and deep-fried, ham-fisted bravado.

Mark Twain wrote the ultimate bitchfest on the German Language. Check out his essay, The Awful German Language, and witness the true master at work.