Denglish 95: My German Wife Gets Stuck in Traffic, Struggles Adorably to Pronounce the English Letter ‘J’

Germans hate travel delays. Hate them. This is because they belong to a culture in which efficiency is prized above all other aspects of society. In Germany, efficiency is king; a cold, unfeeling despot sitting atop a mountain of dead alarm clocks high above the heads of lesser priorities, such as passion, hope or basic human enjoyment of life.

For a German, it’s all about getting from point A to point B, and anything holding up this process is to be regarded with weaponized contempt. Late flights, tardy buses and delayed subway trains drive them absolutely bugshit. And traffic jams? Oh God, traffic jams will rocket their emotional state all the way from Eerily Stoic to Nuclear Wrath.

On an important side note: In German, the letter ‘J’ is pronounced like the English letter ‘Y’ (e.g. ‘John’ becomes ‘Yohn,’ and ‘Jazz’ becomes ‘Yazz.’)

This is why, back in Portland, Oregon, as my wife was attempting to drive west on I-84 during rush hour, she sent me the following photograph and angry text message:

Traffic on Interstate 84 in NE Portland, OregonTHE WIFE: “I am today in a very bad traffic yam!”

Click here to learn more about the term “Denglish.”

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20 thoughts

  1. Oh yams. What are you doing playing in traffic? Get back in the oven with the brown sugar and marshmallows! (Can you tell it’s holiday casserole time in the Midwest?)


  2. While I can’t speak to the Germans’ particular distaste for traffic yams, I can honestly say that, despite having heard of “German efficiency” virtually my whole life, I’m continually amazed at how INefficient I’ve found things to be here (at least in Berlin). True, for the most part, the trains run on time — brutally so — but other than that, I continually find myself stunned at the overall inefficiency of everything else. For example, it took us 6 weeks to get our phone/Internet installed. In addition to it taking forever for the tech to come out in the first place, there were 2 problems that required him to come out a total of 3 times: (1) our flat was refurbished just before we rented it and someone (presumably the electrician who installed the lights) somehow thought it would be a good idea to just cut some wires that he didn’t need to complete his work (yep – those were our in-house phone wires); (2) the telco tech who had hooked up service for the previous tenant had used the wrong color wires and only by doing what was the opposite of the standard operating procedure for connecting service was the telco tech who installed our service able to get OUR service up and running. (And, fortunately, OUR telco tech was a “loose cannon” because HE actually tried something that was contrary to standard operating procedure — but I think he was Turkish. Yet another reason why I love the Turks, in addition to their making available the stuff of which hot (scharf) foods can be prepared.) Or another example is our grandson’s school. The kids have lockers at school. The lockers have locks so, theoretically, they kids could leave most of their books at school each night and take home only the books they need for that night’s homework. Nope. That’s not allowed. They can only use the lockers for their coats and boots during the day and EVERY afternoon they must take home EVERY school book they have. Bear in mind that this applies to first graders (and the lower grades in the school in general) and that these loaded book-bags weigh at least 20 pounds and most kids get to school by public transportation or walking. And if you’re a parent (or grandparent) taking your kid (or kidS!) back and forth to school, you have the joy of lugging these things throughout the city. The 6th graders, however, CAN leave their books in their lockers. In other situations, it’s hard to tell whether the absence of the concept of “customer service” is at the heart of inefficiency. Nonetheless, after almost 4 years here, “efficiency” is not a word I still associate with “Germans.”


  3. ROFL—I have a friend who insists I am, in some sense, German. She might have a point..I feel exactly the same way about efficiency and traffic ‘yams’. I live in a place infamous for really crummy traffic jams, and yes, I often wish there was a nuclear option I could employ!


  4. A bank president was walking through the lobby early one morning before the bank was open, and stopped to find a teller busily counting the cash in his drawer.

    “My,” said the executive, “I admire your dedication, young man. ” Where were you educated?”

    “Yale,” said the teller.

    “Well, that’s fine,” replied the president. I’ll be watching your career with interest. What’s your name?”

    Came the reply: “Yim Yohnson.”


  5. I remember my confusion when a German penpal I had as a child wrote about the mysterious “Sowjets” in West Berlin. (“Soviets”, for those unfamiliar with German orthography!)

    When I was stationed in Germany in the early 1970s, I recall reading in “Stars & Stripes” newspaper about a highway duel between two Germans. One was in a Porsche, the other in a top of the line Mercedes Benz.

    One would speed up behind the other in the passing lane, flashed his 10 zillion candle powers worth of passing lights in the other guy’s rear view mirror, forcing him to move over so the flasher could speed ahead of him on the Autobahn. The guy forced to move over was in a known-to-be-faster car.

    Then the guy flashed to move over (pissed that his car was presumed slower and unworthy of the speed lane when the flasher was in it) returned the favor to the flasher, making him move over so the guy he flashed could speed ahead of him on the Autobahn.

    After several kilometers of this duel of egos, the first flasher stopped at a Parkplatz (to clear his underwear???!). The other guy noticed this and stopped behind him in the Parkplatz, got out of his car, and shot him dead!

    As I recall, the shooter (the guy who was flashed first) was a millionaire, but I don’t think that had as much to do with his acquittal as the perfectly normal German sense of the rightness of shooting and killing a guy who didn’t show good lane discipline by irritating the fellow with the known-to-be-faster car! .


  6. I think she got that right. Because I cannot fathom what lovely, yummy jam has to do with sitting in your car in the rain with no hope of getting home anytime soon. Frohe Weihnachten for you and the wife.


  7. strange that the German word “Stau” found it’s way into the American vocabulary as if this were only a German phenomenon


  8. I have to admit traffic jams happen all over the world – and even though the “Yam” made me giggle I’m quite tempted to say: they have them here in Switzerland too – and most people cussing about them are: Germans! I’m not really sure why? But while I learnt, during the time living here, that I should calculate plenty of time to get from Point A to Point B, in case of a traffic “yam” coming up, that Germans seem to think when they are leaving the house, everyone else has to “disappear” and/or get out of their way… It does irritate me sometimes.
    My Dad’s former work colleague, even though I admire him and love him like an uncle, he has the same problem. And when I mentioned my suspicion to him once, he laughed and said: “Maybe you’re right girl”.


  9. This hate of all things late has rubbed off on the Belgians too then. In Belgium one must be “stipt” which means punctual. Don’t even try to be a minute late! This will unfold in you having to make a new appointment. You may also not arrive 10 minutes early! That’s simply crazy-crackerjack-nutso. Why would you arrive early if your appointment is at 10:00?


  10. Lol dude. You just made my day. I was raging about this and that in Germany till I found your blog. And wallah I have a fresh perspective. Cheers!


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