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Hilarious German Idioms

If you have been learning a foreign language for a while, the following scenario might sound strikingly familiar: you are reading a book or carrying out a conversation, and suddenly a bizarre expression comes up. You know all the words, but their combination doesn’t make any sense.

Well, the good news is that your language skills are solid enough to understand literal meanings. The even better news is that you are ready to move to the next level: the fascinating realm of idioms! 1

Idioms are established word combinations that have a figurative meaning 2. They are vastly used in everyday conversation and rely on language devices 3 to describe something more vividly and paint a more colorful, striking picture. And let’s be honest: some idioms are pretty amusing. Which is why today you are in for a treat: a cartoonized compilation of hilarious German idioms.

Here we go, hold on to your seats!Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, lustige RedwendungenAre you going through a rough patch or a harsh situation? In German, you can use the very visual idiom “I’m sitting in the ink”. Sounds messy, doesn’t it?

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, Redewendungen, WurstPretty much like Germany cuisine, the repertoire of German idioms is fairly smeared in sausages. “That is sausage to me” conveys in a very colloquial manner that you couldn’t care less about something. Legend has it that this expression originated among butchers, who – uncertain of what to do with slaughtered animal scraps – decided to stuff the low quality leftovers into sausages. This practice gave way to the idiom, which is used nowadays to express that someone doesn’t really know what to do or just doesn’t care.

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, deutsche Redewendungen

Back in the day of ancient warfare, fearful soldiers took advantage of the ubiquitous swirling dust to flee the battlefield without being noticed. Hence, the idiom “I make myself out of (the) dust” comes in handy when you run away from an unpleasant situation or leave in a hurry without notifying anyone.

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, alemán, Deutsch

Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up every day without worries, and indulge in daydreaming and life’s little pleasures? Unfortunately, “Life is no sugar-licking”, meaning that life ain’t easy. This idiom is similar to “das Leben ist kein Ponyhof” (lit. Life is not a pony farm). Schade!

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, idiomático

If your German friends refer to a place as “What is this for a juice shop?”, they are not exactly talking about a cute lemonade stand. Quite the contrary, for a Saftladen hints at crummy establishment or dinky joint. That lemonade doesn’t sound as enticing anymore, does it?

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, Phraseologismen

We all have that one irritating acquaintance who constantly asks for favors or that insufferable boss who keeps piling more tasks on our shoulders. But enough is enough! “The devil I will do” is the German equivalent of “I’ll be damned if I will!” or “when hell freezes over”.

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, expresiones fraseológicas

If you find something nonsensical or rubbish, feel free to describe it as “such a cheese”. This idiom is used throughout Germany, but its etymology is unclear. Some suggest that the particular – somewhat stinky – smell of certain cheeses may have given this dairy product the idiomatic connotation that it has today.

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, phraseology

The idiom “(there) you look stupid out of the laundry” implies that someone has a puzzled, surprised or downright dumb facial expression. This idiom seems to date back to the Second World War, during which soldiers who weren’t so bright were tasked with collecting dirty laundry. If you picture the soldiers strolling through large piles of dirty clothes, with their befuddled faces popping out of the mountains of laundry, it’s easy to understand why this idiom is still in vogue today.

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, linguistics

Whenever someone drives you up the wall or exasperates you big time, let them know by saying “you bring me to the palm tree”. Imagine what a great deal of anger and distress someone must feel in order to climb atop a palm tree!

Expat Gone Foreign, language comics, idioms, German, funny expressions

Last but not least! This is one of the first German idioms that I learnt, and it still makes me chuckle. In German, you are not insane, you just “don’t have all your cups in the cupboard”. There’s no consensus on how this goofy expression originated, but popular belief connects the word Tasse to the Yiddish toshia, which alludes to common sense. Whereas English speakers lose their marbles, crazy Germans are short of cups. Simply genius!

All good things must come to and end, but if you are interested in this topic, let me know and I’ll put together a second batch of idiomatic illustrations. What are your favorite idioms? Do you know hilarious expressions in other languages? Leave a comment and share with your friends.

Auf Wiedersehen!

Umlauts

Someone asked me if there was something about the German language that I found amusing. Well, umlauts are fun. Those two simple dots change a vowel’s pronunciation just by hovering over it. They cause more than a headache to Spanish speakers and take hours of practice to master for anyone who attempts to learn German.  Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Umlauts, German language, fun, lustige SpracheIf you can’t get the hang of umlauts, here’s the ultimate tip to be able to pronounce them in no time. This strategy helped me as a native Spanish speaker. I’m sure it’d work for Italian and Portuguese people as well. Here we go!

  • Ü (the head-over-heels happy u): put your mouth in “u” position (as if you were going to say /u/) but say /i/ instead.
  • Ö (the flabbergasted o): put your mouth in “o” position but say /e/.
  • Ä (the scared a): put your mouth in “a” position but say /e/.

Easy peasy.

Come to think about it… there’s something inherently disturbing about this drawing. Her face is just… unsettling. What have I done?! I’ve created a monster!

·_·

The False Friend Realization

Legend has it that, once upon a time, a Spaniard landed in Germany with an unsettled stomach and walked into a café to get a comforting tea. And then false friends happened.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, false friends, Spanish, German, infusion, blunders

From Latin īnfundō (to pour in, upon or into), an infusion originally referred to the liquid which had had ingredients steeped in it to extract useful qualities, hence nowadays we still use the word infusion for beverages such as tea. Later on the term slid into medicine to refer to the administration of liquid substances directly into a vein, i.e. transfusion. False friends may not as distant as they might seem. One just has to find the etymological link between them. : )

German Time Measurements

As if the German language weren’t twisted enough with its random gendered articles and convoluted syntax, even simple time structures can mess up your whole schedule. Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, German time, die Uhrzeit auf Deutsch, Deutsche Sprache schwere SpracheIn the spoken language, 3:00, 3:05, 3:10 and so on are easy: drei Uhr (three hour), fünf nach drei (five after three), zehn nach drei (ten after three). But when the minute hand reaches “half past”, Germans take the next full hour as a reference. In German – unlike most languages – “halb drei” wouldn’t be “half past three” but “half past two”, in the sense of “we are half way to three”.

This incident made me realize two things. First, the reason why Germans think of foreigners as “tardy people whose idea of being on time is showing up an hour late”. If you don’t know how time works and get all your appointments at “half”, you are bound to perpetuate the stereotype of the lazy, unpunctual foreigner.

The other thing I realized is that Germans live in the future. Instead of taking the current hour as a reference, they jump on to the next, as if they were anxious to get past the present. For 3:25 they’ll say “fünf vor halb vier”, literally “five before half way to four”. With such a rush to beat time, no one can really enjoy the present. No wonder everyone is so stressed out.

Expat Gone Foreign, linguist, travel and language comics, life abroad

Exotic Kackendorf Food & Other Culinary Violations

Summer is here! Sun is up, birds chirping, people chilling outside, and a particular grocery store wants to jump on the bandwagon by replenishing its shelves with its so called “Iberic Week”. How nice of them. Mehr Freude für alle 4 . Except for Spaniards. Boy, are we pissed.

Click on the image to listen to some lovely but not really Spanish music watch their spot.

So this adorable couple can enjoy the ultimate Iberic feast on their Berlin terrace just by going to the Lidl next door, for Sol&Mar provides exquisite original Spanish and Portuguese products. Except they are not. They are more like overpriced, Iberic-mimicking and rather unappealing-looking food items that have little to do with our gastronomy.

“What?! They are not Spanish?” – No. Sol&Mar is actually a Lidl brand 2 . Its goal is to skyrocket the company’s sales by selling so called Iberic articles in Germany as well as other European countries (you can read all about it here if you speak Spanish 3 ).

Here’s a screenshot of their commercial spot, depicting two happy Spaniards who go insane over tapas. <irony> Because everyone knows that we walk around in bullfighter clothes and flamenco dresses around the clock. If we aren’t making fiestas or siestas, that is. </irony]>

Look, I get it. Mediterranean cuisine is amazing, no argument here; and when it comes to food, Mediterranean has SALES written all over it. But you can’t just throw a saddle on a cat and call it a horse. Although if you did, it would look like this: 4Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, misleading names, marketing, cat with saddle

Anyhow, the regular John Doe – or Max Mustermann in this case – goes to Lidl to get his groceries. Whereas someone who hasn’t experienced Mediterranean gastronomy might be attracted to the selection and prone to trying something that looks somewhat exotic, we Spaniards feel cheated upon and fairly irritated by these so called Iberic products. It starts with the labeling and naming of the items: spelling and semantic mistakes galore that already tell at first glance that something is off, not to mention the culinary violations acted upon said items.

Never in Spain have I found blueberry, pineapple and peach cream cheese throughout the many years I lived there. Spanish tortilla doesn’t have bacon or sausage bits, and neither do salads. We don’t smoke our ham but salt cure it, and by the way, there’s a difference between jamón serrano and jamón ibérico. At least get the names straight. Moving on, churros don’t belong in the freezer, in fact, the sole idea of prepacked or canned food is vile to us. You want a taste of Iberia? Get some fresh ingredients and cook the damn meal yourself. Food is not meant to be heated up and devoured, but savored and relished. Enjoying a meal starts at the grocery store. That’s the Iberic mindset, right there.

So… if this is just a German brand with clumsy Spanish labels on their products, why do they present them as original Iberic food along with their slogan “A taste of Iberia”? – Well, Sol&Mar does import some produce from Spanish producers, such as cold cuts from Embutidos Monells or canned fish 5 from Conservas Selectas De Galicia, none of which are recognizable companies in Spain (they are however known in Germany for posing health risks). These are transported to Germany, where, along with the peach cheese cream and the red-looking fluid they call gazpacho, they are processed to appeal to a German palate and shipped to the many Lidl stores nationwide.

Again, I get it. People are set in their ways, one can’t be too radical with culinary imports. Every company studies its market and offers articles that will appeal to their customers. Nevertheless (and here’s where we circle back to the original post title), you can’t produce food in Kackendorf 6 and label it as foreign to increase the sales pitch.

“Dude, aren’t you overreacting a bit?” – Maybe. I have to admit that after yesterday’s encounter with the “Iberic week” I was furious. Then, when the anger subsided, I asked myself if this wasn’t just me being petty. Which is why in the past 24 hours I’ve been in full-blown research mode in this world wide web of ours, opening discussion threads and posing various culinary questions. It turns out that it wasn’t just me. They really struck a nerve in Southern Europeans. Here are some comments that I collected on the particular brand at hand, Sol&Mar 7.

“Brits think that if it has chorizo in it, it’s automatically Spanish. Likewise, if it is Spanish, it needs to have chorizo. Whenever I try to explain that paella doesn’t have it, they look at me in astonishment and say that that can’t be right -_-. I can’t even”. (Miguel, Spaniard in the UK who surrendered to the Empire)

“Don’t buy their churros. No matter how you cook them, the result is an appalling thick gum-like paste”. (María, Spaniard in Germany who now questions her cooking skills)

“I’m furious as well. Their products are clearly from Germans for Germans. It’s a Lidl brand and only German staff are involved in designing the references. Main thing is paying little money for food, doesn’t matter how shitty. Germans would rather spend money on technology than decent quality food.” (Paco, Spaniard in Germany who went on full rant mode)

“The more pressing question here is: when are they going to stop defining Spain with the bull and the flamenco dancer? Spain is much more than that crap”. (Isabel, Spaniard in Germany and iconoclast revolutionary) 8

“Cheese with olives and jalapeños sold as typical Spanish. What the heck is happening?!” (Víctor, Spaniard in Germany and potential heart attack victim) 9

“Sheer marketing strategy, shame!” (Laura, Spaniard in Germany who doesn’t beat around the bush)

“Same thing with Mexican products, paprika powder mixed with remolade sauce is sold as chipotle. And don’t get me started on the ingredients they use for burritos, fajitas, tacos and so on”. (Guadalupe, Mexican in Germany who can’t catch a culinary break)

“Beware of their canned anchovies and calamari, explosive diarrhea granted! I found out the hard way.” (Felipe, Spaniard in Germany and temporary worshiper of the porcelain throne)

“Sol&Mar doesn’t exist in Spain because it wouldn’t sell for shit. Mediocre quality that people consume here but we wouldn’t even dare to give to our dogs back home”. (Antonio, Spaniard in Germany and alleged pet owner)

“Same thing with so called Italian products and the horrific modifications they impose on them. I love Germany, but they suck at food. It’s like they can’t tell the difference between good and bad. Do they even have taste buds?” (Sara, Italian in Germany and certified palate expert)

“Who cares? You have a lot of time on your hands, don’t you?” (Luisa, Spaniard in Germany who might be on to something)

Now, let’s not put all the blame on the Germans. With the increasing eagerness to embrace foreignness, every country attempts to provide exotic products, which sometimes results in culinary atrocities that native stomachs find hard to digest.

What the hell kind of a clusterfuck is this?!

For instance, I had always mistakenly had this westernized concept of Chinese cuisine, until I lived with a Chinese person and my taste buds were blown away. Or take the Greek: ouzo is a beverage meant to be consumed along with the meal, like wine. Drinking it in shots, as it is customary in Germany and Northern European countries, is mildly offensive to any Greek person. Also, what is it about the obsession with sauces, creams and dressings? Dishes like Gigantes and Fasolakia are meant to be relished without extraneous additives. And there’s also my ultimate favorite faux pas: the tzatziki ice cream.

But when it comes to enduring culinary violations, the Italians are second to none. From using pesto alla genovese on meats to adding cooking cream to carbonara, they have more than one reason to be pissed at absolutely everyone.

Italian revenge upon Spaniards for our multiple carbonara violations.

And while we are at it, there’s also the absurd haze between the Mexican and Spanish divide. Many a time have I seen Mexican items with decorative flamenco dancers as well as Spanish food with Catrina skulls stickers. Tortillas are the most widespread mistake. The flatbread used for the tasty fajitas and quesadillas is freaking Mexican and not Spanish. Here’s a visual aid to dissipate the confusion:

In conclusion: getting to know other cultures and their cuisine is pretty amazing, but you should watch out for businesses that have no qualms about selling products under a misleading label. There are specialized stores in every major city where you can find the real deal. Even some local stores import foreign brands from time to time. Edeka, for instance, offers the Spanish high-quality brands Ybarra, La Española and El Pozo. On the other hand, Rewe tries to pass off ham as jamón ibérico – with mariachi figurines on the packaging 10.

“Well, if I’m not versed in the culinary tradition that I’d like to delve into, how do I know what’s real and what’s fake?” – Good thing you asked. Do some research and ask native stomachs about the whereabouts of imported products and brands. They always know. In fact, one of the first things most expats do when relocating abroad is to find stores and communities that make them feel more at home.

Likewise, if you live abroad, use every chance to show off the culinary wonders of your country. Invite your indigenous friends over to share your favorite home meals, cook your mom’s recipes with them, bring homemade desserts to work, and so on. You get the idea.

As for the despicable companies that seek profit in selling fake foreignness, here’s my message for you: if pineapple cream cheese appeals to a German clientele, bring it on! Just call it pineapple cream cheese instead of selling it as “crema de queso de piña” with a Spanish flag printed on it accompanied by your “A taste of Iberia” slogan.

Last but not least, you may mix white rice with chorizo all you want, but for fuck’s sake, don’t call it paella.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, exotic food, gastronomy, cultural appropiation