Lost in Translation. German edition
My name is Michael, I’m from Boston MA and I’ll tell you about my thrilling experience as a foreign exchange student in Kassel, Germany. For many many years now I have been hoping and praying to make a nice and long trip to Europe, and as the opportunity showed to me, I grabbed it. I remember they have been handing out some flyers at our college in Boston, advertising the opportunity of becoming a foreign exchange student. There were two countries listed, one was France and the other Germany. Since I love German literature, and I was extremely curious about their culture I chose Germany.
I also owed it to myself to debunk some German myths… First, let me tell you that Kassel is an amazing place. Also called the Capital of the German Fairy Tale Route, this city truly fascinated me. The Brothers Grimm Museum, the gorgeous River Fulda, the Waterfeatures in Bergpark Wilhelmshohe or the Gallery of comic art at the Sepulcher Museum are just a few of the landmarks that are of outstanding beauty. So my daily routine was making my little visits around the town, and getting used to my busy schedule – German language classes, socializing with local students and peers from around the world…and as days went by I started to realize there are some huge cross cultural differences between US and German cultures that I must tell you about. Every single day I was amazed or laughed at something that was out of place and time for me as an American exchange student.
Keeping up with the “Schmidts”…
Beer. Beer. More Beer...and oh boy, do Germans feed on this almighty drink morning, afternoon and evenings. We Americans love beer too, but Germans can drink it at any moment, on any opportunity they can seize. Every night we went out for some socializing, eating and drinking. Well, mostly drinking than eating! During the first evenings I ended up being drunk the first, and the German fellows just kept laughing and laughing. They were drinking and drinking and I could never see in anyone’s eyes the slightest sign of dizziness. Out of courteousness, I wanted to keep up with them, but there was no chance of me getting up and walking straight after four beers. So I eventually stopped keeping up with the Joneses and now I actually have fun in the evenings when we go out…because I know there’s no point in trying to try to drink as much as the Germans do… Zigzag man One afternoon we went out for lunch, and I ordered some local specialty. As they brought the food and we started eating, I noticed Germans start poking each other and laughing. I was wondering is it something I do wrong. I just noticed they are watching me, and trying to hold it together not to burst into tears of so much laughter. I couldn’t bare it anymore, so I asked “what’s so funny”, and they answered “You are Zig-Zag man.”
“Why?”, I asked, and they explained. Germans keep the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right hand all throughout the meal when eating.
They say this is the “European style” of eating, and they can’t imagine this habit otherwise. Now, as they were watching me eating “American” style passing my fork from my right hand into the left each time I needed to use the knife, and then bring back the fork into the right hand when I wasn’t using the knife…they just called me Zigzag man. They told me it’s beyond their understanding why put so much effort and complicate things so much just to use cutlery at the table. So this is why they called me Zigzag man…but I told them hey, this is American style eating and I can’t help it! Ever since they just keep laughing anytime we go out eating…and let me finish my steak next week.
Totally lost in translation
Hearing me speaking German is fun. Real fun. But hearing the German talking English, and translating literally some of their most well-known phrases is a total blast. We were sitting in a park to get some fresh air between classes at the college in Kassel, and just discussing nonsense. I asked my German colleague some very rigid question regarding world politics; I just wanted to know his opinion on such worldly things. Well, his answer was “This is me totally sausage”. I said “whaaat” and rolled on floor laughing. Well, his intention was to say “ I don’t care”, or “ don’t give a penny on the whole thing”…he only made a literal translation of their German saying “ Das ist mir Wurst” (I don’t care at all, I don’t give a “sausage” on the whole situation).
One Evening I was joking around American style with my roommate, - Andreas, a German fellow. We drank beers and carried on long and lost in translation discussions until very late in the night. As I was joking around, at a moment he said to me” Michael, don’t take me on the cookies”. Oh, I had some laughs but by now I already know there is some hidden meaning to it. I later found out he actually translated the German “Geh mir nicht auf dem Keks” which is a phrase they use for “Don’t annoy me”…but an even more literal translation would be “Don’t walk on my cookies” (so, don’t walk on my “nerves”, don’t annoy me…).
After an entire semester spent in Kassel, I can tell you I had an excellent time. I had fun with my German folks, I got the chance of visiting probably the most beautiful part of Germany and I can’t wait to get back…even if they called me Zigzag man and I’m not able to drink even 20% of the beer they are gulping down the throats.
Oh, but my stay here wasn’t without pain. I had a badly aching tooth so I went to the dentist, who was a German of course. After he took a dental X-ray, he told me “Now please wait 30 minutes in rest room”. A-ma-zing!
Michael McPherson is a graduate student from Boston University, freelance blogger and a regular contributor at http://www.assignmentmasters.co.uk. You may follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/McPhersy