englishman abroad


Certain things about Germany surprise me but other things merely confuse me. Take our local paper, The Nordwest Zeitung, the day after the Westminster Bridge attack. The attack was mentioned, briefly, on the front page.

What was also on the front page was more surprising. The headline: “Schlamperei im Putenstall”. ‘Schlampe’, for anyone who doesn’t know, is the German word for ‘slut’, so I understood this headline as “Brothel in turkey barn”. I read the whole story, which was about bird flu, with intense and ever-mounting confusion before I thought to use a translator.

No, schlamper with an ‘r’ means sloppy or untidy and is an adjective, not a noun. The headline should therefore have been “Sloppy work in turkey barn”.

There have been other instances of confusion in the past… did you know that the Germans have a special way of dealing with the letter ‘s’? A sharp S can be shown with this squiggly B-shaped thing: ß. It really is very similar to a B, isn’t it? Well, one day many years ago I was food shopping and discovered a real bargain, a packet of sliced cheese which proudly proclaimed “EINE SCHEIBE GRATIS” (one slice free) but I understood as “EINE SCHEIẞE GRATIS” (one shit free).

I was dumbstruck at the Germans and their peculiar units of measurement:

‘I thought they had the metric system here…’ I wondered to myself

‘how much is a shit of cheese? One pack or two?’

Eventually I worked it out.

This pack of cheese, I might add, cost €165. Well, that’s what the shelf price said: 1,65€. I once saw a brand-new AMG Mercedes on the forecourt of a car dealership. The price? A mere €56 (56.000€ or fifty-six point zero zero zero euros).  It took me a surprisingly long time to work out the Germans use commas for decimals and points to separate thousands in a price, the exact opposite of what English speakers tend to do.

One final confusion: when a German says half-ten they mean 9:30 or halfway to ten, not half-past ten like the British do. Get this one wrong and you’ll turn up an hour late – now that’s just schlamperei…

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