Embracing the German language

Embracing the German language

by Amanda Palumbo
Stripes Europe

Language barriers can be stressful but they can also make great memories and funny stories, not to mention quite the learning experience. When you’re immersed in a country’s culture you do start to learn the language more than you realize. 

One of the most common problems is pronunciation. For more than a year I was pronouncing the grocery chain “ReWe” as “ree-wee.” Our lead-writer finally told me it’s pronounced “ray-vuh.” When I asked a German friend why he never corrected me he responded, “It was not that big of a deal and I did not want to be rude.” That’s about as German as someone can get.

There are words I see that invoke a level of anxiety similar to that time I bombed in a fifth-grade spelling bee. (The word was rabies. I'll spare you my answer.) Words like, “Bezirksschornsteinfegermeister,” which translates to “district chimney sweep master.” Imagine that on a business card.  Dick Van Dyke’s character in “Mary Poppins” could possibly be a “Bezirksschornsteinfegermeister” if he focused on his chimney sweep career. I can only hope the company would be named “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Bezirksschornsteinfegermeister, LLC.” 

If you’re researching beef in Germany you may come across the word, “Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz.” Those 63 letters mean “beef labeling regulation and delegation of supervision law.” To save on ink, the acronym, ReÜAÜG, is often used instead. This was also the 1999 German Word of the Year, which I did double-check and that is a real thing.

If you write out a check for 7,254 euros, you would have to write out:  “siebentausendzweihundertvierundfünfzig.” Good luck.

There is a reason German words seem incredibly long to us. The language loves a good compound noun as much as they love puffer jackets and saying “genau,” exactly.  The German language tends to smush the compound nouns together. Where we would say “shop owner” the German translation is “Ladenbesitzer” which is four letters and two syllables longer. 

I’m currently adding “attend a German spelling bee” on my travel bucket list. Also, I can only imagine how high German Scrabble scores are. Imagine playing with a whole set of extra vowels because of the umlauts.  

While you will likely never use the word, “Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän” (Danube Steamship Company Captain), here are some much shorter and more common phrases.

Hello - Hallo

Bye - Tschüss

Thanks - Danke

Thank you - Dankeschön

You’re welcome (formal): Gern geschehen 

You’re welcome (less formal): Bitte shoen

Please: Bitte

Sorry (formal) - Es tut mir Leid

Sorry (less formal) - Entschuldigung

My German is not very good - Mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut

Do you speak English? - Sprechen Sie Englisch?

Another beer, please. - Noch ein Bier, bitte

Cheers! - Prost!

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