The German language never fails to make me smile. And yet Germany is rated as the least funny nation in the world. So unfair (in my opinion)! The way they are unintentionally funny is priceless and an invaluable way to break the ice in awkward situations. Just imagine all the business dinners and formal gatherings that were instantly alleviated by a simple mechanical linguistic mistake, which inevitably cracked a smile on every face. It is so human, kind of endearing and brings people together.
Indeed humor can be found everywhere. Did you just hear that reliable businessman (yes, the one in the cutting edge designer suit and its respective ten-thousand-euros watch) saying he was becoming a steak?! He most probably meant he was getting a steak for dinner, but the direct translation from German to English tends to play surrealistic tricks too often.
Here is another example while we are still on the high end. Let's say we are talking about fancy cars, "Der Aston Martin Wankage ist ein tolles Auto". Wait, what?! Turns out it is a complete mash up of the super-dooper-James Bond-überpowerful Aston Martin Vantage and his big brother the V12 Vanquish. Now, it makes sense that the result is "wankage", which in English has exactly the opposite meaning.
A very common mistake regarding dinners is the so called invitation issue. Just watch the face of your German business partner when you cheerfully say, "Thank you for inviting me". In German to invite means "to pay the bill”. The confusion and then the acknowledgment "Oh, you don't mean I have to invite you, but, of course, …" is simply priceless.
And what would you answer to: "Excuse me, do you have fire?" Bet you would come up with something original, while that girl only asked for your lighter. But wasn't it poetic?! You are intrigued on so many levels, aren't you?! Maybe you would even consider “to make a party” with her after all! Oh, the Germans, they "machen" everything! They don't just "party", they "machen Party” (make party). They also "dress up" to go jogging. If only they could see the images that come to the average Anglophone mind at this point.
The other day my German friend was explaining her last year's Halloween costume, the standard devil with horns, tail and all. Well, what we really got to know is that she was a "horny devil.” Now that was something interesting to see, I would say.
All these translation affairs also work the other way round: When an English speaker intuitively translates "I am warm" to "ich bin warm", the German person in front of them takes it as a slang confession they were gay. And if occasionally you are “heiß,” than you have just said you are horny.
Back to German speakers: have you already heard that your sister's roommate’s sister is "getting a baby?” Undoubtedly the Germans are a progressive breed, but believe me, they still “have” their babies just like all of us.
And then people will tell you Germans weren't funny! How many people do you know who refer to their boss as their "chef"?! Or, when they call you to reschedule your “date”? That is more than certain to bring a smile to your face.
Desislava Nikolova is an enthusiastic blogger, photographer and online marketing and community manager at EVS Translations. She is based in Berlin, Germany and specializes in business, legal, financial, and political topics, as well as social and cultural phenomena. She is keen on online trends, traveling, photography and psychology.
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