Saturday, July 02, 2005

Intercultural Misunderstandings

German word of the day: Spaßvogel
Literally translated, this means "fun bird". When you call someone a Spaßvogel, it means they just do fun stuff all the time and little work. They just want to have a good time! You would say shpahssfohgle. That's based on American pronunciation, and is absolutely not the correct International Phonetic Script, but who can read that stuff anyway?

Somehow I got to thinking about things, and how a friend of mine once told me a story of talking to an American girl, a vegetarian, who was trying to describe some unknown vegetarian food to my friend. And she said it's mushy. A perfectly okay descriptive word. In English. In German, this word refers to a part of the female anatomy (think "the c-word"), and my friend, of course, made a fully innappropriate comment in connection with this to the girl, but she didn't understand because fortunately she didn't know what he was talking about. And related to the c-word in English, British English speakers throw this word around like nobody's business. I know a British English speaker here who calls everyone a c-word if they're not being nice. Especially guys! So next time you go to Great Britain and hear the c-word, it's not that bad. It's actually an acceptable swear. But British speakers, please don't say it in America, because there it is
really bad. It will make people gasp, blush, and probably get you a nice slap in the face.

Speaking of other words I find bad, let's check out the n-word. We all know the n-word. That's one that they say here in Germany, in German, and nobody flinches. The German word is
Neger. I really don't like this word and it still makes me cringe when I hear it, but I think it's quite an acceptable reference to people of color in German. So if you hear a German person say this in German, it doesn't automatically mean they're a neo-Nazi or member of the NPD or DVU or a racist, it just means maybe they aren't aware of the word's connotations in other parts of the world or in other languages.

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