This morning, I noticed a piece in one of the “newspapers” about the Chrysler ad aired during Super Bowl.
Dylan might be a great poet, but his latest effort indicates that he might be off his game. Or treading on unfamiliar ground. Or selling out to corporate strategists. He should stick with poetry and leave marketing hype to others.
According to the article, the ad included the following line:
"Let Germany brew your beer, let Switzerland make your watch, let Asia assemble your phone. We will build your car."
Perhaps, Mr. Dylan should try a German car. I have tried Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors automobiles. Not only is German beer better, but the cars are, too. And, not only does Budweiser make some of the world’s worst beer, their ads are stupid.
Even people speaking poor English can make themselves understood, which explains why the language has conquered the world. American students have it easy, because English is not a difficult language to learn and the grammar is simple. The best parts are that there is only one article, the, and no need to learn such pesky bits as case of nouns and pronouns: dative, genitive, and inquisitive (I made up the last one to test you!). I discovered the little grammar I know when trying to learn French in school. Some bits have even stuck in my deep memory, only to sneak back to the forefront if I venture across the border into France.
One of the first difficulties in learning a language is presented by the article (definite: the; indefinite: a or an). French has one more than English: the masculine le (un) and the feminine la (une). This made learning vocabulary twice as difficult. Difficulty increased geometrically when trying to learn German, because not only are there more, but each influences the spelling of any adjective. The bloody language has masculine, der (ein), feminine, die (eine), and neuter, das (ein). Each case has its rules demanding innumerable changes of both article, article, and noun, such as with dative, dem (einem), accusative den (denen), and genitive, den (denen).* Sadly, there is only one way to learn them: by rote. One misses the simplicity of the.
Learning vocabulary is difficult enough, if one must learn only nouns and verbs. With verbs, one must learn tenses and memorize conjugation. In most foreign languages, one must also learn the articles that tend to complicate every noun. Unfortunately, there is no rhyme or reason. In French, a table is feminine (la table), whereas in German the bloody thing is masculine (der Tisch). Perhaps, this explains why these two nations have been killing each other for centuries: they can’t agree on even simple things.
Today, when a 2-year old child corrected my German, I was reminded of two facts, both of which I know rather well and tend to choose to forget. The first is that children have an easier time learning a language than anyone struggling with a second language later in life. Second, I am intellectually lazy. Many years ago, I made a conscious decision not to worry about learning German articles. I learned most nouns and verbs, so I can understand almost everything and can often make myself understood. I usually get the article wrong, but have a 30% chance of being correct. People are surprised that an American speaks some German, so I get the benefit of the doubt and avoid most criticism. My children have been known to be apologetic (“My father cannot speak German very well.”), but I am not.
I sat with the child as he watched Curious George, one of his favorite television shows. Anyone familiar with the show knows that George is a monkey. The German word is Affe, which is masculine, so der Affe. There are no rules about articles, but I learned in one of my first courses that words ending in e usually are (usually) feminine. That stuck in my subconscious, so I said something about die Affe...and was immediately corrected by a damn 2-year old, who said “der Affe”. This was a knee-jerk reaction on his part, because I doubt he knows the difference between native speakers and trying-to-learn-the-language foreigners. The rest of my family have given up trying to improve my command of articles. I wonder how long he will need to join the crowd...
*NB. I do not guarantee correctness, because I did not check a grammar book. As with my daily struggles with the language, I relied on my imperfect memory.
_ Kreppel is the word of jelly donut (often also known as Berliner).
This is a season delicacy, usually associated with Fasching (which always starts on 11.11 at 11:11). One can find mediocre ones throughout the year, but serious bakers make them during the winter months. A good Kreppel must have red jelly filling, although some people (for reasons that I will never understand) also eat ones with plum or pudding-like filling. I always buy two, because one is never enough. Although two can be a bit much, I manage. If you have never enjoyed a fresh Kreppel from a good German bakery, then you do not know jelly donuts.
NB. Canadians do not need to write in about Tim Horton’s; and residents of the United States can keep their Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts.
_ The weather is providing no warning of the pending Christmas onslaught. Fortunately, in Germany one must merely take note of Christmas street markets popping us like mushrooms after the rain (which have not been popping, due to lack of rain this year).
Some towns have a market on a single weekend. My town traditionally holds theirs on the first Advent, perhaps in hopes of garnering people’s money early in the buying season. Other markets run for the entire Advent period, with the larger cities being well-known. Most people have heard of the Nuremburg market; I have been once (although I only arrived a few minutes before closing time and wandered around watching people close up for the night).
What one finds at these markets is mostly food, plus a selection of Christmas decorations. It is still possible to find items made from wood and not produced in China. People tend to eat and drink, with some of the items on offer being seasonal. Gluhwein (mini-German Word of the Day: hot mulled wine) is a big favorite. Potato pancakes with apple sauce is a big favorite, especially with pregnant women. Don’t ask why.
Snow and cold adds to the charm of Christmas markets, but the weather is mostly damp and cool. Fog tends to dampen spirits and reduce turnover. The weather for the market in my town has not been too different than the weather in July.
Verrückt is the German word for crazy, mad, insane, lunatic, nuts, wacky, and so on. It describes a majority of the German population.
This country has some of the highest taxes on the planet...and many want—yes, want—them to be higher. Many feel guilty about being so well off, when so many earn less at home or are suffering around the world. Two major political parties, which could form the governing coalition following the next election, campaign on the promise to raise taxes. Some feel that all income should be given to the government, so that they can redistribute it equally. People will be allowed to earn high salaries: they just can’t keep the money.
Of course, politicians do not mention that they enjoy generous expense accounts, large chauffer-driven cars and much higher pensions, for which they have not paid one cent. Equality does have its limits, even for crazy Germans.
This is a special bonus post, featuring several words relating to the Women's World Cup Competition (that's in soccer/footfall for anyone out of tune...which seems to be many in the US).
The first word is verschossen. That means to shoot and miss, which is what more than one player did in the penalty kick shoot-out, needed to determine a winner. If you can't hit the goal, it is difficult to win, especially if the other team can. Penalty shoot-outs are usually decided by one goal: a two goal decision is more than decisive and embarrassing for any team.
The next word is verloren. That's what the US team--the one favored to win the Cup--did to the amazement of everyone, including the team that beat them (Japanese people are not known for visible displays of self-confidence. It's a good thing they won, so they will not have to apologize to the nation for having failed. It will be interesting to see if anyone notices and celebrates, given the position of women in Japanese society.)
The third word is versagen. That means to fail, which can be applied to more than just the American team. This is how the German team is labeled, because "all" Germans expected them to win on their home turf, despite not being favorites (for non-Germans). Perhaps, it can be applied to all teams that did not win, but it sticks best to the American and the German teams. Maybe a bit more to the Americans...
The final word in this bonus issue is Aussenseiter. That's the closest you can get to underdog in German. It means literally, "one that stands outside". I have not seen bookmaker odds, but I doubt that many bet on Japan to win. Somehow, they "got inside" and did a job on all the favorites.
I am happy that Japan won.
After the German team was unceremoniously dispatched by these young and unfavored unknowns, I considered rooting for Sweden. I have no rational explanation. Perhaps it was the large number of blonds (only kidding!). After they lost, I decided that I wanted Japan to win. First of all, I like underdogs. I like to see the favorite upset, especially when one is forced to listen to posturing in the media. Second, I thought a Japan win might reduce the embarrassment suffered by Germany (my wife still can't understand how they could have lost to a nation of short people) and a Japanese win could explain Germany's loss...to her. It didn't. She still can't understand how Japan could win the World Cup.
My friend, Antje, always says "Sport ist Mord", and this World Cup proved her right...again.
This is one of the greatest words in the German language, which features a whole bunch of creative concoctions. If Germans were as good at humor as they are at word creation, then they might suffer less from a national inferiority complex...or is that a feeling of guilt?
Anyway, the word is schaulustig.
The dictionary defines it as "curious", but that hardly does the word justice. Another suggests the term "rubbernecking", which comes closer to its usual context. One hears it just about every time there is a traffic report of a highway accident. It describes the people that slow down in the opposite lane to get a glimpse of the damage and suffering. It suggests pleasure at someone's misfortune, personal satisfaction at not being involved, and disregard for traffic congestion that their curiosity and own driving behavior is causing.
German is the Lego of all languages: pieces are combined to make something fun. Schaulustig is made up of schau (to look, to see as a verb or show as a noun) and lustig (too many definitions to list: look it up yourself!). One might confuse the combination to mean "funny looking" or "to look silly", but the true meaning is far more clever.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.