Let’s pretend your coworker surprised you with your favorite Starbucks drink during work. How do you feel about her? Most likely, she is now on your good side. Germans might even say you now have a Stein im Brett with her (literally translated: a “stone in the board”).
In German, if someone has a Stein im Brett with you, it means that person now has your sympathy. In other words, that person did something to win you over. But to understand where this phrase came from, we will have to take a close look at the origins of this strange German saying.
If you’re learning German, you’ve probably noticed that Germans have a word to describe almost anything. There are, for example, many different words for “fear”, depending on what type of fear you are referring to.
There’s Todesangst (“fear of death”), Höhenangst (“fear of heights”), Prüfungsangst (“fear of taking tests”), Flugangst (“fear of flying”), Trennungsangst (“fear of being separated”) and Höllenangst (literally “fear of going to hell”, but in context it refers to a deep-seated fear), among others.
One word that many of you might relate to is Zukunftsangst (“fear of the future”). This word describes the fear that follows you (particularly in your younger years) as you try to do well in school and succeed at your internships and in your career. When the course of your future is uncertain, you might develop a Zukunftsangst that haunts you throughout your daily life. Will you be able to get a job after college? Will you be able to afford a place of your own? Will you get that promotion? Will you ever find a husband – or wife? The fear of not getting those things may always be lurking in your mind. For some, this Zukunftsangst may motivate them to work even harder. For others, this fear may be a hindrance.
If you’re secure with the course of your life, you probably don’t have any sort of Zukunftsangst. But no one is fearless, and we’re almost certain that there’s a German word to describe whatever fears you may have!
Gernegroß. This German word sounds like it would be simple to define – but it’s not. Although it translates to “wanting to be big”, it has nothing to do with one’s height, weight or physical appearance.
Gernegroß is a noun defining a person who sees himself in a better light than others do – someone who likes to brag, show off or act more experienced than they are. There is no English translation, but the words “wannabe” and the colloquial term “whippersnapper” (an overconfident or presumptious young and inexperienced person) come close. Unlike a young whippersnapper, however, a Gernegroß can be any age.
Being called a Gernegroß is not positive. If someone calls you a Gernegroß, they are probably annoyed by how you are acting. It may be time to stop bragging and gain a more humble spirit.
If you’ve ever been to a party that had nothing going on, you might want to call it tote Hose.
The German word tote Hose is a slang term that originated in the 1980s. Literally translated, tote Hose means “dead trousers”, but it has nothing to do with your pants. The phrase tote Hose is used to describe something that is boring, uneventful or dull – like a bad party or event.
Although it sounds like it should be used as a noun, tote Hose is mostly used in place of an adjective. You might tell your friend, “Gosh, last night’s party was so tote Hose – I only lasted an hour before I ditched my friends to go somewhere else.”
There is no English equivalent for tote Hose; you must simply imagine a phrase that describes an extremely boring or uneventful situation. The phrase remains highly popular among youth in Germany today. There is even a German rock band that named themselves Die Toten Hosen.
So next time you’re bored at a party, feel free to describe it as tote Hose to impress your German friends with your cool new slang. Just don’t tell the host that – or you may never get another invite!
If you’re American, you’ve probably heard of “Secret Santa” or “White Elephant” gift exchanges. In Germany, however, we have what’s called Schrottwichteln, which basically means “the exchange of crap”.
The holiday season is all about gift exchanges. Even if you’re giving away junk – it’s the thought that counts, right? In German schools, workplaces and social circles, people often organize a so-called Schrottwichteln. The word Schrott means “crap”, “garbage” or “junk”. Wichteln is the organized exchange of gifts during the holiday season. So people who participate in Schrottwichteln essentially give each other things they don’t want themselves – like that ugly Christmas sweater they received from their grandmother or an overly fancy candleholder for which they have no use. Often times, they will regift an item or contribute a gag gift. It is not
uncommon for these gifts to be wrapped up in newspaper, rather than gift wrap – anything to make it look more like junk.
When people organize a Schrottwichteln, they will often set a limit on the value of the item – perhaps 5, 10, 15 or 20 Euros. Participants usually have a few days to decide on a gift – and will often search for the ugliest, funniest or most useless possible item they can think of. Sometimes Schrottwichteln organizers will choose a “winner” – a gift that is the most worthless of all.
Those who participate in Schrottwichteln parties do so for the holiday spirit and the humor associated with it. And if the gift they receive is perfectly useless, they may regift it the following Christmas at another Schrottwichteln party.
Were you a picky eater when you were young? Did you refuse to finish your meals, or sit in front of your plate for hours? Germans would have called you a Suppenkasper!
Literally translated, the word Suppenkasper means “Soup Kasper”, and it refers to a finicky eater – someone who doesn’t finish his or her food. For many parents, this can be frustrating.
But why call their child a Suppenkasper? The term originates from the classic children’s book “Der Struwwelpeter” (published in 1845 by Heinrich Hoffmann). The book features a healthy young boy named Kasper, who sits at the dinner table and refuses to eat his soup (Suppe). As the story goes, Kasper is determined not to eat his soup, and after five days of withering away, he dies of starvation.
The story is meant to teach kids a lesson: always clean your plate, or else! Today, the story might seem rather harsh and intimidating, and some would argue that there’s better ways to teach your kids to finish their food. But regardless, the term Suppenkasper is still a popular term to describe finicky eaters. Do you have a Suppenkasper at your table?
Have you ever had a sharp pain in your back – one that leaves you cringing in pain or crouching in agony?
Germans would call that a Hexenschuss – a shot by a witch! Literally translated, Hexe means “witch” and Schuss means “shot” (as in, a gunshot). It might sound strange – especially since witches carry broomsticks and not guns. But either way, any sort of bewitchment on your back is bound to be unpleasant!
A Hexenschuss refers to the sort of lower back pain that leaves you crippled for at least a few seconds – but perhaps even a few days or weeks. Maybe you pulled a muscle or injured yourself. Most likely you’ll reach for the Ibuprofen and hope that the pain subsides. But back in the Middle Ages, Germans had more supernatural beliefs attributed to this sort of pain.
Sometimes you do things for other people that you don’t like. Why do you do it? Because of your Freundschaftsdienst!
The German word Freundschaftsdienst means “friendship duty”. It is a word that describes the obligations that come with a true friendship.
Let’s look at an example:
You’re allergic to cats, but your friend is traveling for the holidays and desperately needs a cat sitter. You begrudgingly agree to take in the cat, and spend the next two weeks sneezing and taking anti-histamine pills.
You endure all of this suffering because of your Freundschaftsdienst. Being a friend means doing favors for the other person, even when it inconveniences you.
Here’s another example:
You have a 6 am flight tomorrow morning and you have not begun packing. Your friend calls you crying because she just broke up with her boyfriend. You know you have a lot to do, but you choose to spend the night consoling her. The next morning, you’re rushing to the airport with little to no sleep. Enduring this was your Freundschaftsdienst.
Naturally, you expect your friends to do the same for you. If this isn’t the case, you may want to reconsider who you provide your Freundschaftsdienst to. Be selective, and make sure the Freundschaftsdienst is a two-way street.
Have you ever had a burning desire to learn something new? Do you have an archive of never-ending questions? Then you’ve most likely experienced Wissensdurst. In German, the word Wissen means knowledge nand Durst means thirst.
The only way this need can be satisfied is by obtaining the knowledge that you so profoundly crave. Occasionally the word Wissenshunger is used to describe ones hunger for knowledge. Although the two words are often used interchangeably, Wissensdurst describes a more urgent need, since humans can survive longer without food than without water.
Let’s take a look at an example where an unquenchable Wissensdurst recently played a major role in the education of a young British girl.
Heidi Hankins, a five-year-old girl from Hampshire, has an IQ of 159, which is approximately the same as that of Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking (both had IQ scores of 160 and an unquenchable Wissensdurst). In comparison: the average person has an IQ score of about 100.
Is your life as beautiful as a painting in an art gallery? Then you have mastered Lebenskunst!
Lebenskunst means “the art of living well”. It comes from the words leben (“to live”) and Kunst (“art). If your life is filled with fine wines, exotic travels, delicious food, strong friendships and many hobbies, you have probably mastered the art of living; in other words, your life itself is beautiful – like art.
You don’t have to be wealthy to be a Lebenskünstler (“artist of life”). You simply need to understand how to make the journey through life as joyful as possible. Every individual has a different idea of how to create an artful, magical life that gets you excited to wake up every morning. Some people may be struck by the magic of a beautiful sunrise, and need nothing more to experience joy. For others, drinking a $300 bottle of wine would
be an example of Lebenskunst.
But here’s one tip we can give you: if you see the beauty in every detail of life and use this beauty to create your own happiness, you’ll be on your way to becoming a Lebenskünstler. In very little time, examples of Lebenskunst will surround you.