Something very German happened on the cycle in to work yesterday. Just as we were approaching a nice downhill tarmac section in the forest, a small road-sweeping machine was coming the other way. The council had actually sent somebody out to sweep a path through the forest. Ariane was delighted, this would mean that stone chippings, leaves and twigs would no longer be on the path so she could increase her cornering speed even further. I knew she would and sure enough once we could squeeze past the road-sweeper, she had her racing legs on again. But the trail was still damp from an overnight shower and the sides of the tyres were a little clogged with residue mud. On the first right-hand bend both tyres “let go” causing a small drift and quick mega-wobble. But she held it all together and we both made it round the corner. After that a little more caution was exercised.
I started thinking about the word “drift” and how the German’s use it too. More and more English words are making their way into the language, but they do get German-ified. So the word drift will be integrated into their language structure. The past tense would be, for example, “Ich habe gedriftet”. Sounds awful, but everyone understands it. The past tense of most German verbs means putting the prefix ge- at the front of the word. For example, fahren means to drive, and the past tense is gefahren. But there are some verbs where the ge- has to be put in the middle. For example anfahren means to drive off (or to set off) but the past tense is angefahren. Which brings me to the verb “upgraden” – I don’t even know if there is a German word for it. Everyone just says upgrade. And in the past tense it would be “Ich habe upgegradet”.
Unlike the French, where there is a Government sponsored movement to stop their language being eroded, the Germans seem to accept that in a global society language is going to change. Rather than trying to stop the wave, they are going to ride it. In the business world it is more and more prevalent. When I started working here over 20 years ago, nobody said “IT” to describe computer technology. It was always “EDV” (elektronische Datenverarbeitung). Now everyone just says “IT”.
Just as pretentious people in England will sometimes slip in a foreign word (“Sorry, but I don’t agree with your Weltanschauung“) the same is true in reverse. Nowhere more so than in the corporate business world. There you will be bombarded by a constant stream of English buzzwords such as compliance, change-management, marketing, coaching et cetera, et cetera. They even call it “Neudeutsch” – new German.
Of course the most pretentious generation are always the teens. And here they have also embraced various English words – I use the word English very loosely – especially from the American “gangsta” scene. So if you are a teenager your friends might now be called “Bro”. No more boring “hallo” greetings – now it’s “Yo”. And, my personal favourite, if you are disrespected by somebody, you have just been “gedisst”. I suppose we sounded just as stupid in our teen years* but it does grate everytime I see the local white middle-class teenies trying to look like a Compton drug dealer.
They take the language invasion with good humour here though. At the moment there is a craze for cards in English which are literally translated German idioms or expressions. I actually got Ariane one for Mothers’ Day. To indicate that you like someone here, and think they are a good egg, you would say in German “Du bist schwer in Ordnung”. So my card to Ariane said “You are heavy in order”. Now you might think that the first three words on a day dedicated to women should not be “You are heavy” but she understood exactly what it meant and I got away with it.
My absolute favourite English language sign was in Stuttgart, not far from the office I used to work at. It took a few days before I realised what was wrong. Outside a small coffee and snack kiosk, the owner had a folding blackboard which said proudly “Coffee to go – auch zum mitnehmen”. Which means: “Coffee to go – also to take away”.
*actually, we didn’t. I was just trying to be reasonable.