The Big Issue : Edition 550
12 THEBIGISSUE.ORG.AU 17 NOV–3 DEC 2017 How many travellers lugging suitcases, backpacks and children around Europe are likely to meet a German in a hotel lobby and say to them, “I am giving you a horse”? And what would you have to be doing and what sort of brain damage would your companion need to suffer from to require you to narrate, “The apple is falling from the tree”? I’m picturing a meadow, a picnic rug, a book by Isaac Newton and a psychiatric hospital day-release form. How high is this branch, anyway? The present tense suggests the speaker has managed to get out the whole sentence before the apple hits the ground. To be honest, I quite enjoy the random German sweet nothings whispered inadvertently in my ear of an evening, especially during the section dedicated to flirting. Here’s a smooth pick-up line guaranteed to get you some action next time you’re in Germany: “You look like my next girlfriend.” Now, call me pedantic, but I think the ambiguity needs to be removed from this line. Is it trying to say, “You look like you’re going to be my next girlfriend”, or, “You look like the girl who’s going to be my next girlfriend”? Having devoted an inordinate amount of time to composing scenarios in Europe we are actually likely to face, I have come up with my own list of phrases I would like translated. “This woman needs coffee” will come in handy, I’m sure. As will, “Can I leave the child with you?” and, “I don’t understand this currency, please just go through my wallet and take what you need.” But the last words on the matter go to my partner, who has just learned the essential German phrase, “You still haven’t booked the accommodation, have you?” IT’S NOT UNUSUAL in my house to hear strange sentences uttered in the evening. I’ll be sitting on the couch, patiently waiting for Doc Martin to start, and a bewildering phrase drifts into my left ear, such as, “I am giving you a horse”, or “She knows the Swede”. I’ll turn to my partner, whose mouth is responsible for uttering these unexpected exclamations and say, “Huh?” before realising she’s wearing headphones and doing her German lessons. The two of us have reacted in different ways to the daunting reality that we’re going to Europe next year. I’ve launched into the spirit-sapping ordeal of trying to book accommodation and work out an itinerary. She, on the other hand, has prioritised the need to learn the German words for, “I am showing the child a shoe.” It’s been said that Germans have a phrase for everything. I’m currently trying to see if they have a phrase for the act of learning a sentence you will never have cause to use. Why is it that writers of language textbooks (and now apps) choose sentences such as, “I don’t like any lighter” or, “The dog is giving the man an apple”? Isn’t the whole idea that words should be useful for communicating when travelling, rather than an invitation for a local to take several wary steps away from you? Let us examine. How and why is the dog giving the man an apple? In the only scenario I can imagine not involving opposable canine thumbs, the man has thrown the apple for the dog, who has then retrieved the apple in its mouth and is presenting it back to the man. In the words of MythBusters: plausible. How about, “I do not give my dog beer”? Is this the response to someone who calls out to you at a pub, “Mate, go grab the mutt a jug of Carlsberg while you’re at the bar”? And what about this one? “He runs as soon as he sees you.” What possible need would you have to learn this phrase? Perhaps your German friend had just said to you, “What makes you think that guy doesn’t like me?” RICKY PHOTOSBYJAMESBRAUND The Column Has No Horses “To be honest, I quite enjoy the random German sweet nothings whispered inadvertently inmyearofan evening, especially during the section dedicated to flirting.” » Ricky French (@frenchricky) is a writer, musician and nonGermanspeakingAustralian resident.