Sunday, April 19, 2009

The annoyed public schoolboy

I am sorry if this piece sounds like the title of a John Le Carré novel, because it has actually been prompted by a article in our local Sunday newspaper "Sonntag Aktuell" which is distributed by our local daily newspaper, "Südhessen Morgen". The paper is published in Stuttgart and distributed all over SW Germany to the subscribers of a number of regional newspapers every Sunday. Unfortunately it is fashionable to dot one's German with English expressions these days, even if there are perfectly good German words already available, e.g. "die Story" for "die Geschichte". This is annoying but can be inadvertently amusing. There is community owned "green" electricity company (EWS) in Schönau (Black Forest). This organisation is spearheading an attempt to buy shares in a privately owned company - an E.ON subsidiary that has minority holdings in a number of communal utilities throughout Germany. The leading light in this campaign said recently in an interview "Cross-Border-Leasing is out, communal ownership is in", which is an excellent idea. Unfortunately this was reported in the "Sonntag Aktuell" as Cross-Boarder-Leasing, which rather spoilt the effect, at least for these two native speakers.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

German Humour

There is this popular British theory that the Germans do not have a sense of humour. This belief has arisen because unfortunately the majority of Brits do not understand German, the language itself does not lend itself to the kind of word play that English allows and British society encourages humour whereas German society is of the opinion that one can only speak of serious matters in an earnest manner. In my experience most British after dinner speeches or lectures start with a quick one liner: I remember a distinguished professor of chemistry who started a speech one evening with "As Anthony said to Cleopatra, 'I have not come here to make a speech.'" This would be almost unheard of at a similar event in Germany. I worked for a German learned society for 15 years and during this time I must have heard between 50 and 100 speeches and lectures. Only one started with a touch of humour. However the German on the Clapham Omnibus can quite often come out with wit to make his point. One of our neighbours is looking after her very sick sister and we meet several times a week to deliver chicken soup which is a major hit with the patient. The sister doing the nursing has a line in insults that is quite remarkable. We were recently discussing her neighbours and heard them described as "…second generation newspaper deliverers".

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