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10 entries from January 2010

English in Action. Sale Now!


My German is crap.  My German cannot order a Big Mac minus the pickles.  My German is so patchy, you dare not skate on it.  My German makes Goethe roll over in his grave so often, he thinks he's being spit-roasted.    You should stick a mop in my German and use it to wash the floor.

So, should I celebrate the fact that English words creep into German?  

I mean, we have plenty to spare.  Experts proclaim that English probably holds more words than any other language. Perhaps twice as many as Spanish, for example.

If you need a new word for a new thing, then English is a good place to look.  We're the Wal*Mart of words.   Our words are plentiful, cheap, and often imported.

Still, the PC part of me regrets this.  Shouldn't one work to smash linguistic imperialism? Will the whole planet eventually speak a creole of my mother tongue, and lose much richness and diversity along the way?

Why use an English word when there must be a German word for the same idea?  Is the idea really so new to German culture, that it needs a totally new expression? 

If so, why did the idea occur to English speakers first?  Is it simply because there are more English speakers, and hence more likelihood that a word would get coined?   Or was there something east of Aachen in the Bundesgeist that kept the very idea from arising?

Now, as a linguistics major, the Honourable Husband is no friend of the Whorfian hypothesis.  Unless there's good craic in it.  

Language surely reflects culture, but does it actively put blinkers on us?  Do the words which a language has to borrow tell us something about the people who speak it?

Or are people just using English to sound cool, much like English speakers who toss in a few words of French to lay on some class?

I've begun to take note of the so-called Deunglish words I encounter.  Over the coming days and weeks, I want to ponder some of them. 

The first arrived, literally, almost on my doorstep.

Ferdinand Geriner, the very classy tailor next door, held a sale.  This caught my eye for two reasons. 

First, a sale at Ferdinand Greiner is not to be missed.  Their shirts are exquisite.  Master Right loves his FG pajamas so much that he is seldom found outside them. 

Second, why a sale, and not an Ausverkauf or a Rausverkauf? 

My landlord Roman and I were enjoying a bilingual beer one day, and I asked him about the strange words on our neighbour's window.

According to Roman, the concept of a sale is quite distinct.

For many years, he said, labelling and pricing in Germany remained under strict regulation.  If you set a price, you couldn't just raise or lower it, willy-nilly.   That would cause chaos—at least in the minds of those who remembered the hyperinflation of the 1920s.

You needed to wait (in Bavaria, at least) for the Sommerausverkauf or the Winterausverkauf.  If a shop-keeper managed to score a good price on a particular item, he'd make a Sonderangebote, or special offer. 

But you couldn't just lower a price because it wasn't selling.  That was the seller's problem.  I mean, how would you feel if you bought something one day and it were discounted the next?  Look on it as consumer protection.

EU competition policy put an end to this silliness, but brought a new problem.  What do you call these casual—indeed, whimsical—Ausverkaufen?  Take a leaf from the Americans, the world's master sellers, and call it a sale.

The kind lady in the shop confirmed this. "You'd only use Ausverkauf if you were talking to really old people," she confided, in her elegant Hamburg English.

It turns out that they weren't using the word just to sound cool.  Which brings us to the next post.  Do Germans use the word cool just to sound cool?



Fake, But Sincere. Part Two.

Living in Japan taught me a fresh respect for the power of the human imagination.

My Japanese friends (and loved ones) need little encouragement to imagine, for the sheer pleasure of it.  Even a tiny cue—the picture of a palm tree, a postcard from Spain—can trigger a pleasurable journey, inside one's head. 

Concealing a Tokyo construction site

If the thing ain't real, so what?   In your mind—and that's where it counts—it's both perfect and true.  Real doesn't always mean better.  Dreary old real

That's why it gives me great pleasure, once again, to trace a web of imaginative tribute across the globe.  Let's start in Munich, before we travel to Tokyo.  In our minds, of course.

Fake #1: Gothic Noveau

Munich's most photographed building is a Gothic extravaganza: the Town Hall, or Rathaus.  Here, we see it decked out for Munich's annual Christopher Street Day

(By the way, does calling it Christopher Street Day seem more authentically homosexual than plain old Gay Pride, or its direct German translation, Schwulstolz?)


The Munich Town Hall oozes Gothic camp from every crumb of its aging mortar.  Gargoyles, serpents, witches, seraphs, demons and angels abound. 

They're all fraudulent, as well as fictitious.  The so-called Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) opened in 1901.

Let's not call it fake Gothic.  Let's call it Gothic Revival.

Fake #2: Fifties Refurb

Odd that the burghers should build a Gothic Town Hall, when the rest of the city was busy helping to invent art noveau.   Doubly odd, since Munich has a real Gothic town hall, dating back to the 16th century, right next door.  

Well, it's real-ish.   The original was severely damaged in WWII bombing, and Eisenhower ordered remains bulldozed so tanks could roll into the Marienplatz, the city's central square.

It was rebuilt, from scratch, in the 1950s.  So the old Gothic town hall is much newer than the new Gothic town hall.  And much less Gothic, if the truth be known.

Daryl & Cheeling Italy 016

Today, it houses the Munich Toy Museum, showcasing the collection of cartoonist Ivan Steiger.  Speaking of pretend, it just finished a Barbie exhibition

Back to the New Town Hall.  Taking pride of place in front, we see the famous Glockenspiel

The top deck reprises a famous jousting match staged for Duke Wilhelm V on his marriage to Renata of Lothringen.  The lower level shows a bunch of barrel-makers prancing about to celebrate the end of the plague.


Well, the jousting knights were knights errant.  They've been playing a discordant note for two years, and nobody noticed.  It wasn't fake, but it was wrong.

Fake #3.  Make mine a Nama.

You'll hear no discord from the Glockenspiel in the picture below.  It welcomes visitors to Yebisu Garden Place, a commercial and residental development in Tokyo's inner west—my office was in YGP Tower.  It plays a cheerful mp3 file of an accordion and metal xylophone, perfect every time.  And not a word about the plague.


Now, why would the good burghers of Ebisu, which nestles in trendy Shibuya-ku, want to cheese it up with a fake Munich?  

It seems Yebisu Garden Place was built on the former site of the famous Yebisu Brewery, and the complex contains the world HQ of the Sapporo Brewing Group, as well as the splendid Yebisu Beer Museum

The buildings have been designed to feel beery and European, right down to the fake brick facades.  They used plastic tiles which look like terracotta, and draped them over a flexible steel frame.

Brick buildings spell danger in an earthquake-prone nation, and those few real brick buildings which survive in Japan get heavy structural reinforcement.

Fake #4.  Construction Controlleé

One might assume that all the buildings in Yebisu Garden Place are safely fake.  Not so.  The French château which houses Joël Robuchon's Restaurant is a real French château, dissembled block-by-block and reconstructed on the plaza level.  One hopes it's obtained seismic reinforcement, or the people shopping in the Mitsukoshi Department Store Food Hall beneath will be in for a surprise, someday. 

Toranosuke's image of Joel Robuchon's Tokyo Restaurant

Rumour has it that the food is so good, Ayumi Hamasaki keeps an apartment in YGP, just so she can pop across the street for a quick soufflé fromage.

Fake #5   Bavariental.

The East mimics the West more skillfully than the other way around. The story of  the Chinese Tower shows that the good burghers of Munich got a little confused about what they were actually faking.

Daryl & Cheeling Italy 318

The story starts with the birth of a Mr. Benjamin Thompson in Woburn, Massachusetts in 1753.  By a strange turn of events, he found himself an officer of the Wittlesbach court in Munich, earning the title Reichsgraf von Rumford, or Count Rumford to the likes of you and me.  He became the first scientist to properly understand the heat-producing effect of friction.  As well, has the distinction of introducing the potato to Bavaria, thus beginning a centuries-long culinary love affair.

He will remain best-known, though, as the founder of Munich's magnificent English Garden. The "English" part refers to a style of park created by landscape gardener Capability Brown, in which paths meander around free-form lakes, in contrast to the squared-off formality of most noble gardens of the day. 

The model for such a park was Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew.  As you may know, Kew Gardens features a bloody great pagoda in the middle of it.  Muncheners felt, logically, for their garden to be a proper English one, it should feature one of those pagoda-thingys, too.  Except nobody knew that they were called pagodas, so they called it the Chinese Tower.  A Bavarian oompah band plays daily, on the second floor.

Fake #6.  Arrrr.  Or should that be allll?

You'd need to look long and hard to find such gauche fakery in the east.  But the Pirate Ships of Lake Ashi, near Hakone in Japan, come close.  These boats are really just commuter ferries that have been done up to look like pirate ships, as much as a commuter ferry ever can. The wrapped-up sail on the mast never unfurls; each is, in fact, but a plastic moulding of a furled-up sail. 


This particular Japanese pirate ship seems to bear the Australian flag.  Now, someone should point out that unless Australia has come adrift and floated into the Caribbean, one is unlikely to find an Australian pirate on the high seas.

No pirates. but plenty of thieves.  The convict stock which settled Australia had light fingers around many things, and none so much as British names.  Four Australian capital cities christened a suburb Cheltenham; three lifted Richmond; along with several Canterburys, Henleys, Hamptons, Hyde Parks and Darlingtons. 

Mark Twain, in his book Following the Equator, bemoaned the lack of originality in antipodean place names. He sighed whenever he passed through yet another spot named Victoria. 

(Interestingly, Twain's tour of Australia was entirely motivated by fraud.  In the days before photography was common, fake Twains would tour the globe, and make a pretty penny reading from his books.  Twain thought that he, too, should get in on the racket.)

However, like most fakes, the Australian places are better than the originals.  Except—South Australians will back me up on this—the Adelaide suburb of Southwark.

And on that note, let me conclude our homage to homages.  Echt is ugh.  


How to Avoid Jesus While Shopping


Warming to the theme of a secular Chistmas, YouMadam posed a question on my post about Christmas 2009.  If expensive gifts run counter to the true spirit of the holidays, can one blaspheme on the cheap?  

Most Germans shop for cheap Christmas gifts at the local Christkindlmarkt. From the name, you can guess the obvious Christian overtones which no amount of Feuerzangenbowle can distract you from.  Management often pays some kid to dress up like the Christ Child and...well, wander around being Christly.

Luckily, two Munich markets took a secular slant on the season.

Pink Christmas.  The Gay Christmas Market.

Small, but beautifully formed, as we say the backroom.  Pink Christmas used to be a weekend affair, tucked away in a quiet corner of boystown.  (I've mentioned it before)

This year it swelled to an enormous length, and lasted almost the entire month of December.  Not to mention that it extended to that gayest of spots, Berlin.


By the time we visited on the last day, the schedule was taking its toll.  The tinsel had begun to fray, and the trees to droop.


But the partying kept up non-stop.  Every evening, the entire place turned into an outdoor disco where you could shake your long-johnned tush.


Isn't there a Christmas song about Silver Balls?

The rest of the gayborhood got into the spirit.  KraftAkt, one of my favourite Munich gay bars, decked its halls with yuletide drag.  Their inflatable snowman looked like he could use a blowjob, though.

Watch where you stick that icicle, Frosty!

Careful where you stick that icicle, Frosty!

If you're a real-live gay snowman, would the bar's Christmas decoration make a good sex doll?  Or would that be a bit flaky?

Diburnium, the leatherman's supermarket, dressed its window with many helpful suggestions for that last-minute gift. Your friends won't believe their eyes when they unwrap your package!

Merry Fistmas!

Merry Fistmas!

FIST™ brings warmth and good cheer to any holiday gathering.  If I were the marketing manager for FIST™, I'd pitch it  as alternative to a bottle of wine as the perfect present  for the host, if you've been invited to a party.    Like a bottle of wine, he can open it for all to share, or he can put it in the cellar for later.

Tollwood.  The Hippie Christmas Market.

Tollwood is so politically correct, it's secular by default.  

From their website: "The Tollwood Festival is a beacon of cultures, ecology and quality of life.  From the beginning, the festival has striven to be the image of a multicultural society, which is why tolerance, internationality and openness are the cornerstones."

Alas, many Müncheners think Tollwood is a bit of a joke.  The stalls sell a collection of candles, batik, organic soap, hand made pottery, incense and fairtrade knicknacks. Hippies go there to stock up on all their hippying needs.

Tollwood stays mostly schtum about all this birth-of-the-saviour business.  In fact, Master Right and I went there to buy a Christmas-tree ornament, and had trouble finding one


We loved it. At the entrance, an ice sculpture of the pyramids greets guests.  African drums lull you as you make your way amongst the stalls.

P1000098_2 The traditional way to say welcome in Bavaria is Grüß Gott, or "God Greets You".   Tollwood welcomes you with a hearty Grüß Göttin, or, "The Goddess Greets You"

The Goddess, I'm delighted to say, greeted us with a sumptuous paella and a couple of Tsing Taos.  Free of genetically engineered ingredients, as Tollwood policy stipulates.

We didn't work up the enthusiasm to try out the ice rink made of recycled high-tech plastic. So all we could do is lounge under the palm tree made from a recycled autobahn sign.  From the Ruhrgebiet, by the looks of things.  I hope everyone can still find his way to Düsseldorf. 

Time to Flex Your Middle Finger.


The second annual International Day to Bite Me has arrived!  It's your day to flip the bird at the small-minded, the petty, the unreasonable, the insufferable.  Tell us your story in the comments, or you can blog about it, and link back here.

Whales and Dolphins are Delicious!

And to put you in the mood, here's the Tokyo Choir of Complaint.  I'm not sure whether they should bite us, or they want us to bite them.  No matter.  It's splendid discontent, if a little too polite. 

By the way, the government forbids the Complaints Choir of Singapore from performing in public.  Sounds like they need a National Bite Me Day, real bad.

I Read You Loud and Deutlich

Airplane autopilotTonight, we watched a masterpiece of the translator's art.  It was the 1980's movie Airplane!, dubbed into German.

That means we didn't actually watch Airplane!  We watched Die unglaubische Reise in einem verrückten Flugzeug, or The Unbelievable Journey in a Disarranged Aircraft

OK, the title wasn't exactly the most artful translation I'd ever heard.  Rather, I waited for those famous deadpan lines when Leslie Nielsen tells Robert Hayes he has to land the plane:

"Surely, you can't be serious!"
"I'm deadly serious. And don't call me Shirley."

The time came. 

"Are you earnest?"
"Yes, and don't call me Ernest."

Um, close.  It kinda made sense in German, where both the word and the guy's name are spelled Ernst.  Maybe it made too much sense. Perhaps a native German speaker could weigh in.

Oh, and I think the joke where June Cleaver talks Jive was cracked in Niederbayerisch.

Be Gay About It. And Be Quick About It.

Erika is a thoughtful lesbian blogger, who shares stories of her life and marriage.  Her blog sports the snappy title Be Gay About It.

The BGAI Together instruction pageErika has begun a project designed to show gay women and men living lives of dignity and grace.  Such stories, she hopes, will inspire those coming out, questioning, or who struggle with their orientation.

"Too often we hear stories about LGBT people being rejected because of their sexual orientation or gender identity through bullying, hate crimes and discrimination," she writes. "BGAI Together is a grassroots storytelling project where LGBTQ persons and their allies unite to counter this adversity with positive stories of love and affirmation."

Erika wants your stories—published or unpublished—from your blog, clip sheet,  hard drive or bottom drawer.  It doesn't matter if you're gay, or a straight ally.  She wants to hear the everyday tales of acceptance and celebration.

But hurry.  She needs your submission by stumps on Thursday, January 14.  Click on the picture for more details.

And while you're on her blog, read it.  You'll be glad you did.

I refuse to participate in your neurosis

Bite me woman

The second Monday in January, is special.  The day-declaring people declared it National Clean Off Your Desk Day.

Odd.  Studies, they say, show people with messy desks are as productive as those with tidy ones.  Perhaps even moreso, if they produce thinking

People use their desks to park information they may need, but which they can't keep top of mind.  Getting people to clean up their desk gives them, according to one expert, an "environmental lobotomy".

Yet companies still enforce clean-desk rules. And a veritable industry has grown up around getting people neat and organised. 

Last year, I was so outraged at National Clean Off Your Desk Day, that I declared the following day, January 13th, as National Bite Me Day.

Because it's about more than a messy desk, IMHO.

People make moral judgements about slobs.  Slobs obviously have more important things to do than clean their desks.  They might use the time to think beautiful, original thoughts.  Do you know how uncomfortable that makes the world's meddlers, busybodies, control-freaks and Calvinists? 

Be alert to those who pass off their own hangups as "helpful". Or just plain better.

This issue is about people with nothing better to do who seek to foist whatever it is on you that they have nothing better to do than.  (Hey, grammar police!  Suck on THAT.)


Refuse to accept someone else's emotional agenda.  Draw a boundary.  Don't let them bully you, with bogus arguments about what's best, what's right, what's more efficient, what's pretty, what's nice, what's necessary. Your emotional comfort is as important as theirs. Say so. 

Afterwards, leave a comment.  Let us hear your stinging riposte. Tell us who you told off.  How did they take it?  Not that you, like, care.

Click on the twink-link to your right to get the full story, or on this page.

You might like to post about it on your own blog, and link back to here.  You'll find some (if I do say so myself) cool graphics here, should you clever webophiles want to use them as a hotlink.  I've already paid the royalties on the images, which was rather well organised of me. Don't you think?

What idiot declared war on Christmas?

Just around the corner from our place, a certain upmarket food store trimmed its tree with boxes of champagne.  Empty ones, I might add, lest you decide to pluck a sly tipple before they disappear tomorrow.  Tradition in Bavaria holds that the tree comes down after the Epiphany, or the Twelfth Day of Christmas.

Some may deplore this as a particularly crass example of Christmas gone commercial.  If so, bring it on.

Like every December, 'twas the season for self-righteous to remind us of the True Meaning of Christmas.  Which, by all accounts, is that we shouldn't be enjoying ourselves too much, since we have to remember that a pregnant lady 2000 years ago once had trouble finding a hotel room. 

But if we want to achieve  peace on earth and good will toward men, then gifts, celebration and laughter surely help. 

Any atheist who tut-tuts the holiday because of its religious origin, truly does his cause no service.  What idiot turns his nose up at joy?

Johann Hari wrote of this in The Independent a couple of Christmases ago.   And though I'm not a big fan of Objectivists,  Tom Bowden's thoughts on the Ayn Rand Institute's Voices for Reason blog make a convincing case for the atheist to roll up his sleeves and get into the holiday spirit.

The so-called "commericalisation" of Christmas makes a broadly-celebrated holiday meaningful to everyone.  To those with different beliefs, or with none at all.

Irving Berlin gives us the classic example of a non-Christian's constructive engagement with the holiday.  Many have remarked on the irony that Berlin, a Jew, should have written the most popular Christmas song of all time. But if you look closely at the lyrics for White Christmas, you'll find it utterly secular.  It's just a song about the weather, really. 

You'll notice that I put the word "commercialisation" in quotes.  I did that deliberately.   A secular Christmas doesn't need to cost a lot of dough.  

But since God and Mammon are apparent opposites, spending too much money on a holy occasion guarantees big-time blasphemy.  Right?

On those grounds, Munich is a blasphemer's paradise.  Compared to the average German, a Münchener contributes three times the GDP to the national economy, and he likes to spread the wealth.  There's no better city for a materialistic Christmas, if that's what you're after.

The upscale merchants of the Briennerstrasse turned streetlights into chandeliers


Insouciant little Christmas balls, sprinkled around a €3000 party frock

A 2008 Christmas display at the upmarket Nymphenberg Porcelain

The last paragraph might surprise some.  After all, I've lived in New York.  Isn't that the birthplace of Christmas glitz?  

In my experience, New York Christmases are glittery, but not all that glamourous.  You'll see lots of decorations,  but apart from places like Rockerfeller Centre, they're not exactly classy.

New York Christmas 2006 018_2 In a 42nd Street gift shop

New York Christmas 2006 017

A Mad Manly watering hole.

New York Christmas 2006 013a
A relic of better times: extravagant trees grace the lobby of Bear Stearns in 2006.

Now that we've reached the official end of the Christmas season, I've paused to reflect on it.   Few cities celebrate Christmas with such grace and style as Munich.  We enjoyed our third Christmas here.  Trust that wherever you are, you did the same.