Untranslatable Expressions

Every language has untranslatable words and expressions.

Today’s untranslatable expression is:

“Back-seat driver”

I’m not sure if it’s a British expression.  (Americans, do you use the same expression?)

What does “back-seat driver” actually mean?   Let’s turn to www.urbandictionary.com.

1. A passenger in the back seat of the car who criticises the driver.

2. Anyone who offers unwanted advice.

Two definitions, the first of which is literal, the second is somewhat figurative, and the one that is more frequently used in British English.

I am sometimes asked what the role of church warden is like.  To ex-military people, I tend to explain thus:

It’s a bit like being RSM in a regiment.
To “civvies,” I tend to explain thus:
It’s a bit like being a shop steward.
One of the key tasks of church warden is to deal with the back-seat driver, who has an opinion and “expertise” on most things everything within church.

22:30 on Saturday evening: Beep-beep.  WhatsApp message from Back-Seat Driver (BSD).

“The church website is down for maintenance.  Why?”
My reply:
“Probably because our webmaster is doing some updates.”
Beep-beep.  BSD again:
“But why’s he doing maintenance work on a Saturday evening?”
My reply:
“Because he’s doing it in his spare time, and he’s doing it for free.”
Beep-beep.  It’s now 22:39.  BSD yet again:
“When’s the new-look church website going to be ready?”
Point to note: I am not a fiery redhead, but by now, I was on the verge of acting true to stereotype.  Instead, I remembered that useful phrase from my interrogator course all those years ago.  I decided to “ICATQ” him.
“I cannot answer that question.”
Beep-beep.  BSD yet yet yet again:
“Why not?  You said you were aiming to get the website up and running this month.”
(Ladies, when I use the word “aim,” I mean it in the same sense that men “aim” for the toilet bowl.  It’s very, very approximate.  You get the picture now, don’t you?)

My reply:

“I cannot answer that question.”
I think by 22:47, BSD had got the message.  Literally and figuratively.  Time for me to switch mobile phone off for the night. 

BSD has a habit of advising others on how it should be done better.  In fact, he gives more “on-the-spot guidance” than Kim Jong-un, President of North Korea.

kim
Some “on-the-spot guidance” from BSD…
  • We should use fresh milk instead of UHT milk  for post-service refreshments.
    • “Fine.  Then you go buy some…  What’s that you say?  You don’t have the time?”
  • We should brew decaffeinated coffee as well as caffeinated coffee.
    • Guess what… “Fine.  Then you go buy some…  What’s that you say?  You don’t have the time?”
  • We should provide lactose-free milk in case some visitors are allergic to ordinary milk.
    • “Fine.  Then you go buy some…  Oh, what’s that you say?  You don’t know where you can buy some?”
  • We should update the website to enable the church to do a live broadcast of the Sunday sermon.
    • “Good idea.  Hey, why don’t you do the business analysis, you write the requirements, you meet with the chaplain and the webmaster, you test it, and you launch that new functionality?  What’s that you say?  You don’t have the time or the technical expertise?  Oh, just fancy that.”
  • We should head down to the local train station and talk to people about Christianity.
    • “What a brilliant suggestion.  Many thanks for that.  Tell you what.  You design and print out a load of leaflets, you get yourself over there, you go up to people and speak to them in German… oh, you don’t speak German, eh?”

“We” in this context, in fact, means:

Anybody except for me.

The back-seat driver.  Please, please, please pray for those who have to deal with them…

Have a guidance-free day, won’t you!


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Sauna, So What?

Germany.  Germany.  Germany.  Germany.  Germany.  Germany.  Germany.  Germany.

What do you think of when when you think of Germany?

  • Wurst
  • Beer
  • A pretty successful national football team
  • That bloke with a funny-looking moustache and haircut… cough, cough
  • Come on now, admit it… Nudity

Germany is famous/notorious for “everyone getting their kit off at the first opportunity.”  Actually, that’s not quite the truth.  Walk down any German high street, and everyone is fully clothed.  Sit on any German train, and they are all fully clothed, even during a heatwave like we have today, temperatures of 30+ degrees c.

Whereas Germany does have the FKK (Freikörperkultur – “free body culture”) beaches and sections of the park, it’s still the minority of Germans who do go there.  (Well, as far as I am aware.  I admit, I have not done a scientific survey of my colleagues and neighbours.)  Most Germans will still wear their swimming costume, bikini or trunks on when they go sunbathing.

There is, however, one exception.  Woe betide you if you break this rule.  Germans go au naturel when they sit in the sauna.  Now it’s time for me to answer all the FAQ’s that I get from Brits.

  1. Phew phoar!  No, I have never got, cough, cough, “excited” in the sauna.
  2. No, it is not at all erotic.
  3. No, after my first visit to a German sauna, I did not rush out to buy a season ticket.
  4. Sex gods and goddesses do not visit the sauna.  Most German sauna-goers are not by any means salad-dodgers.  However, they tend to eat those salads on top of their cheeseburger, large Pommis mit weiss, bratwurst, and washed down with a few gallons of beer, followed by a large piece of Black Forest gateau.  Most of them make me look slightly anorexic.
  5. No, I have never met my bank manager/next-door neighbour/that lady who works down the local cafe, while sitting minding my own business down the sauna.
  6. No, I do not make sure I have a good look, phoar…

What impressese me is how businesslike, practical and logical Germans are about the whole business of sitting in the sauna:

  • in the buff
  • in your birthday suit
  • in the nip (Irish English expression)
  • au naturel
  • starkers
  • insert your favourite euphemism

My favourite sauna is the infra-red sauna at mine and Schatz’ favourite health farm.  45 degrees warmth and the infrared warms those sore joints.  Next to it is the Tecaldarium, with tiles rather than wooden slats.  Ideal if you have back or joint pains.

So what happens if you do enter the sauna in clothes, eg bikini or swim shorts?

Answer: One of the workers will rush into the sauna at the speed of a thousand leaping gazelles, shout at you, double you out of the sauna and tell you that you are to:

  • Undress immediately
  • Shower
  • Re-enter the sauna

…which has to be much more embarrassing than being seen naked in the sauna would have been.

Oh yes, once you do enter the sauna, you must-  by tradition – call out a mighty, cheery “Halloooooooooo!” to all the gathered textilfreie people on the slats (or tiles).

I have to say I find the German attitude to be a lot more mature than the British, rather giggly-girl, attitude towards people taking all their clothes off.  And believe me, after the first three nanoseconds, you really, really don’t bat an eyelid.  You just end up sitting in silence if everyone else is silent, or you join in the conversation about the weather, Brexit, Helmut Kohl, etc.

Have a textilfreier day, won’t you!

sauna-sign

Blood sugar diet: day 39 of 56

Today’s statistics:

  • Starting weight: 122.4kg
  • One week ago: 120.2kg
  • Today: 118.3kg

That’s 4.1kg off in four weeks.  I am happy.

So what had happened?  A week ago I had blipped upwards due to a slack weekend.  I had had food porn – Irish English breakfast – down the Irish pub in the city centre, bread rolls and a few cocktails.  No regrets.  It’s a way of eating, not a diet.  I now know after several weeks on this diet/WoE, that as soon as I get back on track without making anny big fuss, the weight comes off, generally within 3-5 days.

On a positive point, friends have started noticing my weight loss, asking what diet I am trying.  Two of them have ordered the book and have started within the last fortnight.

“If Ginge in Germany can manage it, so can I.”

And my new Marmite cycling top fits me just nicely.  It even has a nice jar-like shape.  Not long now till the Tour de France starts in Düsseldorf.  Los!

marmite

Have a love it-or-hate-it day, won’t you!

 

Praise in public, rebuke in private…

So, a break from articles about the diet.

Church matters.  Specifically house group.

Once a week I attend house group with other members of church.  Yesterday we started looking at Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Yesterday evening Deckname Markus sat next to me, as he did the previous house group session.  Deckname Markushas, at the last two sessions, spoken really loudly all the way through the last sessions.

The effects:

  1. I had to put my hands my ears whenever he was speaking.
  2. I whispered in his ear, “Could you speak more quietly please.”  (Just once.  He then spoke quieter for a sentence, then WENT BACK TO FULL VOLUME a few seconds later.)
  3. Rather than stop for a cuppa and small talk, in the great tradition of the Sunday newspaper reporters, I “made my excuses and left,” shoes on, heading down the stairs from the 3rd floor and to the nearest taxi for home, solitude and the sound of silence.

Another house group member also “had to dash.”  (British euphemism: “I don’t have to dash, but I don’t want to stay here any longer tonight.”)

I asked that person:

Does Deckname Markus work with old people, or is he hard of hearing?

Reply:

Phew, yes, he was talking really loudly today!

Today I bit the bullet.   I sent our man an SMS, as low-key as possible:

 Could you talk a bit quieter at house group please?  The last two times you were so loud, I had to cover my ears when I was sitting next to you.  Danke Dir!

Polite, friendly and zum Punkt.

This afternoon a reply came back.  I’ll translate from the German.

I hate SMS.  It’s a terrible form of communication.

I phoned Schatz to seek her opinion, as she understands the German Weltanschauung better than I do.  She has a good expression.  “We must talk about the blue elephant in the room.”  I rang Deckname Markus to try placate him and explain there was no malice intended.

He admitted that is one of his weaknesses, but still took umbrage at my texting him.

So, folks, straight question.  What should I have done?

Have a low-decibel day, won’t you!

Ears

Blood Sugar Diet: Day 7 of 56

So, here we go. I have a confession to make. I deviated from the strict programme on the weekend.

We have sinned in thought and word and deed…”

Saturday

Breakfast consisted of two cheese bread rolls (white bread), filled with turkey slices, slice of hard-boiled egg, tomato and lettuce, washed down with a cup of coffee. By no means ideal. However, I am not going to do self-flagellation about it. I had no cravings or hunger pangs for carbs. I just wanted to sit down in my local café, write my diary, have my breakfast and then go. I actually enjoyed my breakfast. However, an hour after eating the rolls, I did feel quite drowsy for nearly an hour. Maybe my body has become averse to bad carbs like processed white bread?

Lunch was Irish (English) breakfast down the Irish pub in the city centre. That was most pleasing to the palate. Arguably it was, notwithstanding portions, not too horrific. I don’t plan to have the all-day breakfast every day. Probably once a quarter. I don’t have the cravings for it.

Evening meal was dinner at the vicarage. Asparagus, creamy potatoes, ham slices, followed by strawberry cake, and washed down with a glass of white wine (Spanish, €7.99 from Kaisers supermarket).

Sunday

Breakfast: two croissants and a coffee at a Bäckerei near church.

Lunch: shared church lunch, a bit of curry, rice, casserole and ginger cake. I enjoyed it.

In the afternoon I was invited out for coffee and biscuits. I enjoyed the biscuits, too. Home-made.

Evening: Stopped off at Turkish café and had doner kebab with a small bottle of Coke zero. My first cola in a week. It tasted really, really nice, I have to say.

Monday (today)

Breakfast: two hard-boiled eggs, with a small amount of Marmite dabbed on to add flavour.

Lunch: bowl of salad in the canteen.

Evening meal: Hallbeshaenchen: half a roast chicken.followed by a Pink Lady apple.

In the evening I attended a lengthy meeting from 20:00 till gone 22:00. There I let my guard down (and the side down), by succumbing to temptation to eat biscuits, probably about ten of them.

Observations

Yes, I did not follow the programme on the weekend. I did try carbs. What have I learnt?

  1. I don’t have cravings for carbs. White bread makes me very drowsy. Next time I will order omelette down my local café, which is more satisfying anyway.
  2. All-day breakfasts are delicious. Next time I will ask for it without the bread. Next time will not be till t’other side of the 8-week diet. (I was showing a colleague round the city centre anyway. Normally I’d have been alone or with Schatz, having a coffee and small lunch together.)
  3. Home-made biscuits are moreish. All biscuits are moreish. Next time I am offered some, I will politely decline.
  4. I feel no shame about vicarage dinner or church lunch. I will not be anal retentive about diet if invited to dinner. I get invited to dinner once every three months anyway. Church lunch I attend once every six months.
  5. Sunday evening meal: next time I’ll bring a packed evening meal to eat on the train when I head home from evening service, or I’ll keep something healthy at home for when I get back to “base.
  6. Tonight I was at a meeting of Church Council. I had brought the tea and biscuits. I should not have touched the biscuits. One biscuit becomes 2, 3, 4… 10 biscuits.

Excuses, excuses? Thin end of the wedge? No. Please spare me the righteous indignation. I applied a variant of the 5:2 rule – 5 days “on-task”, 2 days not on-task. Today, without hesitation or difficulty, I am back on track. Shrug shoulders, move on.

As Erich Honecker once said:

Vorwärts immer, rückwärts nimmer!

Next checkpoint is on day 10: check-up with GP when I found out 3-monthly blood sugar score. Watch this space…

Have an appetising day, won’t you!

The Church-Shopper

I’ve been remiss, I know.  No blog articles from me for a while.  I apologise.

Let’s recap a few facts about me.

  • I am a British expat, living in Germany.
  • I try to integrate: I speak German.  I have a German Schatz.  I respect the Ruhestunde.  I prefix insults with, “Es ist nicht böse gemeint, aber…”
  • I am a practising Christian (Anglican/Episcopalian).  Practising, because I can never get it right.  As part of my faith, I attend church (Anglican => Anglophone) most Sundays and go to weekly (Anglophone) bible study/house group (“Hauskreis” in German for theo).

So, what is this article about?  Well, I’m not Catholic, but I do have a bit of a bad conscience, “ein Schlechtes Gewissen”.

The house group I go to is very multinational: Americans, Africans, Brits, Germans, Malaysians, Chinese, you name it.  ABC… G, M and much more.  Please don’t get the wrong impression.  It’s not a theology seminar, with everyone sitting round piously studying Ezekiel 25:17.  We drink tea, we sing worship songs, we pray together, we laugh and joke.  All in my beloved mother tongue, English.  (Remember Samuel L Jackson when he was reciting from that passage?)

As part of the study we read a chosen text from the bible and chew it over.  Hence: bible study.   Each of us takes it in turn to read aloud a paragraph.  Roger so far?

Now, here is why my bad conscience has crept it.  One of our house group members is a nice guy, (Deckname: “Hermann”).  But…  But…  But… his command of the English language is somewhat lacking.  (That’s British understatement, by the way.)  I frankly also think he is a bit of a “church-shopper,” the kind of person that you don’t see for months because they’ve been going to…

  • A Chinese church, because they do such wonderful refreshments after the service
  • An African church, because the preacher is so entertaining
  • A local German church, because they needed an extra singer etc

You get the idea.  Harumph…

So back to house group/bible study.  “Es ist nicht böse gemeint…” but here are my points of frustration.

  1. Hermann’s tendency to church-shop.  Why does he never, ever come to our church on any Sunday?  Is house group a social activity, in the same way that some people nip to the pub, evening classes, chess club, etc?
  2. Does he have “English-groupie” tendencies?  This seems to happen among some people.  Wow!  The chance to mix with exotic foreigners and practise my English and be sophisticated.
  3. A purely practical point.  Is Hermann’s English good enough?  To give a wider context, we have a policy in our church that children at Sunday school most be sufficiently proficient in English to be able to understand the course material.  Further, they must speak only in English during the lessons.  “Es ist nicht böse gemeint…” but it’s to provide a lingua franca in the lessons.

I can’t help thinking, what would happen if we applied that English proficiency policy to our house group?  Notwithstanding Hermann’s being a nice guy, in terms of MoSCoW priorities (Must have, Should have, Could have, Won’t have yet), house group’s must-have is to study the bible.  Here I have serious concern.  When Hermann’s turn comes to read from the text, he makes me feel like I’m back at infant school again.  He speaks so slowly and haltingly in English.  (Think of when you were at infant school and your classmate would read out like a Dalek on mogadon.)

Then… the cat… and… the… dog… went… in… to… the… house…  and the… maaaaaaa-gicccccccccccccccccc-ian-… cast… a… spell… on… the… dog… and… the… cat…

(Ten minutes later your classmate has finished reading out the sentence, during which time classmates have started rocking back and forth.)

So imagine the double-whammy of a church-shopper who reads in English like a Dalek that has just swallowed a large dose of mogodan, combined with no-show for months on end because he happened to disagree with the text we were studying.

Then add the mispronunciation of Biblical names:

  • Abraham/Ahhhh-braaa-haaaam
  • Sarah/Sarrrrrraaaaa
  • Canaan/Caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah-naaaaaaaaaaahn
  • Noah/No-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh

This being after he had heard everyone else reading the same names out in the correct, Anglophone way…  Pay attention at the back of the class, puh-lease!

Then there is the “Umschreiben.”  This is ironically a difficult word to translate into English.  Let me explain by way of worked example.  I don’t know the word for “dog” in a given language.  I therefore say in your language, “The animal that barks and has four legs and chases cats.”  That is Umschreiben.  Hermann does a lot of that, a fact which again makes me think, “He’s not quite going to get the discussion if he hasn’t got the vocabulary.”

Am I being too harsh?  No?  Oh, thank you!  You see, I’m thinking of joining a local Albanian-language house group.  My Albanian is a bit limited, but they do do a nice cup of tea there, and I like their preacher, and…

Have an Anglophone day, won’t you!

Our mother tongue (1)

So, our beloved mother tongue, post-Norman demotic Anglo-Saxon.  Modern-day British English.  Where do some of the words come from?

Let’s head round about town.  When a village  became a certain size, the residents built a fence round it, to create a town.  What’s the German word for “fence”?

Der Zaun

Do you think that is beyond the pale?

The pale were the city walls (of Dublin, Ireland), somewhat strong than a fence, to protect the citizens from the ruffians outside of it.   Anything that was beyond the pale, out the control of the English, was unacceptable.

Have an acceptable day, won’t you!