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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The Eight-Week Blood Sugar Diet

My name is Ginge in Germany.

I am obese.  I weigh 122.4kg.  My waistline is 120cm.  I am a type 2 diabetic. I am maxed out on tablets.  I do not inject insulin (yet).

I have tried various diets, as well as hypnosis.  Hypnosis has been the most effective method so far, dropping from 120kg down to 108kg in 12 weeks back in 2003.  A week ago I was chatting to an old classmate of mine, who is now a nurse.  She recommended the 8-Week Blood Sugar Diet.  This is the book.

Minutes after chatting to the aforementioned classmate, I had ordered the book off Amazon.  Two days later the book arrived.  Schatz was away all weekend.  I dedicated myself to reading the book from cover to cover over the weekend.  The first section was all about VLCD: very low calorie diet.  I get the idea.  I whizzed that part, yellow highlighter pen in hand.

On Sunday I bought a pocketbook at the McPaper stationery shop.  This book has now become my food diary.  Everything gets jotted there.  Today I started in earnest.  Smoked salmon omlette for dinner.  Most pleasing to the palate.  On the way back from the supermarket  I called in at my local cafe.  Tempted as I was, I refrained from ordering my usual piece of cake or bread roll.

Nur eine grosse Tasse Kaffee, bitte.

The lady sitting at the table next to mine turned out to be from Croatia.  I ended up practising my very rusty language skills with her.

Dugo nisam govorio hrvatski.

One hour and three cups of coffee later, time to head home.  I had forgotten all about eating sticky, sugar cake.  As Barak Obama once said…

…Chuffed to bits.

Any cold turkey?  Any cravings?  So far – no.  Perhaps coincidentally a slight headache, though that may be caused by the dull overcast weather or slight dehydration.  I am following expert advice and drinking 2-3 litres of water a day while on this WOE (way of eating).  On the other hand, I think my blood sugar has already improved.  I feel more alert, energetic and awake already.  Maybe it’s also because I’ve also given up on drinking cola…  Nothing like a good de-tox.  Oh, and I feel a lot more cheerful and positive, with an improved attention span.

Today I decided to work from home.

Lead us not into temptation.

That way I avoided colleagues offering me sweets, birthday cake, encouraging me to go on, have the lovely dessert, etc.  Close confinement at work, with minimal food in the flat.  If it isn’t there, you can’t eat it.

It’s day 1.  Let’s see how it all looks on day 56.

Have a healthy 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!

I love to travel (2)

I love to travel, even if only on the local-stopping train round England.

June 1998.  I’d been to Gavin’s leaving do.  I’d had a few drinks.  I was merry, slightly drunk.  I board the last train back to Bracknell from Reading.

I sit in one carriage.  It’s nearly empty, with just me and a couple of other men.  I start to flick through the newspaper for a few minutes.  Meantime, I listen in on the two other men sitting opposite me.

Foreigners…

Slavonic…

Ah, Russian.

I decide to spend the next few minutes listening to them.  Time to kill before I reach Bracknell.

One fancies a girl off his course.  The other had had a McDonalds for breakfast.  Interesting stuff.  A good chance for me to practise my language schools.  (Three years at sixth form college and four years at university.)

Three minutes before Bracknell, I put the newspaper down.

One minute before Bracknell, Our Boris says to Our Ivan:

Попроси газету у этого толстого козла.

(For those not fluent in Russian: “Ask that fat bloke if you can have his paper.”)

Ginge in Germany, holding his copy of the Evening Standard replies very nonchalantly:

Почему ты сам не спросишь?

Translation: “Why don’t you ask him yourself?”

Suddenly two very embarrassed and surprised Russians, their faces now as red as the old hammer and sickle flag.

My train stops.  I get off.

One word: satisfaction.

Have a multi-lingual day, won’t you!