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German lesson: when other countries are remembered in Germany | Culture and lifestyle in Germany and Europe | DW

Phraseologisms enrich our speech, and in combination with geography, they also expand the boundaries. In German, people of other nationalities are often mentioned. We give some examples and explain the meaning, as well as the origin.

Like a god in France

The one who literally lives like a god in France knows no worries and hardships. Lives like Christ in the bosom, happily ever after. This German expression originated in the 18th century as an allusion to the way of life of the French clergy. They were at the top of the class hierarchy and enjoyed many privileges.

Chinese emperor and Chinese charter

Hear a statement that sounds completely unbelievable and want to give a spontaneous ironic answer? Reach out to Heaven. “Und ich bin der Kaiser von China,” the Germans say. “Well, if so, then I am the Chinese emperor,” – by stating this, you are contrasting what you heard with something equally unimaginable.

The Germans also remember the Chinese when they talk about something complex and incomprehensible. “Das ist wie Chinesisch für mich” – “For me, this is a Chinese letter.” The next level of difficulty is Fachchinesisch – “Chinese for specialists”. Such to the average person may seem, for example, professional terms or the language of lawyers.

Bohemian villages

Incomprehensible gibberish in German is still called “Bohemian villages”. “Das sind für mich böhmische Dörfer”. In the Middle Ages, on the outskirts of the historical region of Bohemia, German was spoken, the language and the names of the places in the depths were Czech. Therefore, to passing Germans, they seemed alien and incomprehensible.

Spanish orders

Something strange, outlandish, wrong, even a little creepy in the language of German phraseological units is associated with the Spaniards. “Das kommt mir spanisch vor” – literally “It seems Spanish to me.” This expression came from the 16th century, when the king of Spain, Charles V, became the German emperor and began to impose his Spanish orders on the Germans.

Swedish curtains and an old Swede

The phraseological unit “Hinter schwedischen Gardinen” also has a negative meaning. No one wants to be in this position. Steel from Sweden was once considered particularly high quality and stable. That is why it was often used in the manufacture of prison bars. To be “behind the Swedish curtains” – to thunder on the bunk.

The Germans call a good friend “Old Swede”. Alter Schwede – old man, buddy. According to one version, the roots of this expression go back to the 19th century. After the Thirty Years’ War, Elector Friedrich Wilhelm I of Brandenburg recruited experienced, proven Swedish soldiers as instructors into his army. Alter Schwede is not only an expression of trust, but also of surprise, provided that it is not addressed to a specific person: “Honest mother!” If a certain person is meant, then it conveys indignation: “Gee! Mommy dear!”

Owls and Athens

Going to Tula with your samovar is the same as carrying firewood into the forest or owls to Athens. Eulen nach Athen tragen – to do something useless, what others have been doing without you for a long time and well. The owl is a symbol of the goddess Athena and the city of Athens. It can be seen not only on ancient amphoras, but also on the Greek euro coin.

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