When I was ten or eleven, my mother took my brother and me to see Universal Soldier in the movie theater, at my brother’s request.

For those of you unfamiliar with this specimen of early-90s cinematic glory, here are some fun facts:

  • It is rated R.
  • It involves a terrorist plot … at the Hoover Dam.
  • It stars not only Jean-Claude Van Damme, but also Dolph Lundgren (psst- you should totally check out that link to Mr. Lundgren’s personal site, because it is DELIGHTFUL).

If you are playing along at home, I’ve just given you at least four reasons why you should not let a child see this movie. But let’s not judge my mother, because she really did her best, and (despite being totally desensitized to violence and suffering a crippling fear of most national parks) I turned out okay.

Please consider this the next time you can’t find a babysitter and really want to see a low-budget action flick.  Your kid will probably be fine! He or she may even grow up to be an unemployed travel blogger!

There was only one part of the movie that I had trouble with: it’s when Mr. Van Damme has just woken up from some sort of cryogenic sleep or something (I apologize for my vagueness, but I refuse to look up the plot), and he’s wandering around outside, completely naked.

While I later handled Dolph Lungren getting ripped apart by a thresher at the end of the movie (Technically, this is a spoiler, but I would argue that I did you a favor), 11-year-old me apparently could not deal with the sight of J.C.V.D.’s firm, glistening posterior, and I starting cackling like a madwoman for the entire time it was on screen.

Which was, like, a while.

I mean, I was in hysterics (though really, I could have been laughing at the absurdity of the plot in general). It wasn’t until my brother very gently leaned over to me and delicately whispered something in my ear that I was able to regain some composure. I will never forget his words.

“If you don’t shut up, I will kill you. I swear to god, if you do not stop giggling right this minute, you will not live to see tomorrow.”

The point is, I apparently laugh at inappropriate times, at inappropriate things. Which is probably why I find Germany – and German words – so damn hilarious.

I realize I’m going to get a whole heap of mail about this. About how I’m everything that’s wrong with America, how I’m ignorant and narrow-minded, and how I clearly don’t travel enough, because if I did, I would be able to appreciate the beauty of other languages, instead of laughing at funny-sounding words like a moron.

But whatever. German words are inadvertently really, really funny.

Just like Universal Soldier.

Here are some things that had me laughing during my last trip.

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Ausfahrt.

What it actually means: an exit. (You’ll most commonly see it on the freeway, denoting off-ramps).

Ausfahrt

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What it sounds like: something an Aussie would do after ingesting too many bratwursts.

Fact: Rand and I have this exchange almost nightly.

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Fohnsee

What it actually means: Fonhsee is a rather picturesque camping area in Bavaria, near the town of Iffeldorf.

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What it brings to mind: Fonzie.

I would, however, totally visit a place named after Ralph Malph.

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—————

Schmuck

What it actually means: jewelry

Schmuck!

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What it brings to mind:

NARD DOG!

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“Ich Liebe Dich.”

What it actually means: “I love you.”

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What it brings to mind:

 

Me: What does “Ich liebe” mean?

Rand: It means “I love.”

Me: Oh, sweet heavenly father. It says, “I love … DICH?”

Rand: Dammit, Geraldine, it means “I love you.”

Me: Suuuure it does … dich.

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—————

Haarschmuckfachgeschäft

What it really means: Haarschmuck is ornaments for your hair (makes sense, when you see the above definition of schmuck). And fachgeschäft means a specialty shop. So Haarschmuckfachgeschäft is a specialty shop that sells hair ornaments. Obviously.

Giggle.

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What it brings to mind:

-

—————-

Rathaus

What it actually means: a city hall or town hall.

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What it sounds like:

Sadly, the rathaus was not made entirely of cheese. YOU MISLED ME, GERMANY.

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Wirtshaus

What it actually means: a pub or saloon

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What it brings to mind:

 

Me: Hey honey, do you know why you shouldn’t go there?

Rand: Why?

Me: Because it would be the wirst haus ever. Get it? WORST HOUSE?

Rand: You realize you that’s not what the sign says, right? You just transposed two of the letters.

Me: WHY MUST YOU ROB ME OF LIFE’S JOYS?

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—————

Schlosswirtschaft

What it actually means: a restaurant (or some sort of shop/office) inside of a castle (a big thanks to @PetraKraft, who explained this all to me.)

 

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What it sounds like: a place where infectious diseases would be highly communicable.

For some reason, this came to mind.

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—————

Sigh. So that’s it. I know, I know. I’m going to get tons of mail about this. And believe me, I realize that there are just as many English words and “Americanisms” that sound ridiculous to native speakers of other languages, too. And I wouldn’t blame anyone for laughing at those either.

Like onomatopoeia. Or flagella. Or … well, I could go on and on.

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Full list of categories:  Lost in Translation » Top Ten
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Comments (50)

  1. 23. Apr, 2012 / CheezyK:

    “Haarschmuckfachgeschäft” and “Schlosswirtschaft” are two fine examples of what I loved about the German language in high school – forget about individual descriptive words, just connect them all together to make a new, bigger word instead!

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  2. 24. Apr, 2012 / Manuela:

    Lol, I so totally do not judge you for this!! Just makes me realize how absolutely awesome Germany is and how much I miss it!!!

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  3. 24. Apr, 2012 / Pini:

    As an Aussie travelling around Germany I lost it every time I saw the word Ausfahrt!

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  4. 24. Apr, 2012 / Xenia:

    Paradise (in my language it’s spelled paradajz, but pronounced paradise) means tomato.
    Galina (female Russian name) in Italian means chicken. Or han, actually.

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    Johannes Reply:

    Funny thing: In Austria a “paradiser” is a tomato….

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    Manuela Reply:

    Isn’t it a condom?

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    andi Reply:

    No, a condom would be called Pariser, but this word is pretty old-fashioned.

  5. 24. Apr, 2012 / CatCatAttack:

    Since you showed a German road sign: I haven’t traveled as much as you. Is Germany the MOST difficult highway signs to get around (that uses the basically recognizable English/European alphabets)? Does all of Europe avoid using basic North/East/South/West directions, or just Germany and their 30-letter road signs? It’s like they wanted to me to give up and just stay there forever, waiting for the Tuesday night chicken rotisserie wagon to drive through the village.

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    Anne Reply:

    Believe me, as a German, sometimes I have no clue where to go even in areas where I have a basic knowledge of where towns are. They have a way here to use the most irrelevant town the highway leads to and then put that on the sign. Totally confusing. My husband and I have driven on the wrong highway multiple times because of that.

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  6. 24. Apr, 2012 / CatCatAttack:

    Me speak English good. Sheesh.

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  7. 24. Apr, 2012 / weezafish:

    Those are funny words, surely everyone can see that? :) I also like the germans ability to make longer words by joining two, three – hey, even five or six, other words together.

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  8. 24. Apr, 2012 / Donna:

    About 25 years ago, my dad and step-mother transferred to Holland for two years on business and my brother and I (12 and 14 at the time) visited them one summer. One of the trips they took us on was Germany and along the Rhine – driving in Dad’s prized Peugeot – initially along some crazy highway where it seemed like we were traveling at warp speed.

    I can’t remember all the details…but I DO remember my father yelling at my step-mother to “…find Ausfahrt on the map…it has to be there somewhere!!! We’ve passed several signs for it! I can’t drive AND read the map!!!”

    My poor step-mother was frantically turning the map every direction trying to find the apparently GINORMOUS town of Ausfahrt, Germany.

    Imagine Dad’s dismay when the lovely inn keeper at the front desk explained. Step-mother never lets Dad live that one down.

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    Caitlyn Reply:

    Nice! My parents did something similar, yet slightly worse; they went in circles trying to find ‘Zentrum’. This was despite my mother’s eight years of German classes.

    Love your blog Geraldine, you never fail to make me laugh!

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    Dawn Shepard Reply:

    I can’t stop laughing at this.

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  9. 24. Apr, 2012 / Mark:

    You are bad…very, very bad.

    And you made my morning!

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  10. 24. Apr, 2012 / Kylie:

    German is simply comedic genius. My grandmother immigrated to Canada in 1951, but her German accent is still one of my favourite things to hear (sadly, only on video now).

    When we went to Berlin in 2003, I remember giggling like crazy at the sign that read: starten rundfahrt. It’s where we started our bus tour of the city (start round tour) but it looks like a sign that is COMMANDING you to start farting right there.

    Seriously — German is comedic gold. ENJOY IT!

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    cheekychix Reply:

    Omg – I literally snorted with laughter @ this comment ! :D

    [Reply]

  11. 24. Apr, 2012 / Momma B:

    I took German in HS, so I ALMOST remember the correct pronounciation, but just sounding them out in English was more fun! Fonzie? I giggled at them too! I also had the opportunity to travel to Germany twice and it’s beautiful! Turned 25 in Berlin and have a piece of the wall with a picture of me next to it to prove it – ENJOY!

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  12. 24. Apr, 2012 / Mark:

    I always giggled quietly in college when the professor would say the word ‘Gemeinschaft’. I will allow you to draw your own funny thoughts on that one. :)

    [Reply]

  13. 24. Apr, 2012 / Melanie:

    My sister wanted to KILL me because I died every time I saw an exit sign in Germany. Apparently they make shirts with that sign on it. I think I need one.

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  14. 24. Apr, 2012 / Skippy:

    I pretty much always laugh when I read your blog. This post had me laugh so hard I almost peed my pants.

    Almost. Because I know YOU and how laugh out loud funny you are. And a girl tries to be prepared.

    But then I read the comments.

    Somebody around here owes me a new pair of panties. And I am not naming any names [CatCat, Kylie, Donna], but were you and your readers separated at birth Geraldine?

    Thank you all for the laughs. And making me feel very much adopted. sigh.

    [Reply]

  15. 24. Apr, 2012 / Skippy:

    *had me laughing
    or
    “made me laugh

    Whichever is closer to being grammatically correct – that’s the typo.

    [Reply]

  16. 24. Apr, 2012 / Emily McGee:

    When I took German lessons last spring, I remember one of the dialogues in the book talked about an automatic sausage machine (like a vending machine that sells sausages). I hope there is a word in German for automatic sausage machine, that would make my day.

    [Reply]

    fotoeins | Henry Reply:

    Wurstautomat, or Wurstmachine? You may now freely draw your own conclusions. :)

    [Reply]

  17. 24. Apr, 2012 / Sarah:

    My favorite German word is ‘büstenhalter’ which means bra. It literally translates to boob holder!

    Oh Germany!

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  18. 24. Apr, 2012 / Carrie @ Season It Already!:

    Thanks for making me giggle today!

    [Reply]

  19. 24. Apr, 2012 / Gaelyn:

    I had to laugh along but do realize English probably causes similar problems for Germans and other foreign travelers.

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    Everywhereist Reply:

    Oh, absolutely. Did you see the last paragraph? :)

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  20. 24. Apr, 2012 / Christee:

    This is what I love about your blog, you are a travel writer that isnt pretentious or snooty about her life and her experiences…and you make me laugh :)

    [Reply]

  21. 24. Apr, 2012 / Charlotte:

    I awkwardly could not stop laughing at “ausfahrt” when I was on a bus full of German people…
    Great article!

    [Reply]

  22. 24. Apr, 2012 / fotoeins | Henry:

    I’d like to relay a little story from the fair city of Heidelberg, Germany. Persons A and B are friends and have known each other for some time. One day, a conversation in English went something like this:

    A: Hey, I understand you got out of that hellhole and moved to a new place. Where do you live now?
    B: Yeah, I’m in a two-bedroom apartment in a Neubau on Fahrtgasse 25.
    A: … …
    B: What?
    A: … mmmmffffffpfpfpfpf … HAHAHAHA …
    B: WHAT?
    A: You said “fart” “gasse”.
    B proceeds to slug A.
    A: HEY! That hurt! Why’d you do that?
    B: To teach you a concept I just experienced when I hit you: Schadenfreude.

    [Reply]

    Colleen Reply:

    I love the word Schadenfreude. I don’t even know why, I just love it.

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  23. 24. Apr, 2012 / Natalcho @ Tomatoes Rock:

    Oh yes, Ausfahrt gets me every time as well:) but I had never thought about Ich Liebe Dich this way – you have opened my eyes!

    [Reply]

  24. 24. Apr, 2012 / Janet T:

    Krankenhaus- means hospital, makes me think of crack house and I like to use it as a cuss word, because I can!

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  25. 24. Apr, 2012 / Expat-Mom (Sarah):

    How well does Rand know German? Ask him for some pillow talk…

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  26. 24. Apr, 2012 / Samantha Cernock:

    I always thought the same thing about “ausfahrt” Now I miss Germany.

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  27. 24. Apr, 2012 / Christina:

    HA. In Middle/HS the same group of us took French for 5 years – the French word gouter (snack) turned into GOOTER, pronounced in a Southern accent.

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  28. 24. Apr, 2012 / Paige Willey:

    The French word for “seal” is “phoque.” Try pronouncing that during an oral exam. Wait… And, unrelated to foreign languages, but on the subject of inappropriate/immature laughter, there is a bakery in town that makes pastries in the shape of peaches. Except they look more like a certain part of the human anatomy more than peaches. I laugh uncontrollably every time I go there.

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  29. 25. Apr, 2012 / Mira @ NingboNights:

    I love laughing at German words and I AM German! Like the city calld Worms.

    Also, our word for nipple is “Brustwarze”… yes that’s “Breast Wart.”

    Who said German isn’t sexy?

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  30. 26. Apr, 2012 / Peg:

    This brings to mind my husband’s favorite story. Wally was in the US Air Force in the ’70s, lived in the Netherlands, and had learned to speak perfect Dutch (an amazing story in itself). While he was on a trip to Germany, an American friend asked for help to buy fog lamps for his car.

    Wally, thinking that the Dutch and German words couldn’t be that different, asked the clerk for some “mist” (fog) lamps. The guy looked at them like they were crazy.Wally repeated, “My friend would like some lights for his car so he can drive through the “mist.”

    Finally, and after much laughter, they discovered that while the Dutch word for “fog” is “mist,” the German word for “fog” is “nebel.” In German, “mist” is actually cow manure. The clerk simply couldn’t figure out why these two strange Americans would want to drive through cow s–t!

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  31. 26. Apr, 2012 / Louise:

    haha…. I took German classes for 10 years.. your post reminded me of my childhood… super cute post =)

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  32. 26. Apr, 2012 / Adam Costa:

    LOL – just watched “Sudden Death” last night. In Spanish.

    Van-Damage, baby.

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  33. 02. May, 2012 / CB:

    Hahaha…I am German and I love to read/learn what comes to mind to non-German-speakers, when they hear our language!!! :D

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  34. 11. May, 2012 / Mcakes:

    ACTUALLY. We use onomatopoeia in German too. But it’s neither German nor English, it’s greek. And flagella is Latin/Italian.

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  35. 22. Jun, 2012 / Ada:

    Sooooo funny post! I reread it every once in a while for a good laugh. :D

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  36. 07. Nov, 2012 / Natalie:

    Nussknacker = nutcracker

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  37. 04. Jan, 2013 / Dale:

    I’ve always wanted to schlittenfahrt all over the snowy covered hills.

    (schlittenfahrt = sleigh ride)

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  38. 24. Oct, 2013 / cheekychix:

    Oh boy, really gotta love finding yourself in random blogs / youtubes post etc. This thread has really made me giggle and snort with laughter, liebe !! :D

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  39. 30. Oct, 2013 / Kara:

    in Heidelberg there is a side street called “Fahrtgasse”

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  40. 07. Jul, 2014 / Kae Lani | A Travel Broad:

    This cracks me up! This is the beginning of a very good list of hilarious German words. You should do a part two. That language has a plethora of content to work off of.

    [Reply]

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