Ja, Voll? NEIN!

Posted on
Apr 28, 2009
Last week, the hubby and I found ourselves in Munich for National Beer Day (insert joke here about how every day is National Beer Day in Bavaria). The hubby had a beer, and I had Johannisbeer juice, which we determined, after a lengthy discussion that nearly involved diagrams, to be currant juice (clearly, I am a woman who lives on the edge). There was the prerequisite Oompa-oompa band, of whom I made the mistake of taking a photo. This sent them stumbling our way, requesting tips in drunken English. And of course, there was singing.

Lots of singing. Not that German is necessarily a good singing language. The only bits of German I know were from the time we learned to sing a translation of Frere Jacques in 6th grade, which mostly resulted in me and my friend Giselle sounding like we were coughing up a lung. Personally, I think we had potential, but we abandoned our interest in the German language roughly 15 minutes later.

But I digress. Back to the bar. After one particularly spirited chorus of “Helga is Sitting on My Pretzel” or something, everyone cheered, and my husband (who once studied in Germany and speaks enough of the language to avoid accidentally propositioning someone’s wife), shouted a hearty, “JA, VOLL!”

Our table fell quiet. When we asked what was wrong, one of our party explained that the expression “JA, VOLL” (yes, sir) had a bit of a “militaristic” connotation.

“It is something the Germans are a bit sensitive about,” someone explained.

“It’s okay,” I said. I pointed to my husband. “HE’S JEWISH!”

And with that, everyone cheered, and said, “Oh, it’s alright then!” and laughed.

A bit later, I realized how odd the whole thing was. Did my husband’s Semitic background just save us from committing some incredibly random faux pas? Is this the first time in history screaming “He’s Jewish!” has gotten someone out of trouble with the Germans? I’m still not sure. But I half expected John Cleese to pop out of the rafters screaming, “DON’T MENTION THE WAR!”

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  • jenn

    frere jacques is french…not german. People looked at you because they knew you were not a native. People say ja voll all the time it’s not offensive and does not mean yes sir.

    • Everywhereist

      Jenn – Yes, I do realize that Frere Jacques is French. We sang a translation of the song in German, as I note above. And while it does not technically mean “Yes, sir,” but rather, “Yes, indeed” (or something to that effect) the explanation given to us by those at our table (native Germans) was the one I noted above. But if you want to pick apart my post, you might want to note that I also spelled the word wrong. 🙂

  • Chris

    It really must be difficult for you living such a stressful life, running around after your other half. I went bankrupt in 2010 and unfortunately I was unable to follow my other half around the world!!! Primarily cos when my money ran out, so did she.Who said love was fickle…lol x

  • Johannes

    I, as an annoying and overly correct German, have to correct you (I am sorry!), but the word you are describing is “Jawohl” and not “ja voll”, which translates to “yes full”…

    Anyhow, it’s good to see that some visitors really love my beautiful hometown of Munich…

  • Spencer

    Yeesh, tough crowd…

  • Jessica

    Tough crowd indeed. Looks like “Jenn” turned it into a cultural awareness superiority contest.

  • I had to think a bit about what “Ja, voll” was supposed to mean until I came up with the same conclusion that Johannes mentioned. Yeah, I know, annoying.

    I think the word is a bit tough because depending on how you say it the meaning can go from “ironic” and “jokingly” to “he seriously said that?” in a second.

    For anyone who is (mildly) interested, the German translation to Frere Jacques is as follows:

    Bruder Jakob, Bruder Jakob,
    Schläfst du noch? Schläfts du noch?
    Hörst du nicht die Glocken? Hörst du nicht die Glocken?
    Ding dang dong. Ding dang dong.

    There you go. Possibly not the easiest lyrics to pronounce for non-Germans.

    • Kathy

      Thank you so much for that Frere Jaques translation! My daughter is in kindergarten in this small village where we live outside of Stuttgart and they sing that all of the time! They sing the start with the French, then the English, then the German.

      As far as the ja voll question goes, I have had a hard time with it. I hear people say it sometimes in conversation, mosthly at the butcher or bakery when making orders. It does mean, literally, “yes full” but is used as the English word, “right.” I have discussed using that word with my husband, and have been looking for an opening to do so, but it is tough. I grew up watching WWII movies, and ja voll sounds too similar to jawohl for me to feel comfortable saying it. Keep in mind that Bavarians may have a different view of word usage than those from another region. Where I live the people have their own dialect/language called Schwaebisch. If one thinks of language and cultural differences in the USA and understands that all countries in the world have that to some extent, it is a lot easier to understand how experiences and understandings may differ. If I call someone a Coonass in St. Louis, where I am from, I should expect to be made sorry (possibly with physical violence.) But in the Acadiana region of Louisiana, people proudly state, “I am a Coonass” on t-shirts, buttons, and bumper stickers.

      I think it is funny that yelling “It’s OK, he’s a Jew!” managed to diffuse the situation in Munich. I love that!

  • And there’s a typo in the second line of the song, by the way. It should always be “Schläfst”, not “Schläfts”.

    So I am spelling nerd, so what?

  • I just found your blog and I must say that you have a personality (at least on this site) that people will love it or hate it. There is no in between. I happen to love it. BTW… on this post where you said “National Beer Day (insert joke here about how every day is National Beer Day in Bavaria)” you forgot to insert the joke… lol.. just sayin.. 😉

  • Kittie

    Haha love it!!

    Anne: thanks for posting the translation, I was trying to do it in my head and my rusty German failed me!

  • Funny!

    I bet you’re right when you say it’s the first time in history that screaming “I’m Jewish” might have got someone out of trouble with the Germans…lol! Go book yourself a Guinness record, NOW!

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