Language is a window and a conduit into a culture. Other aspects of the culture of a people tell us much, but language often tells us the most. Also, knowing the language of a country is a better way of ordering bread in a bakery than using some sort of sign language that only you could possibly understand.
In today’s Europe of unions and homogeneity, language is one of the last vestiges where distinctions can still be drawn. Europe, where the written word has long been cherished, refined and most importantly, preserved, the language of a region is clung to like a life raft upon a tempestuous sea of bureaucracy brought from Brussels.
The French language with its eloquence, romantic connotations, and steadfastness against globalization or influence from other tongues, remains one of the world’s great (and pure) languages. Just ask them.
Italian, animated, passionate, loud, yet melodic, reminds one of the rhythm of life and just how catholic Italy and Europe really are. The joke here in Germany is “how do you get an Italian to be silent?” Answer, “cut off his hands.”
English, especially the American variant, is a language of practicality and imperialism, used by the world for commerce and entertainment. The internet, Hollywood and the Kardashians ensure that American English will be enjoyed for years to come. “The business of America is business,” said Calvin Coolidge, and that sums it up succinctly.
The Bavarians, and their northern brethren the Germans, are a complicated bunch. Beyond their tax code which makes up about 50% of the world’s tax codes and a plethora of rules for everything, the language of these most organized of peoples is anything but that. They would have you believe otherwise, as they complain incessantly about the difficult nuances of English. I agree with their assessments on English, but would never give them the satisfaction.
A great example of a simple little word in German is Reißverschlussverfahren. OK, maybe not simple or little but a typical word nonetheless. It is what’s known as a compound word. That’s the easy part.
What does it mean? The direct translation is ‘zipper feed-in method’. Does that help you? If you’re from the States, probably not enough so I’ll continue. It’s the method, dictated by LAW, in which cars have to merge together on an expressway or highway. One from the left and then one from the right. Actually in Germany it’s ‘rechts vor links’, so they begin on the right. (Sort of like reading Arabic I guess.) The whole process reminds one of a zipper of cars and is a beautiful thing to behold when done correctly by everyone and speeds up the process of merging by 1.72488%. That’s a fact from the Max Planck Institute.
I estimate that I have driven about 200,000 miles (320,000 km) in my life, a great majority of those miles on Florida roads. Granted, Florida is always duking it out with some other state for having the LEAST safest roads in America, but it is because many of the drivers come from somewhere else, so they say. Bullshit. Floridians are terrible drivers! Anyway, the sample of drivers from across the USA is large enough. In America, I’d never heard of such a rule, though I can’t rule out the possibility it exists.I can rule out, however, that if such a rule exists in Florida it is not obeyed. In Florida if either the car or the driver is attractive, but not too attractive, they get in. Here in Germany a rule does exist and is nearly always obeyed, unless the drivers are from Russia. Then it would be more like Florida, surely.
Sorry for the digression.
A Reißverschluss would literally be translated into a ‘traveling lock or fastener’, or a zipper. But even looking at how to say the damned thing, without meaning, the word is difficult to navigate. The ‘ß’ is actually a double ‘s’, not to be confused with the less traditional ‘ss’, which is also a double ‘s’. There was a move 20 years ago in the German speaking world to make all of the ‘ß’s ‘ss’s, so that it could be understood on computers and not looked at as some kind of beta (β) or lactam antibiotic (β). As most new things in Germany, the modernizing and standardizing of German never completely took hold.
Fittingly, since this is the German language after all, there are volumes upon volumes of books about how to say the ß, and when and where to use it. It is, of course, neither feminine or masculine so it can be enjoyed and cursed equally by everyone.
Verfahren means method, that much is clear. But how do you speak this? Well, a ‘v’ in German is pronounced like an ‘f’ in English, and an ‘f’ in German is also pronounced like an ‘f’ in English. Why it is one and not the other no one can say with any certainty. Now, if we added something as innocuous as a ‘sich’ before the verfahren, so it looked like sich verfahren, then the whole thing means ‘get muddled’, which is where we are and has made me sick.
Perhaps you may be asking yourself, with such a wonderful organized rule such as Reißverschlussverfahren for driving, might it translate (pun intended) into other aspects of Germans’ lives? Perhaps in a bakery or on the street? Might these logical tidy Germans zipper feed-in method at the front door of a department store or disembarking an airplane? Nope. Germans are still waiting for a rule to be written that legally binds them to the idea, and the politicians are waiting for the report from the Max Planck Institute which is due out in 2032. So for now, it’s every man for himself!