Once you’re past the Guten Morgen! and Ein Bier, bitte! it’s really time to dive deep into German. You might think that since the language is so closely related to English, there would be plenty of overlap in proverbs and general sayings, but that is one theory better not put into practice.
Using Es regnet Katzen und Hunde to complain about today’s weather will only result in confused looks and possibly a few questions of whether you’re feeling alright. But luckily, few other languages have such a plethora of colorful sayings, so there’s really not much need to borrow from English at all.
Satteln wir die Hühner?
Literally: Shall we saddle the chickens?
While you won’t actually find many Germans racing around on chickens they’ve recently saddled, you will hear this phrase uttered before leaving. It comes down to simply saying “Let’s go?” but why anyone would choose such a painfully mediocre way of announcing their intended departure when saddling chickens remains an option is a mystery yet to be solved.
Alles in Butter.
Literally: Everything in butter.
German is also infamous for its many wurst-related sayings, so this particular one signifies a rare departure from form. But deciphering its meaning will still give you plenty of food for thought. You’ll most likely hear this particular phrase used between friends of all ages. Alles in Butter?, one might ask to verify that their friend is indeed all in butter – meaning that they’re doing well and don’t have any significant dairy-related complaints.
Da haben wir den Salat!
Literally: There we have the salad!
The painfully obvious distaste German has for things not wurst is also clear in this saying. While getting one extra pork product shows you have received special treatment, seeing salad is a cause for concern. You can use this exclamation when something has gone (moderately) wrong. For example: Uff! Ich habe die Eier fallen gelassen. Da haben wir den Salat!
Klappe zu, Affe tot.
Literally: Lid shut, monkey dead.
Unlike Schrödinger’s famed cat, the monkey is definitely dead in this case and no amount of mental gymnastics is going to change that. So, the saying simply means there’s nothing else to be done about a particular situation. Your favourite football team lost to their archrival after a spectacular game?
Ah well, Klappe zu, Affe tot. Time to move on.
Da liegt also der Hase im Pfeffer.
Literally: So that’s where the rabbit lies in pepper.
Contrary to popular belief, rabbits are rarely wont to lie in pepper. At least not of their own volition. But even armed with this groundbreaking knowledge it’s hard to figure out where this saying might come from, although several theories exist. The English equivalent is simply “That’s the heart of the matter”.
An example: “Oof, why am I so hungover this morning, I only had three beers the whole night?! Oh, right – there were also the five tequila shots. Da liegt also der Hase im Pfeffer.”
Jemandem auf den Schlips treten.
Literally: To step on someone’s tie.
Having someone tread on your necktie might be rather annoying. It could even lead to you getting offended by that person’s carelessness. (Although the question of why your tie was so long as to tangle on the floor in the first place would need to be answered.)
So this is also the logic behind this great German saying. If you step on someone’s tie, you’re offending them.
Eine ruhige Kugel schieben.
Literally: To push a calm ball.
You’ve probably heard of Die Sau rauslassen. Because obviously the German version of letting your hair down would entail allowing the female pig to go out. But when Ich eine ruhige Kugel schiebe, I’m doing the exact opposite.
The pig stays firmly in its pen and I’m staying comfortably in my house, relaxing, with hair very much up.
Leg einen Zahn zu!
Literally: Add a tooth to it!
When you’re eating your seventh wurst of the day (as you would), it pays to use your teeth. Otherwise, the task might take much longer. So, when someone tells you to Leg einen Zahn zu!, what they’re really saying is to stop messing about, add a tooth, and to hurry up and finish.
Das ist nicht mein Bier.
Literally: That is not my beer.
The German obsession with wurst is only comparable to its obsession with beer. So saying that something is not your beer is a strong statement indeed. You will only use this in the most dire of situations to really demonstrate that you want nothing to do with the issue at hand.
So next time, instead of saying That’s not my problem, just point out that you’re not going to be drinking someone else’s beer.
Speaking German like a native takes a lot of time, effort, and learning the best expressions to pepper your conversations with. At least the last part of that task is easy because of the language is simply flush with colourful sayings.
From its fascination with wurst to a vast array of other food items, learning German is an experience to savour. Also, sattel die Hühner und lern Deutsch!
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