4 differences between Germany and Denmark

I often go to Denmark to visits some of my relatives. And every time I was there last year, I realized that Danish everyday occurrences differ from the German way of life. A comparison of both countries likewise reveals their peculiarities.


Germans turn on the headlights only in the dark

The Scheinwerfer (headlights) of a car are practical gadgets to light you the way in the dark. Germans make indeed only use of them when there isn’t enough Tageslicht (daylight). In Denmark, however, you have to turn on the lights every time you drive, no matter how bright the day is. If you miss to turn the lights on and get into a Verkehrskontrolle (traffic check) you have to pay a Strafe (fine) of about 70 Euros.


There is more licorice in Denmark than in Germany

Yep, there is Lakritze (licorice) in Germany. But in Denmark there is even much more licorice. While Germans love their Eiscreme (ice-ream) with Karamellstückchen (chunks of caramel) and Schokoladenstückchen (chunks of chocolate), Danes refine theirs with licorice. You can even get chocolate bars with licorice.


The visit to the doctor is mandatory in Germany

Danish Arbeitgeber (employers) leave much room for the Privatsphäre (privacy) of their Arbeitnehmer (employees). When a Danish Angestellter (jobholder) is taken ill, he need not necessarily go to see the doctor in order to get an official attestation that he is temporarily arbeitsunfähig (incapable of working). A phone call is sufficient to let the boss know that he will be absent for some days. This practice is unthinkable in Germany.

In Germany, you immediately have to consult a doctor when you feel bad. But, however, there is a so called 3-days-rule, which says that German employees can be absent from work up to three days without having to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s certificate). Nevertheless, you have to hand in a certificate not later that on the fourth day of your absence.


Germans prefer their butter unsalted

I remember my time abroad in England very well. Back then it was hard to find 250g packages of unsalted butter. Recently, I have found out that it’s not only the British that prefer their butter salted but also the Danes.

Germans streichen (spread) butter under everything, may it be Leberwurst (liverwurst) or Schokoladenbrotaufstrich (chocolate spread). I guess, Germans don’t want to tie themselves down whether they will consume butter with savory or sweet Brotbelag (spread). That’s why we prefer our butter unsalted.

Of course, you can get salted butter in Germany but this is rather a specialty, just like herbed butter and garlic butter.



der Scheinwerfer (sgl.) / die Scheinwerfer (pl.) –headlight(s)

das Tageslicht –daylight

die Verkehrskontrolle (sgl.) / die Verkehrskontrollen (pl.) –traffic check

die Lakritze – licorice

die Eiscreme – ice-cream

das Karamellstückchen (sgl.) / die Karamellstückchen (pl.) – chunk(s) of caramel

das Schokoladenstückchen (sgl.) die Schokoladenstückchen (pl.) – chunk(s) of chocolate

der Arbeitgeber (masculine; sgl.) – employer

die Arbeitgeberin (feminine, sgl.) – employer

die Arbeitgeber (pl.) – employers

die Privatspähre – privacy

der Arbeitnehmer (masculine, sgl.) – employee

die Arbeitnehmerin (feminine, sgl) – employee

die Abeitnehmer (pl.) – employees

der Angestellte (masculine, sgl.) – jobholder

die Angestellte (feminine; sgl.) – jobholder

die Angestellten (pl.) – jobholders

arbeitsunfähig – incapable of working

die Krankschreibung – doctor’s certificate

streichen – here: to spread

der Schokoladenbrotaufstrich – chocolate spread

der Brotaufstrich (soft meat and cheese) / der Brotbelag (sliced meat and cheese) – spread



Our Italian Journey – Part 1: Venezia

Photos and text by Bill Auge with an intro by Geoff

This autumn we had the very great pleasure of meeting Bill Auge a long time reader of ours, and his wife Victoria.
Recently retired, Bill and Victoria took a long anticipated trip to Europe, with Italy as their main goal. Serena and myself spent a lovely couple of days showing them another Italy far from the madding crowd, the relatively unknown area of northern Tuscany known as Lunigiana. It was during this time that I suggested to Bill that, as he now had quite a bit of time on his hands, he might like to write a few guest articles for us describing his and Victoria’s impressions of Italy.
Bill rose admirably to the challenge, and I’m pleased to be able to share the first of his articles with you today. Over to you Bill.

Vaporetti offer a wonderful and inexpensive way to travel the canals of Venezia

As the cold dark days of winter drag on, a smile forms on my face as I reminisce on the Italian journey my wife Victoria and I shared this past autumn.  On a sunny afternoon we landed at Marco Polo Airport and after a nervous search for our luggage, which had been loaded onto the wrong carousel, we caught a bus that took us quickly to Piazzale Roma, the entrance point of Venezia.  
From here one can only travel by foot or boat.  We proceeded by vaporetto (ferry), the public transport of Venezia, to our hotel.  The vaporetti are slow and sometimes it is faster to walk, but they offer a wonderful and inexpensive way to travel the canals of Venezia, especially if you buy a multi day pass.

salute and canal 2
… who would have the audacity to build such a city

I suggest taking a ride on a vaporetto at night when the palazzi lining the Grand Canal are lit up. Start at the train station and ride to Piazza San Marco. During the day the crowds of tourist can be overbearing especially around the piazza,  but at night its nearly empty’, so disembark at the San Marco stop, stroll around the piazza and treat yourself to a caffe or some gelato.
The beauty of Venezia can only be understood by standing on the water’s edge and experiencing it. Study the architecture and the masterworks of the great Venetian artists, which can be found in many of the churches and especially the Gallerie dell’Accademia, and contemplate who would have the audacity to build such a city.

ghetto retouched
 … we wandered the streets of Venezia in a light rain

The morning of our last day we had some free time.  So we wandered the streets of Venezia in a light rain, moving through the passage ways of the old Jewish Ghetto, across small canals, and down narrow streets, some of which end abruptly at the edge of a canal.  We absorbed this magical city of water, history and art one last time before catching a high speed train to Firenze.

to be continued …


Adventures in French Education: CM and TD

Photo by  Steven S. on Flickr.

Photo by Steven S. on Flickr.

Before the shock of not being able to get un vingt (a twenty), there was another big surprise that was waiting for me dans une université française (in a French university). Most classes in France tend to be broken down into “CM”s and “TD”s. That is lecture classes and “supervised” classes.

Now, the same idea does exist dans les universités américaines (in American universities), namely in the sciences where there’s the main class and a lab attached to it. In France the idea is applied much more generally and the style of teaching is completely different.

CM stands for Cours Magistral, and is often explained as, “c’est comme un seminar chez vous  (It’s like your seminar classes) !” En général (in general) think of it as a lecture class where le professeur (the professor) goes through une leçon (a lesson) while the students write down notes.

However, there are some big differences. Sitting through my first CM barely able to follow what le professeur was saying, I was surprised to see nearly all of mes camarades de classe (my classmates) keeping impeccable notes, with outlines clearly built in, even including footnotes and colors. Shortly thereafter I was incredibly annoyed to notice that le professeur was just reading notes he had made, sometimes just reading from a book… and everyone continued to copy down what le professeur was saying.

En France, most universités publiques (public universities) don’t have required books to help keep costs down. That leads to the CM somewhat replacing the role a textbook would have dans une université américaine. At the time I couldn’t help but think to myself, “just let me read the book, it’d be so much easier!”

The other side of the education coin is the TD, or Travail Dirigé, the “supervised” class, a practical application of the lecture class, at least en théorie (in theory). Pendant un TD (during a TD) le professeur goes through prepared exercises and en théorie there’s some level of interaction. It took me très longtemps (a long time) to understand all that, but after asking questions pendant des CMs and getting strange looks from le professeur and mes camarades de classe, I was told, plus ou moins (more or less), “On pose pas des questions pendant un CM, il faut attendre le TD (You don’t ask questions during a lecture, you have to wait for the other class) !”

All of this comes from the strong Cartesian influence in French education, and while it’s easy to just think of it as annoying and trop différent de comprendre (too different to understand), if you are planning on studying in France, it’s a very important part of le système d’éducation (the education system) that needs to be understood. Au moins (at least) if you want to éviter des casse-tête (avoid a few headaches)!


Untranslatable German Words: Die Gesichtsbremse


Photo by felixtsao on flickr.com

Guten Tag! :)

I know you all love learning about German’s ‘untranslatable’ words, so here’s another – the first one of 2015, in fact!

Today’s untranslatable German word is Die Gesichtsbremse.


What is the literal translation of Gesichtsbremse?

The word is made up of Das Gesicht (face) and Die Bremse (brake). So, it literally means ‘face brake’.


What does Gesichtsbremse mean?

There are two meanings for this word. The more common meaning is its literal meaning – a face that is used as a brake. When someone falls off their skateboard and lands face-first on the ground, that’s a Gesichtsbremse – because their face is literally stopping them in motion. Here’s a YouTube video of a Gesichtsbremse:

Then there is its other meaning – an insult. According to sprachnudel.de, „Eine “Gesichtsbremse” ist eine Person mit einem häßlichem oder verunstalteten Gesicht, die man nicht gerne ansieht, weil man sich ekelt.“ – „A Gesichtsbremse is a person with an ugly or unfortunate face that is not pleasant to look at, because it is so revolting“. Nice.

A person with an ugly face is probably called a Gesichtsbremse because – according to the person making the insult! – their face looks as if it’s been used as a brake.

You Don’t Have a Face for Radio ... You Have a Face for Dog Food

“You Don’t Have a Face for Radio … You Have a Face for Dog Food” – Photo by ssoosay on flickr.com

How would you use it in a sentence?

Meaning one (a face used as a brake): Das war eine klassische GesichtsbremseThat was a classic face-brake
Meaning two (someone with an ugly face): Schau dir diese Gesichtsbremse anLook at that person with their hideous face

Now, the Germans can be very inventive with their insults, so it’s not surprising that there are several other words in the German language with the same (second) meaning as Die Gesichtsbremse. My two personal favourites are:

Das Arschgesicht – (Arsch + Gesicht) – “Arse Face”

Der Spiegeltöter – (Spiegel + Töter) – “Mirror Murderer”

Why not get creative and invent your own?!

What is the nearest English equivalent to Gesichtsbremse?

I’m actually misleading you all slightly when I call this an untranslatable German word, as there are English equivalents. However, this word is unique in that it has two meanings, and no English word (that I can think of, anyway) has these two meanings. In that sense, it’s still pretty difficult to translate accurately.

When used to mean ‘braking with the face’, something like ‘face-plant’ would be an appropriate translation of Gesichtsbremse. When used to describe someone with an ugly face, well… there are all manner of translations. Use your imagination!!

That concludes this post. I hope you enjoyed it! Any questions, comments, corrections (!), suggestions… please do leave them! Language learning is best when it’s interactive!

Bis später,

Constanze x


Advanced Spanish Review Lesson 33 Spanish Future and Conditional to express probability

¡Hola! ¿Qué tal?

Hoy vamos a practicar el Futuro y el Condicional para expresar probabilidad.

Al final de este post encontrarás las respuestas a todas las preguntas de esta lección y puedes seguir el enlace de este post para ver el vídeo teórico original sobre el mismo tema.

To go back and watch the original video lesson please follow this link:

Advanced theory video lesson 33

Click here to view the embedded video.

1. Para empezar, contesta las siguientes preguntas usando un verbo en futuro para expresar probabilidad. Por ejemplo, si digo: “¿Dónde está tu hermana?” Puedes responder “No sé, estará en su casa”.

¿Cuándo vas a terminar?
¿Dónde está Miguel?
¿Cuándo van a venir Sara y Carla?
¿Dónde vas a ir luego?
¿Dónde estudia Rosa inglés?

2. Ahora haz lo mismo usando el tiempo Futuro Perfecto. Por ejemplo, si digo: “¿Sabes adónde ha ido María?” Puedes responder “Habrá ido a trabajar”.

¿Dónde se ha comprado Ana ese vestido?
¿Cuándo has visto a María?
¿Dónde ha estado ese chico?
¿Cuándo ha aprendido Javier a bailar?
¿Qué ha traído Óscar para la merienda?

3. Ahora responde a estas preguntas usando un verbo en Condicional para expresar probabilidad en el pasado.

¿Dónde cenaron tus padres ayer?
¿Cuándo te leíste este libro?
¿Quién le dijo a Silvia que yo estaba aquí?
¿Cómo lo sabías?
¿Quién fue a la fiesta?

4. Finalmente, contesta las siguientes preguntas usando un verbo en Condicional Compuesto, también para expresar probabilidad:

¿Qué habías comido antes de venir a vernos?
¿Dónde habíais estado antes de veros?
¿Quién había estado allí antes?
¿Por qué Carlos había comprado eso?
¿Quién había visto la película antes?

Bueno, esto es todo por la clase de hoy.

No es fácil para un estudiante de español usar estos verbos para expresar probabilidad, pero los hispanohablantes los usamos mucho, así que es importante que conozcáis este uso y que practiquéis usarlos de esta forma.

Nos vemos pronto para practicar más español.


I hope you are enjoying my weekly interactive Spanish lessons. Follow this link for many more great resources to help you learn and practice Spanish.


1. Possible answers:
No sé, terminaré en diez minutos.
No sé, estará con su novia.
No sé, vendrán luego.
No estoy seguro, iré al bar.
No estoy segura, estudiará en una academia en el centro.

2. Possible answers:
Se lo habrá comprado en esta tienda, es su favorita.
No me acuerdo, la habré visto hace poco.
Habrá estado estudiando en su casa.
Habrá aprendido este año en la academia de baile.
Habrá traído patatas fritas.

3. Possible answers:
No lo sé, cenarían en el restaurante italiano.
No me acuerdo, me lo leería hace un par de años.
No lo sé, se lo diría José.
No me acuerdo, me lo diría tu hermana.
No lo sé, irían todos.

4. Possible answers:
No me acuerdo, habría comido algo pesado.
No me acuerdo, habríamos estado de compras.
No lo sé, habrían estado Pepa y Julia.
Lo habría comprado porque le gustaba mucho.
La habrían visto todos.