German So Funny

When I was studying French in school, my teacher at the time warned the class about faux amis. Literally translated this means “false friends”, but what she was getting at is that there are some words that are similar in two different languages which might lead you to assume that they have the same meaning, while in fact they do not. The classic French – English example that she provided was the word magasin, which you might assume means magazine, whereas in reality it means shop. While this is a perfect example of what she meant by a faux amis, it was not a particularly humerous one.

It was not until I started learning German, however, that I found a language filled with hilarious faux amis in relation to English. I remember being puzzled over ads for apartments which kept refering to their living rooms as “gross [and] hell”, which actually means large and brightly lit. I burst into laughter at a shop window with the word “Schmuck” plastered across it, only to discover that it actually means “jewelry”. Also, make sure you don’t offer someone a present and call it a “gift”, as that actually means you are offering them poison. My favorite German – English example though is probably the way that the parking ticket machines and highway signs politely wish you a “Gute Fahrt!” as you go about your way.

That is not to say that the hilarious faux amis only go in one direction. Describing the thick mist you had to cross in the countryside will get you laughed at, as you are actually describing the thick bullshit you were slogging through. I also personally spent a whole 5 minutes repeatedly using the word “mushy” to a student in describing the consistency he needed to blend his worms down to, only to be informed by my sniggering colleague that “mushy” in German means “pussy”, and not the one of the feline variety. Credit to my student though, he did not so much as crack a smile during my entire monologue.

However, despite the numerous examples that I have already come across despite my novice grasp of German, I think that there is one German – Romanian faux amis that just might trump them all.

My boyfriend joined me a few months after I had moved to Germany. He arrived one night, exhausted from his trip, but decided to join me and my colleagues on a traditional Kneipentour, which is a sort of bar hop often done as a leaving party for students. The typical way to do this bar hop is to have one shot and one beer in each location, so of course everyone clinks glasses and cheers before drinking. The fact that there is also a German superstition that you must look people directly in the eye when you cheer with them, lest you wish risking 7 years bad sex, added an extra wrinkle of hilarity to this story.

This being Germany we were not saying “Cheers” when clinking glasses, but rather “Prost”. After three rounds of people staring into each other’s eyes and saying “Prost” over and over again, my boyfriend finally asked what that means in German.

“It means Cheers”, I said.

“Oh”, he replied. “I thought it might. In Romanian, Prost means asshole”.

That has got to be my favorite faux amis of all time, even with all of the English ones put together. Everyone roared with laughter, made a point of emphasising the word Prost throughout the evening, and made a mental note to not say it in random bars should they ever visit Romania. It could lead to… an awkward misunderstanding.

So, do you know of any other amusing faux amis? Do you think you can beat “Prost”?

This Might Work

I had myself a little pity party over the weekend. Someone vandalized my brand new scooter that I was so very proud of, after exactly one week of being in my possession, I lost my key to work, and a bunch of other minor First World Problems ganged up on me and got me stressing out. In response, let’s have a little political satire, shall we?

 

Has anyone actually thought to try it? It might actually work.

How Was Your Stuff-Your-Face-With-Chocolate Week?

Those of you who live in a Christian-majority country will be fully aware that last week was Easter. Despite the fact that it is a religious holiday I still enjoy celebrating it, mostly because I interpret it as a holiday that is all about cooking and eating awesome food, especially anything with chocolate in it.

So, these are the highlights of the past week, with an actual point of discussion at the end. For the tl;dr, go ahead and skip to the last part below the fold.

This year, Catholic and Orthodox Easter fell on the same day, and half of the people who came over for Easter were raised Orthodox, so I decided to incorporate some Orthodox food  and traditions into the meal. I found an excellent recipe for Cozonac, a traditional Romanian Easter sweetbread, on a food blog, and I was very proud of myself when I managed to make it with no tunnels or failures in rising. We also played what I call “the egg game”, which involves everyone picking a colored hard boiled egg. They then are supposed to say “Christ has risen” (though we left out that part) in whichever language they happen to speak, then bonk the two eggs together. One will crack and the other will not, so eventually one egg emerges victorious. We also made leg of lamb, sweet potatoes, baby potatoes, asparagus and brownies. We stuffed our faces and got drunk on red wine.

I came over all giddy as, at the tender age of 29, I bought my first ever motorized vehicle: a 50cc Honda scooter to get my butt to work. I am embarrassingly proud of myself.

For Stuff Your Face With Chocolate Week, my mother also came to visit. Regular readers of this blog will know that her visits can be… well… contentious, at times. However we were doing very well. She was only here one week, and we managed to make it all the way to the end of it without a single fight.

We almost, almost made it.

At 11pm on the night before her departure, my mother insisted that I watch a 51 minute-long “scientific” documentary which she found immensely interesting, involving a Nobel Prize winner, Luc Montagnier. I had never heard of him, but knowing her love for anything woo I tried every which way to avoid it. She fixated, insisted, and so I finally caved and brought it up on my phone.

If woo makes you upset, read no further.

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The Year of Interesting Times

You may recall that I dubbed last year “April Fool’s Year“, given the series of bizarre global events that made me question the date once every couple of weeks. You may also recall that I suck at life, as this year life seems to be trying to catch me off my guard quite regularly. One commenter said it sounded like “interesting times” and yes, for me, this year is shaping up to be one of interesting times for me.

I have taken another prolonged absence from this blog. I seriously thought it was only a 10 day break, only to realize it was significantly longer than that. Suffice it to say that, in this time, I managed to get sick in 3 different yet contemporary ways, a feat that very nearly landed me in the hospital for the first time in my life. Well I managed to keep my record and stay out of the hospital, which means I also kept coming to work. For an average of 13 hours a day. And yet I am still so behind on my work that I’m starting to panic. I am also getting kicked out of my house, which is fun. This pretty much describes the way my year is going.

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I cannot promise that another break wont happen. I can promise that I wont give up. This blog is a drug for me. It’s an outlet, a way to interact with people and share my views and detach from my life. I can’t give it up.

When Scientists Have Fun

Two years ago, I went to the States for Xmas. I decided, to the delight of the Europeans I work with, to bring back a selection of typical famous American food for them to try, much of which they had heard of from various movies and TV shows that they had seen throughout their lives. I decided to bring back a selection of what I considered to represent both the best and the worst that the States had to offer and, to make it extra fun, I told them that they would not know which category the items fell in until after they had tried them all.

We set out a large table one day at lunch and they had a great time trying all of the strange and highly processed food. The lunch was even more fun than they had predicted, as heated arguments ensued as to which food fell into which of the two categories. Not one item was unanimously placed in either category, and I had a great time watching them argue for or against each of the things I had brought.

Among the contenders were Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup (made with milk), Kraft mac n cheese, strawberry Pop Tarts (both toasted and not), white cheddar popcorn, spray cheese on ritz crackers, Lucky Charms, Cheerios, Reese’s peanut butter cups, Hershey’s kisses, Twizzlers, Red Hots, Sour Patch Kids, string cheese, Spam and, of course, the most famous American food of them all, the Twinkie.

Everyone there had heard of Twinkies from various movies and TV shows, but no one there had actually ever tasted one. Many of them had also heard the urban legend that Twinkies last for eternity, that they will be the only thing to survive the nuclear apocalypse alongside cockroaches. The Hostess website, of course, says that this is rubbish, and that Twinkies definitely expire.

But we’re scientists, so of course we wanted to put this to the test. Everyone agreed that, given their reputation, we would have to keep one Twinkie in its wrapper in the office, and see how long (if ever) it took to show signs of deterioration.

I bought that Twinkie in December of 2014, it arrived in the office on January 2015, and it has been sitting on a top shelf in an office with no air conditioning, through hot summers and cold winters and all levels of humidity around it. Last week, I personally brought it to its new home in the new building. It is now well over 2 years old, so, what does it look like today?

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SOML Stories: A New Segment

While I was in France, I had a stressful, crazy, and very typical of my life set of problems happen to me. As the other instructors of the workshop watched the whole thing unfold, they laughed and commiserated, and told me that I should write a book about my collection of stories, so that other people will feel better about these kinds of things when they happen to them. In the telling, it became abundantly clear that I get into these sorts of situations more than anyone else I know, and the more similar stories I told, the more I realized just how many I have. In any case these kinds of situations, while stressful at the time, have certainly made me into a person who is good at improvising solutions.

Well, I don’t much fancy writing a book, but I figured a new segment on this blog might be appropriate, along with “This Week In Zoology”, “Tough Questions”, “Cultural Differences” and “Bad Science”. If you find them boring, or if they lose some of their comedic value in typing, feel free to let me know and I’ll cancel it. For now, I’ll tell the one that prompted the suggestion that I write these down. Funnily enough, this one seems barely noteworthy in the light of the ones that have happened to me in the past: I’d rank it a 4/10 in how stressed I was, and a 3/10 on my crazy coincidence scale. Nevertheless, it is the story that started the idea for the segment, so here is my first “Story of my Life” Story: My struggles with the IT Department that does not think solving your problems is in their job description.

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I Suck At Life

Hello again everyone. Here I am, sheepishly explaining my absence.

Just as I thought I had organized myself properly for daily posts again, life happened and kicked me squarely in the butt.

First, a friend of mine had a serious mental health crisis. On top of my work and my life, I spent every extra moment keeping her off the edge, and helping her get through a very stressful week without needing to be hospitalized. She took up all of my extra attention, and luckily for both of us, the end of her week of crazy stress perfectly coincided with my departure for France, where I was going not on holiday, but to teach a workshop (on a subject I barely know, on top of everything else) on behalf of my boss.

One week later, I’m riding the trains back to Germany, only to be plunged head first into the moving of our lab. We’ve got a new building now, but if any of you have ever moved a lab before, you know the chaos it entails. I arrived back when we were already in the midst of packing boxes, trying to sort through 7 years worth of debris that had accumulated in every corner of the labs and offices, and unpacking everything in the brand spanking new building.

Three days after the move was complete, I was also expected to present at our next lab meeting. Despite the fact that I have recently published, had not had the opportunity to start many pilot experiments on account of having to move the lab, had a workshop to teach and a move to help with, my boss still refused to postpone it or allow me to switch with someone who actually had data to present. “Surely you do have data, regardless”, he told me, “and surely it will be an impressive lab meeting too, don’t forget the important Professor who will be joining our lab meetings from now on”.

So, there I was, spending every waking moment in front of our brand new bioinformatics software, attempting to produce enough data in 3 days to not make a fool of myself.

Somehow I managed, the lab meeting went OK, and now I have the time and the deep desire to recommence regular posting. You have no reason to forgive me for my prolonged and unexplained absence, but if you liked this blog so far, I hope you will forgive me anyway.

My apologies again, and I hope to never find myself in a situation in which I will disappear like that again!

Headphones While I Work

As the work piles up higher and higher, I have to say I am saved by my headphones. How could I possibly make it through a 14 hour work day without music and audiobooks to keep me company?

One video I want to share with you is one I have been listening to a lot lately. I first discovered it on We Hunted the Mammoth, and I was properly amazed at the time.

What happens when you slow down Dolly Parton’s Jolene to 33rpm?

Amazeballs, that’s what happens.

 

If you don’t know who Dolly Parton is and/or have never heard the song, you have to hear the original first to fully appreciate how very cool that is.

 

 

There is a genius to a song that can be messed with and still sound awesome, just in a different way. I’ve been mumbling this song under my breath all day, it’s only a matter of time until someone asks me who Jolene is and why I keep saying her name.

Where Am I?

Oh dear. I have been away for a while haven’t I? Technically, my last post was last year, and that is entirely my fault.

These past few days have been a whirlwind. I had a bunch of documents to sort out in Italy, and then I flew back to Germany on the 29th. That was just enough time to find out that there was a mass backing out of my New Years party, so spur of the moment found my boyfriend and I driving out to a massive Syrian New Years party instead. Two days later, I was up at 3am to drive down to Frankfurt for an embassy visit, and by lunch time I was back at work, discovering that the Xmas holidays are in fact far too short and I am massively behind on my work, including a review I need to finish, and that I also have to prepare for a workshop I need to teach at the end of the month in Bordeaux. I celebrated the 6th of January at home with my boyfriend, and am preparing for his birthday coming up very soon as well. Not to mention an extemporaneous 200km round-trip to pick up his new drivers license, online struggles with even more paperwork, and an ongoing battle with my phone.

So, um, Happy New Year everyone! Here’s to a 2017 that I hope will shape up to be a better year than the previous one, and a valiant effort at getting back to regular posting. After a proper sleep, I think I’ll have my head on straight again and be able to get back to writing about all the things I wanted to write about during this time.

Here’s hoping.

Home Sweet Rome

Yesterday, I anxiously took a flight to come back to Rome for Xmas. I’m only staying one week, I’ll be back before New Years, and yet I had never wanted to go home less than I did this time around. I’m so busy, I said. I’ll have to work from home, I said. It’s just too stressful, I said.

And then I stepped off the plane into a balmy 18°C. One look at the cobble-stoned streets of my neighborhood and I sighed. There’s nothing for it, this place will always be home for me.

Sure, I have to work and squeeze an enormous number of things to do in the short time that I am here. But I can also take small breaks, amble around the streets of my childhood for a bit of shopping, buying clothes that are made in Italy sold in boutiques that are owned by Romans who are stubbornly and valiantly hanging on to their stores in a center which is being steadily overrun by massive chains and mafia run tourist trap restaurants. It is amazing how effortlessly I hit my 10,000 step fitbit goal, which I struggle with so much in Germany even when I bike my 10km to and from work.

Coming back is always stressful and wonderful and nostalgic and never enough time for me to get sick of it and ever want to leave. I think it will always be my home, no matter where I end up settling in life. And that thought always makes me so sad, so I’ll leave it at that.