Saturday, October 15, 2011

Oh, the good old Fatherland

This year, more than ever before, I have really made a serious effort to make sure our kids grow up speaking German fluently, i.e. being bilingual. German is actually not my first language - that would be Hungarian. But, sadly, my Hungarian is too rusty to teach the children, and it also happens to be one of the most difficult languages there are. We'll just stick with German for now.

For English speakers, German is not that hard to learn, plus there are tons or "German as a second language" materials available on the German Amazon website that I can order and have delivered here. Much like in the US we have a lot of kids in need of "ESL" classes, in Germany there are lots of kids entering school needing to learn "GSL". These materials are perfect for our kids.

In the past, even though the kids would often understand what I told them, they rarely if ever would make any attempt to speak German themselves. Now, thankfully, they have decided that German is actually one of their favorite subjects, second only to art. Naturally, their language learning has soared.

The German books we use have been a funny throwback to the different mindset and culture in Germany. Notwithstanding the fact that all the kids' books are for elementary age or younger, they have so far taught how to ask someone whether they smoke, and how to say that someone is drinking wine or buying beer. Nice sample sentences, eh? 

Hi, my name is Isaac. I am eight years old. What is your name? Do you smoke? This is my Mom. She is buying beer and drinking wine. 

Lovely! By the way, and this has absolutely nothing to do with the post: please never buy a car that has been assembled in Germany, unless you want something built by complete drunks. Believe me, I had a summer job working on the assembly line for one of "big" car makers. Me and a few of the Muslim workers were the only sober ones. Remind me to do a separate blog post on that some other time, it really is rather shocking. 

Back to the subject at hand: So naturally, when a German textbook teaches the names of body parts, just for good measure they will throw in a couple of naked kids.Thankfully, for prudes like us, a black Sharpie will dress anyone in a matter of seconds.

 Yup, the black trunks were put on him by me. 
To be sure, he was wearing nothing before I dressed the poor child.

That whole incident reminded me of my old Hungarian children's dictionary I got in second grade. I have lived in four different countries on two continents (plus Indiana, which is like a world of its own), and yet I still have all my Hungarian school books, and I have every intention of keeping them for life.

This little dictionary goes, no, not from A to Z, but from A to Zs. Who would ever have guessed that the word for giraffe would start with a "z"? You see, in Hungarian, "zs" makes the same sound as the "s" in "vision" does, so it actually sounds similar to our "giraffe".

This dictionary was written and printed in a communist country. Just for grins, I went to look up words like "god", "church", "Bible" etc. - not one of them was listed. But - there was this:

 Devil We read about devils in many fairy tales. In fairy tales, the devil has cloven feet like an animal, but talks like a  human. He is wicked, ugly, and frightful. If we didn't know that he only exists in fairy tales, we would be scared of him. 

As well as lots of different entries for witches, sorcerers, gnomes, and other questionable creatures:


So hey, don't worry - there is no such thing as a Bible, or a God, and the devil is only a fable creature. Why not go ahead and order another beer while running through the house in your birthday suit?


  1. I didn't know the children could understand German well enough to understand anything you could tell them, that's impressive, they are still so young !

    Languages is what I like studying the most in the world : I'm actually studying it in the university. I think you know that Brussels is the capital of Belgium and of the European Union : we have the institutions buildings in our country, hence interpretation school which is one of the best of the world.

    My first language is French, and I know that I will go and live abroad when I finish my studies, so my children won't live in a French-speaking country. Still, it's a beautiful language, and I could never talk more fluently and spontaneously in any other language. Do your children know a little bit about it ?
    "Bonjour, je m'appelle Isaac. J'ai huit ans. Comment t'appelles-tu ?"
    (I obviously skipped the ugly parts of this quote)

    I'm studying English and German, actually. I have also learnt Spanish and Dutch in high school, and I'm learning a bit of Japanese by myself. I'm clearly an addict.

    The naked people to study body parts astonished me ... I never had such pictures, like it is normal to show several totally naked persons. I mean, as if we didn't see any body part when fully dressed ! OH MY, I DON'T KNOW WHERE HIS ARMS ARE TO PUT AN ARROW ! HE WEARS A T-SHIRT !
    That's nonsense ^^

  2. Haha...your closing paragraph certainly made me chuckle!

    Although in all seriousness, now we know one of the reasons,why people are not afraid of hell or the devil.

    LOVED the board shorts you put on our little naked chap! ;)

  3. What a great thing for you family! Does your husband speak German? Did you (or are you teaching) him?

  4. English translation follows. I just thought Zsuzsanna might like to read something in her native language for practice.

    Nekem is meg volt az a könyv gyermekkoromban! Van egy 1982. magyar értelmező szótárom felnőtteknek. Mivel ezt is a kommunizmus alatt írták, néhány bejegyzés furcsa a mai szemlélőknek:

    kapitalizmus: fn Közg Pol A termelési eszközök zömének tőkés tulajdonán és a dolgozók tőkés kizsákmányolásán alapuló gazdasági, társadalmi rendszer.

    Azt gondolom, hogy az "ördög" a magyar népmesékben nem ugyanaz az ördög amit a Biblián találunk. A népmesékben, az ördög egy szellem amely szemtelenkedik, miközben a Sátán a Bibliában sokkal gonoszabb annál. Mivel nem olvastam a Bibliában egy olyan szellemről, amely anniyra nem gonosz, csak szemtelen, azt hiszem, hogy a kisördög a népmesékben képzeletbeli. Csak a Bíbliában lehet tanulni az ördög mivoltjáról. Azt amit a népmesékben mondanak róla az valószinűleg hamis. Nem azt mondom, hogy a népmesés ördög jó a gyerekeknek, csak azt, hogy nem ugyanaz az ördög.

    Azt is akartam mondani, hogy a német tankönyv amiből a gyerekek tanulnak hasonlít arra a tankönyvre amiből tanultam szerbül az egyetemen. Nekünk a második leckénk arról szólt, hogy két férfi a kocsmában van és sokat isznak. Az egyik mondja a másiknak "Nos, menj haza, eleget ittál már. Részeg vagy" "Dehogy vagyok részeg" "Mégis, menj haza, eleg volt mára." "Jól van. Hadd lássa a feleségem, hogy egyszer józan is hazajövök." Hihetetlen.


    I had this book too when I was a child! I also have a Hungarian dictionary for adults which was printed in 1982. Because this was also written during communism, some entries are a bit strange today's readers:

    capitalism: noun Economics, Politics. The -- oh dear this is hard to translate -- well something about it being an economic and poltical system based upon the exploitation of the workers and farmers through the use of the stock market.

    I think that the "devil" spoken of in the Hungarian folk tales is not the same devil as we find in the Bible. In the folk tales, the devil is a spirit which is cheeky and plays tricks, while Satan in the Bible is a lot more evil than that. Because I haven't read in the Bible about a spirit which is not really evil, just naughty, I think this little devil in the folk tales is made up. You can only learn about what the devil is like from reading the Bible. What is said about him in the folk tales is likely to be false. I'm not saying the devil from the folk tales is good for children, just that it seems to be a different devil.

    I also wanted to say that the german book the children are learning from is similar to the book I was learning serbian from at university. Our second lesson was about two men who are at the pub and drink a lot. The first says to the other "Well, go home, you've had enough to drink already. You're drunk"

    "No I'm not drunk"

    "Well, go home anyway, it was enough for today."

    "All right, good idea, let my wife see that for once I come home sober."


  5. Also, you mentioned looking for "god", "church", "Bible", etc. but not finding them in the children's dictionary. I can't find M-Zs (it's around here somewhere), but I can look up words A-L.

    1) A világ vmely jelenségét megszemélyesítő képzelt emberfölötti lény. A görög istenek, a háború istene
    2) Egyistenhivő vallások hitvilágában: a világ teremtője, fenntartója, a legtökéletesebb személyiség. isten csapása; Vall: Isten anya: Szűz Mária; Vall: Isten fia: Jézus Krisztus; ha van Isten az égben!: ha van igazság a földön!; rég: Istennél a kegyelem!: én nem kegyelmezek!; Vall: magához vette az isten: elhunyt; Vall: Istenben boldogult: az elhunyt <személy>. | < Kif-ekben, rendsz. elhomályosult jelentéssel.> Adj(on) Isten - Jó napot, jó reggelt, v. jó estét! it goes on for a while giving examples of the use of the word God in expressions. but it's cumbersome to type. Expressions covered are: Isten hozott, fogadj Isten, Isten veled, Isted áldon, Isten éltessen, Isten fizesse meg, hála Istennek, ha Istent ismersz, bizony Isten, Isten a tanúm, Isten ments, Verje meg az Isten, Az Istenit neki, Édes jó Istenem, Mit tesz Isten.

    3. Nagy hatalom megtestesítője (Földi istenek, vmi az Istene, Hasa az Isten, Isten háta mögött, megveszi az Isten hidege, nem ismer se istent se embert

    So, I think that's a fairly neutral treatment. It explains that monotheistic believers believe in God as the creator of the world. Jesus is mentioned, as is Mary. The Greek gods are also covered. I'd expect similar treatment of the word in an English dictionary.

    church is under t. As for the Bible:

    biblia fn 1. Vall (tulajdonnévként) A keresztény vallás szent könyve. Ennek vmely kiadása, példánya.
    2. Vki számára feltétlen tekintélyű könyv

    There's no value judgement given. "The Christian religion's holy book. A copy of said book." or "A book that someone thinks is really important on a subject (the Cooking Bible or what have you. this usage appears in English too)

    Bible circle:
    bibliakör - hivőkből bibliaórák tartására alakult kör.

    let's see what it has to say about faith:

    hit fn. 1. Olyasmiről való meggyőződés, amit nem tudunk igazolni. Meggyőződés vmely természetfölötti lény létezéséről. Bizalom vkinek a jellemében, képességeiben. Meggyőződés arról, hogy vmi bekövetkezik. 2. Vmely vallás tételeinek rendszere 3. Eskü(vés) - hitet tesz vmi mellett

    So, that's not too bad either. Faith is a belief in something which we cannot prove. As a believer in God, this is accurate to me. I cannot prove without a doubt that God exists, but I have faith and so I believe it anyway.

    Hívő: mn és fn Istenhivő, vallásos. népies Vallási szektás, kül. baptista ember.

    A believer is someone who believes in God, someone who is reilgious. In Hungarian, hívő is most commonly used among certain sects of Christianity, especially baptists.

    It's interesting that children's dictionary didn't cover God in any way (though not surprising, given communism), but it's also nice to know that it seemed to be covered well enough in the dictionary for adults.

  6. Dear Zsuzsanna, your family and blog are beautiful! This Ablak-Zsiráf is also my lovely memory from childhood. I'm glad I found your blog. :)

  7. It is so great to see kids learning a second or third language. It has tons of benefits for cognitive development, is much easier at a young age, and really is the key to getting along in our era. One of the smartest things my parents ever did was putting me in French-only school as a young child, even though they didn`t speak a word of it themselves. I am now learning Russian and German, and it truly is a gift.

  8. My car was a 1986 VW Cabriolet I bought in 1988. I loved that car and still have it, but unfortunately for the past few years it sits in the garage. I had the engine rebuilt around 2002. As a not fully technical girl, I did the best I could to take care of it, but I'm sure someone could have done better. I never had any big problems with it, but maybe I'm biased bc I wanted a convertible so badly since a friend had one in high school. My parents paid 2/3 and I paid 1/3 so I never had a car payment. I don't know where it was actually assembled. I took French in high school. I really enjoyed it. For some reason I have thought a lot about words the last year or so, and the meaning of some things. I'm wondering if taking Latin in high school would have helped me in life. Things are just starting to come together more about things of life that I took for granted much of my life. I had heard there was a lot of drinking in Russia?? But, I don't think I had heard that about Germany. I had heard about nude or topless beaches and that things like that were more common. I remember the German lady up our street growing up would always mow the grass in her bikini top. She wore shorts over her bottoms, but always was out in her front yard in the bikini top. I guess I was raised a little more modest than that. I might wash the car in my swimsuit, but I usually had a tank top over it. We lived down the street from the pool, so people were always walking by dressed for the pool, but I usually preferred to have more on than just my suit. I remember the lady was always very clean, too, and would scrub my little dirty bare Southern feet before I could enter her house. I can understand some of that. I guess we just went bare feet so much in the Summer. I think I had heard later that Germans were known for being really clean?? Is that true?? I also have wondered recently if there was more pressure to be perfect from the govt. culture/culture since they were trying to have the perfect race?? I'm not a history expert. I saw some old German film footage on some documentaries a while back, and they seemed a little frightening and weird. I guess the were from the 30's and 40's. But, there is evil and frightening stuff everywhere. It surprises me some that the children's pictures were totally naked. Also, with alcohol, like I think I had said, I didn't know that a lot of Germans were drunks. I guess I had the idea that some European knew how to have just a glass or two bc drinking was totally acceptable there, whereas here in US we may have more trouble with drinking, maybe especially teen drinking bc it may not be our culture to have alcohol in the house everyday, so therefore teens may be more prone to abuse it?? That may just by my story and others like me that were raised in homes with little or NO alcohol at all, ever, period!!?? I know scripture says to not get drunk, but I have argued that is doesn't say not to drink at all, but then I have read one scripture that says something about not drinking the wine when it is red, so I don't know the exact answer, and then people quote the story of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding?? Also, I just finished watching the movie Fiddler On The Roof. I really enjoyed it. I saw it once before, but didn't take it all in. I wouldn't say it was profound, but I really enjoyed it and it shed a little more light about the Jews in Europe before WW1. I didn't learn as much growing up about some things, so I guess I'm still trying to learn more now. Take Care.

  9. anon. again. just to clarify a little more, in the German documentaries I saw that I thought were a little weird they showed young boys in their underwear. I can't remember what the point was or what they were doing, but it just looked really strange to me bc their underwear looked more liked diapers?? Maybe it was before elastic was popular, but it all just looked very strange to me!! I looked at some WW2 clips last night and did some reading on wikipedia. WW2 seems like such a horrible time, but all war is horrible, and I'm wondering if there has ever been a time on the Earth when there wasn't a war going on somewhere?? It can be very depressing. Always interesting to learn more about other cultures. Also, it seems to me like some other countries put more emphasis on gnomes, etc. than over here in US?? But, we have our share, too. I was just kept away from most. I do like and want to justify some fairies, cute ones. I have a pretty and cute picture of a Rose Fairy--a little tinkerbell type girl smelling a rose. And, of course I liked the real Tinkerbell in Disney movies. But, I don't really know the true history of Fairies. I think they were depicted as more evil or trickster creatures longer ago?? I do want the Truth, so I guess as I learn more truth I have to let all other stuff go. I don't like evil or spooky!! Take Care.

  10. Hi Zsuzsanna, please would you publish the names of the children's books you are referring to w.r.t. the drinking and smoking. I'm just going to come right out and say it... I don't believe you. I am not German, but living in Germany.

  11. Lindsay, you have got to be kidding. You must have never learned a foreign language ever because they ALL teach that stuff in the first chapters. My husband, who has never had a beer in his life, could probably order one in ten different languages. I was just surprised to find it so often in kids' books.

    To name just one example (not mentioned in the post, this is from yet another book), take the workbook "Lesen, Lachen, Sachen machen" intended for 1st graders learning to read. Just casually leafing through it last night, one page listed things the child in the story wanted to do ("Sachen die ich noch machen will"). One of them was "mit Indianern rauchen" - to smoke with Indians. On anther page teaching the long sound of the German i (spelled "ie"), out of the maybe 10 words they give as an example of this (and there are thousands), one of them is "Bier" (beer). I would venture to guess that no American readers contain the word beer, and rightly so.

    Why do you care? And why would I just make this stuff up? Really, don't you have anything better to do with your life, Sherlock?

  12. I totally believe Zsuzsanna here. I used the book "Delfin" last year, and, not in the first chapter, but there is always a moment when they want us to learn how to talk about alcohol. I am myself an atheist, and have no biblical ground for not drinking alcohol, I just decided on my own that it wasn't something I wanted to do, not something good for me.
    Still I know how to use those expressions, but I'll never use them.

    I'm just shocked that it appeared in a children book. I never had such things when I learnt languages as a child (English and Dutch), or I don't remember. I don't know. Maybe we didn't use workbooks.

  13. Dearest Zsuzsanna,
    Your response certainly didn't disappoint. And you also didn't name the book you were referring to in your post. Just goes to show how you do make up stuff. Why are you teaching your children German when you so hate the Vaterland? PS And I am obviously typing this naked while chugging back a beer... being in Germany and all :-)

  14. Just for clarity sake - sorry I hit the enter button my mistake while I was reaching for my beer - I would very much like the title of the book with this example
    "Hi, my name is Isaac. I am eight years old. What is your name? Do you smoke? This is my Mom. She is buying beer and drinking wine."
    because, lets face it, that is quite different to example sentences on "wie man ein Bier bestellt" (how one orders a beer). It's easy, just give me the name of the book...

  15. I have learned the MOST bizarre phrases in various languages, and ordering beer always seems to come first. Apart from when I was trying to learn hungarian. Chapter 1 of the book had the phrase 'Anyam ne tortenesz. O antropologus' Actually, she stayed home and raised us, but I've never found out how to say that!
    I hope your children have as much fun learning German as I did!
    Bless you all.

  16. Hi Zsuzsanna,
    I have to admit I'd really be interested to read the titles of these books, too. I work for a German publisher of school textbooks, and we certainly don't teach "smoke" and "drink beer" to 1st graders. I can only assume that the books you use date back to the 70ies, or that they are aimed at much older kids.
    We do have pictures of naked kids in kids' textbooks, that's true. That's because over here no one has a problem with that. I for one honestly don't think my kids will be harmed in any way by looking at a perfectly innocent drawing of a naked kid - they know what it looks like anyway.
    I don't want to ramble any longer, but it seems to me you're trying to portray Germany as a backward country full of drunkards, smokers and perverts on your blog. While it's true there are cultural differences, I don't see why you would be so extremely biased against a country that is, after all, pretty civilized as a whole.

  17. Lindsay and Miriam,

    oh ye of little faith, please bear with me as I scan various examples and publish the actual images of each page in a separate blog post, complete with ISBN numbers and all other bibliographic references. I'm dead serious - I am hoping to have it up by tonight but don't be holding your breath because with six kids, stuff always comes up.

  18. Dear Zsuzsanna-

    Was your summer job assembling autos at a certain luxury vehicle plant in Stuttgart? I've heard stories, evidently they had vending machines of beer (yikes) and many of the workers had liquid lunches.



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