Living in a Foreign Language

Blogging University, Cooking, Musings
School girls practicing their English with a questionnaire.

Spanish school girls practicing their English with a questionnaire.

While browsing through various blogs yesterday,  I came across a post by  Sridevi at “coconut craze” ( ). She shared a story about a nickel. This brought back memories, of when I first arrived in the US many years ago.

Foreign languages are hard enough to learn, add in the everyday lingo and idioms, and that really can leave a newcomer puzzled.  And as if that’s not enough, there are countless unspoken social rules one is expected to know as well.

Sometimes it's impossible to communicate

Sometimes it’s impossible to communicate verbally

Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, I noticed numerous “gift shops” along Sunset Boulevard. In German, the word gift means poison! Unfamiliar with the word gift shop, I quietly wondered if they actually sold poison there. You see, when I learned English as a child, I was taught that it was a “present”. For weeks I pondered the question, feeling too embarrassed to ask anyone.

There were other expressions too, like : let your hair down; it’s right up your alley; add insult to injury; costs an arm and a leg; hit the sack; take it with a grain of salt.

To this day, I still discover idioms I’ve never heard before.

The German language has its fair share of idioms. Hadn’t thought about them in a long time. Then I stumbled across a post by bekitschig, that made me smile. Long list of idioms used in that language. Hopefully you’ll take a moment to check it out at: .

A friend visiting Germany, was surprised when he ordered a glass of ice water at a cafe. Moments later he was served a glass of room temperature water and a dish of ice cream. At that time, German people rarely put ice cubes in their drinks, and “Eis”, pronounced the same way as ice, meant ice cream.

"Eis", not ice in German

“Eis”, not ice, in German

The globe is getting smaller every day. We can connect instantly with anyone, anywhere in the world.

Most importantly though, a big smile always goes a long ways in any language.

Mr. Wayan in Ubud

A smiling Mr. Wayan in Ubud

Of course, there are also plenty of moments, when no words are needed!

Language of music

Language of music

If your words ever get lost in translation, just smile and try again.


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My passions in life are vegetarian cooking, gardening, photography, writing, good books, traveling and nature. Thanks for stopping by, Sabine

11 thoughts on “Living in a Foreign Language”

  1. I’ve learned a jumble of words in french because as you may know, everything in Canada is printed in two languages. Westerners for the most part though, speak english. While our countrymen to the east are more likely to speak french and english. I very much envy bilingual families that speak their native language at home and keep it alive. Asian families are most dedicated to this too.
    I laughed at your confusion about ‘gift’ stores, I imagine that did seem very odd. Not to mention things like; there, they’re and their. I still make typo’s all the time even I know the correct usage. Tricky even for those who consider English their first language.


    • Thank you for your kind words. Here on the West Coast, many hispanic families keep their language and culture alive in the home. Unfortunately, my kids don’t speak German, but do know about the culture. But it’s never too late to learn a new language!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, Sabine. I am searching your blog for a good rice recipe. I am going to a group dinner tonight and my contribution is rice. It is a tex/mex kind of meal so I was looking for something to compliment the sangria and entree. I stumbled upon this post because I so loved the title. I did not know you grew up German!

    My youngest, Savanna, lives in Berlin now. When she was a junior in high school, she won a Congressional scholarship to study in Germany for a year. I have to admit that I did not want her to go because she was only 17 and I thought that was way too young. But she put so much energy into getting the scholarship and it was quite an honor so what could we do but send her off with our blessings.

    So she finished high school in Cologne and then started college in France. She has been home for a few months last year, but is now in Berlin. She has been hired by Lufthansa and if she can get through the training, well, I guess Germany will be her home.

    So I will send her your article. And I have to say I am surprised that English is not your first language. You write so beautifully. She knows German well, and French, as well as her native tongue (which she is beginning to lose from disuse!). If she gets the job, as parents we will get a significant discount. I have been wanting to visit Germany for a long time. Not so interested in Berlin, but would love to go to Cologne, maybe even during Festival.

    So, Sabine, this is a long winded message, but I was just so appreciative of this post and feel an even stronger connection with you now.

    Oh, and if you have any good rice recipes that are kind of tex/mex I would love your input. Right now I am thinking of just making rice with broccoli and cheese (my husband’s choice). Or maybe with red and green peppers cooked in vegetable broth. Have a lovely day. And thanks for your inspiration. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi LuAnne! I love the story of your daughter! The world is getting smaller by the minute! I’ve never been to Berlin, but hope to go some day. What an adventure!! I love it when young people do something like this. The world would be a better place and people more understanding and compassionate if more of us did exactly this kind of thing. Especially Americans! Last year in France, the owner of a B&B we stayed at, complimented my husband on his fluent French, when he realized that he is American. The innkeeper said he wished that we had more American “ambassadors” like him. It made me really proud and wish for our system here to encourage young people to go and meet the world. It changes who you are… but in a very positive way!
      As to your Tex-Mex rice, I’d coo and cool some rice. Then sauté an onion, a little garlic, perhaps some chipotle. The add red chopped peppers, corn, a can of rinsed, drained black beans and at the very end, some chopped cilantro and/or green onions. That’s my take on that!
      I will have a rice recipe on Tuesday, yummy but not Tex-Mex.
      Have a wonderful evening, and I am very glad to know the story of your daughter. I salute her adventurous spirit and I salute you as a parent to have trusted her and let her choose her future! 💖
      Thank you also for your kind comments and visits to my blog! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this perspective, Sabine. I am a little angry that Europe has taken my child from me. (Maybe I should also be angry that this election has awakened my child to never want to return to her home land.) But I guess I get a blessing because I get to know her German family – a wonderful family of people. So blessed. And so blessed to have you as my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now you have a chance to visit and explore her new world. Home will always be home in one’s heart I believe. And having more than one home, one’s heart grows also bigger. Thanks for being my friend too! 🙂


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