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There are many sayings that refer to other nations. "It's all Greek to me" is a familiar English expression for lack of understanding. In many languages one would say "This sounds Chinese to me", if something appears unclear or confusing. However, in China, you would refer to Russian, in Austria call things Spanish, and so on.
Austrian Talk. "Austriackie gadanie" is an old fashioned Polish phrase for empty talk or blah-blah, as some colleagues would advise me today over dinner - or was it a friendly warning? The saying originates from discontent with politicians in the 19th century. Back then, the area of Galicia in southern Poland belonged to the Austria Empire and sent delegates to the Austrian parliament. The rules in the parliament of the multinational empire were rather liberal and representatives had the right to speak in their own languages - be it German, Polish, Czech, Italian or else - and without time limits. Beside the fact that they could not understand each other, it happened quite often that they occupied the speaker's podium for hours, reading novels and dictionaries... In Poland, ever since useless babble is known as "Austrian talking"! Possibly, in those days everyone even brought an own Zubrowka-dinner, a glass of Buffalo Grass Vodka served with apple juice and a touch of cinnamon, but that belongs to the realm of vague speculations.
Help and Mayday. 'Nuff said! I just wanted to end an article with a short (and cool) "enough said." Another word conversion, one of these transmogrifies (what a word). "Mayday" (the scream, not the British bank holiday) became so popular among non French speaking population that it turned into an international emergency call for pilots. Instead of just sticking with "m'aidez" or "help meee!" "Excuse my French" on the other hand became a "carte blanche" for swearing.
Greek to me. The English phrase "It's all Greek to me," used to communicate misunderstandings, goes back to the Latin saying "Graecum est, non legitur - It is Greek, not to be read." It was used by medieval monks, who were omitting Ancient Greek quotations within Latin texts they copied, when they were not familiar with the Greek alphabet.
Spanish to you. In German there is a similar phrase: "Das kommt mir Spanisch vor - It seems Spanish to me." Which is said to come from times when the Habsburg kings ruled over both Austria and Spain and imported a lot of Spanish court ceremonial, which appeared strange to locals. In Spanish, by the way, you say: "Me suena a Chino - That sounds Chinese to me!" In Italian this would be: "Per me e arabo - This is Arabic to me!"
Chinese to many. In Greek again this equals to: "Mou miazoun me kinezika - It is like Chinese to me!" Even in German we would say "Das ist Chinesisch für mich - That is Chinese for me," if we cannot follow a topic outside of our area of expertise or simply don't know a technical term ("Fachchinesisch - faculty Chinese," meaning technical jargon). With Chinese though, the most important expression for me is "(wo) bu dong - (I) don't understand!" Even in Cantonese, when you don't understand, sometimes you may ask: "Ni zai jiang e yu ya - Are you speaking Russian?"
Dutch and French to a few. Vice versa, in Russian there is the saying "Eto dlia menija kitajskaya gramota - It is like Chinese to me" or "Tarabarschina," which means "incomprehensible" or "double Dutch." Similar to the British English expression "That sounds double Dutch," which can be tricky though. As "double Dutch" is also the name of a rope game involving two people jumping simultaneously, or the parallel use of two contraceptives together, possibly what they call a Dutch cap plus a French letter. In Turkey, someone, who doesn't understand the others, feels "Fransiz kaldim - to be like French."
Strange to the rest. Sparing other nations, the French themselves say "Cela me semble etrange - That sounds strange to me," while occasionally using "C'est du chinois - That is Chinese!" Luckily not "C'est de l'autrichien - That is Austrian!" Simple (not double) Dutch is the expression "Dat is Chinees voor mij - That is Chinese for me," although not too wide spread, apparently. Neither is "Dat is Oostenrijks voor mij - That is Austrian for me." In the Netherlands you just say: "Klinkt me vreemd in de oren - That sounds strange in my ears!" Anyway, "quidquid peregrinus," as the Latin scholar says. In Austrian dialect the same sounds like: "Wos waas a Fremder - What does a stranger know?"
Spanish Village to some. Where sometimes strange things are even compared with a settlement: "Das ist ein spanisches Dorf fuer mich - That is a Spanish village to me!" And that small village seems to be popular in the countries of the former Austrian monarchy, common in languages like Czech (spanelska vesnice), Slovene (spanska vas), Croatian (spansko selo) besides German (Spanisches Dorf).
Bohemian Village to others. Alternatively, some say "Das ist mir ein boehmisches Dorf - That is a Bohemian village to me," originally referring to the difficult pronunciation of Czech location names. Following the destruction of many Bohemian villages during the Thirty Years' War (which excluding weekends and holidays was much shorter) it was also used to describe something that has vanished. "Tian shu - heavenly script" is a common Chinese expression for something that is hard to read or understand. At the same time it may describe unreadable handwriting, synonymous for doctor's scrawl, noted down in a hurry with a "claw" (in German: "Klaue").
Troops & Trains. The German phrase "Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof - I always understand train station" is a common signal for lack of understanding. It originates from the end of World War I, when the railway was closely connected to troop transport. Among war-weary soldiers the station became a symbol for their desire to go back home. As they only wanted to talk about returning to their beloved ones, they frequently interrupted discussions on other topics with the reference: "I always understand train station." After all this confusion with languages, one may just laugh out loud, revealing a sense of bashful uncertainty.
Golden Rule of Chat. Internet slang like "lol" or the all-time favorite "rofl" is taking over: Rolling on the floor laughing! For good-bye or see you, the abbreviation "cu" is most common. While I haven't found the correct abbreviation for the full sentence "See you in the funny papers!" And then there is my rule about smiley's, emoticons (animated emotional icons), chat symbols of any kind :-) Whatever symbol you send, you have to make the same expression with your own face. By the way, what is the longest word in the world? It is "smiles," for there is a mile between the first and the last letter.
Acropolis Adieu! C'mon now, or "Ela Ela" as they say in Greece... all over, not just in front of the closed Acropolis museum. Visiting Athens four times within one year for a project, we never made it inside. It became a running gag, up to a point that my colleague would advise: "At the Acropolis, as in life, there is always something new to learn!" That's all for today. 'Nuff so to say.
Michigan: Among non-Greek Spartans.
Greece: Circling around the closed Acropolis museum.
"This is probably as close as you will ever get to the Acropolis", my colleague commented my visit to a miniature version of the Parthenon Temple at Minimundus in Cartinthia.
The Word Trap. In order to make oneself understood in a foreign environment, speaking the local language definitely helps. But even without having the full vocabulary available, there are work-arounds to achieve understanding. The resulting picturesque expressions may remind of Native American talk. A German colleague fondly remembered the explanation of "ice skating" as "shoes running on ice". Very creative examples come from a Bosnian community in the United States: The customer, who entered the hardware store didn't know the English word for "mouse trap", so he started explaining to the clerk: "Tom & Jerry. Tom good, Jerry bad." Then he made a hand sign for cutting the throat. The clerk immediately understood! On another occasion, the challenge was to explain a strainer: "Water goes, Maccaroni stays." In Poland, by the way, a German loanword is used for sieve. It is "Durchschlag", as in carbon copy.