German idioms that refer to foreign nations | Culture | Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 22.06.2022

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Culture

German idioms that refer to foreign nations

How Germans describe an affluent lifestyle, a colloquial term used for serving time behind bars — and a typical sarcastic response.

People have always described things they do not know as foreign and decidedly odd.

In different European languages, "The symbol of what is utterly foreign was and very often is Chinese," writes Rolf-Bernhard Essig in his book on European idioms, "Phönix aus der Asche" (Phoenix out of the Ashes). 

In the late Middle Ages, merchants in Europe spread tales of life in faraway China: "It was described as extraordinarily exotic, foreign, and mysterious — and its language even more so," the German author writes, adding that is why Chinese stands for what is inconceivable and mystifying in many languages. In German, for example, technical jargon is often referred to as "Fachchinesisch" (technical Chinese).

Today, the use of idioms referring to an entire culture as odd or uncivilized should be avoided. Still, it might be useful to know what Germans really mean when they declare themselves to be the emperor of China — check out the gallery above to find out.

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