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cultural differences 10: sayings

April 16, 2010

There are a few English sayings that have an equivalent in German, but they differ in interesting ways.

English German translation
Bull in a china shop. Elefant im Porzellanladen Elephant in a china shop
Drop in the ocean / bucket Tropfen auf den heißen Stein Drop on the hot rock
Putty in someone’s hands Wachs in jemandens Hände Wax in someone’s hands
Pull someone’s leg Jemanden auf den Arm nehmen Take someone on your arm
Too many cooks spoil the broth. Viele Köche verderben den Brei Too many cooks spoil the porridge
That ship has sailed. Der Zug ist abgefahren. That train has left the station.
To bite the dust Ins Gras beißen To bite the grass
Give him an inch and he’ll take the whole mile / yard Gib ihm den kleinen Finger und er nimmt die ganze Hand Give him your pinky and he’ll take the whole hand
Setting a fox to guard the henhouse Den Bock zum Gärtner machen Give the billy goat a gardener’s job
Buy a pig in a poke Die Katze im Sack kaufen Buy a cat in a bag
Out of the frying pan, into the fire Vom Regen in die Traufe Out of the rain, into trough
To have a bone to pick with someone Ein Hühnchen zu rupfen haben To have a chicken to pluck with someone.
To have a skeleton in the closet Eine Leiche im Keller haben To have a corpse in the basement
To be a thorn in someone’s side Jemandem ein Dorn im Auge sein To be a thorn in someone’s eye
To compare apples and oranges Äpfel und Birnen vergleichen To compare apples and pears
Head over heels Hals über Kopf Neck over head
Make a mountain out of a molehill Aus einer Mücke einen Elefanten machen Make an elephant out of a mosquito
Don’t want to be in your shoes Möchte nicht in deiner Haut stecken Don’t want to be in your skin
Two birds with one stone Zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen Two flies with one swat

Well, I still think the German “neck over head” is more logical than saying “head over heels” when you want to express that someone is rushing headlong into love or a disaster. 🙂

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4 comments

  1. I remember that during my first stay in England (several years ago) a friend asked me how I slept and I said “like a stone”. She was a bit confused and it took some explanations from my side.
    In England they say “like a log”.
    Well, that was when I first discovered that my school English maybe wasn’t as good as I thought 🙂


  2. Excellent addition to my list, Astrid.

    We never learn the really important and helpful stuff in school.

    But it stands to reason that a stone sleeps sounder than a log, wouldn’t you agree? 🙂


  3. Love your pieces on cultural differences. Some I have heard of, must be ancestors passed them down in the family but some of them are new to me. I love reading them. How are traffice lights different?


    • Thanks for your encouragement. I’ll do more posts about cultural differences soon. I learned that even German windows and beds are different.

      German traffic lights turn from red to yellow before turning green. Read the comments below that post to find out more.



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