There's A German Word For That
June's Theme: Lost in Translation | The Muse Letter No. 105 |
Yes, I also can’t believe it’s June. Half-time. Almost summer. Also time for a new monthly theme and with a lot of people traveling and visiting home again and transgressing out of the pandemic I chose: Lost In Translation.
Yes, like the film but also like the actual feeling of trying to find yourself in another tongue, another country, the cultural differences and things that one misses and/or enjoys to be free from for a moment. The things that actually do get left behind when translating, the feelings attached to certain words, the background noise, memories. The first essay of this month is about that. Somehow.
There’s A German Word For That
When Germans say “I Love You”. It’s serious. Obviously. Because culturally Germans are serious about everything. Everyone knows that. There are a lot of memes. Germans don’t take words lightly. They are categorised. Compartmentalised. Only for you, the German “Ich liebe dich”.
German people don’t walk around loving their parents, their friends. They only love their lovers. But I guess I should explain.
When you say: “Ich liebe dich” in German it is romantic. It is meant specifically for the significant other or others because some people are polyamorous.
When you want to say how much you love your mom/dad/friends etc. you say: “Ich hab dich lieb” or maybe? “Ich lieb’ dich” or probably “lieb’ dich”. (but really I don’t know anyone who says that).
Literally “Ich hab dich lieb” means I have love for you, which sounds – I was told – very bad in English, like somehow less, like you have love but like you have love for everybody like there is some love left up on the shelf if you have a look.
This is not what it actually means. A German friend saying: “Ich hab dich lieb” means: I have hugs and infinite affection and friendship and love for you and you are the best person ever in the world and I love you but in a strictly platonic way.
Some Germans reading this might disagree now (because Germans love to disagree) and pretend? and be like but I do say: “Ich liebe dich” to my friends and to my mother. But seriously? I would feel massively weird around you. Sorry.
There are rules! (Now look at me: how German I am.)
Also, I like it. That some things are special. Reserved for a specific kind of love. Which is another very German thing: defining nuances. Like different types of relationships.
You always know where you’re at with a German person because they will tell you.
If you’re a Bekannte/r, an acquaintance: You know this person and you see them 3-4 times a year and you might invite them to your birthday party if it’s a big one but they’d still just be an acquaintance, sorry.
If you’re Kommilitone/in a person that you studied with: and genuinely you could call them a friend but that friendship is limited to the University realm so technically not an absolute real friend.
If you’re a (Ehemalige-)Mitbewohner/in, (old) flatmate, a person you lived and shared a whole period of your life with, that knows way too many things about you and that you had real deep conversations with at around 2 am after partying, that you now see when you’re back in the city or talk to twice a year on social media that will only migrate to a friend if that pattern is more frequent and you actually see each other in person (them’s the rules).
If you’re a Freund/in, a friend: a very good friend, but you will probably not ask them to help you move out of your flat, and of course, they are invited to the birthday party except if it’s close friends only.
If you’re ein enger Freund/in, a close friend: That’s the people that have to help you move out of your flat, that remember your birthday and which is why you say “Hab dich lieb” to them.
And yes of course in the UK people separate their friends too, but – I ensure you – not in the way a German does.
– We keep folders of you in our heads.
In my book of essays, I once wrote about a guy from Georgia who asked me: Why do you always have to look for meaning?
And back then I didn’t have an answer to that but I guess it has a lot to do with this. With my brain that inherited this very German Pedanterie (pedantry).
And the answer should have been:
Because I’m German. I can’t help it.
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