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Misadventures in Translation

August 9th, 2012 § 0 comments

von Paul Conway

Greetings intercultural explorers!
I would like to take a moment to share with you an experience that stuck me upon my most recent visit to Germany. I had been staying with a lovely German family, who had been helping me refine my (rather basic) German. Often in the mornings, they would greet me with a hearty “Guten Morgen! Wie gehts?” (Good morning! How are you?).

Drawing upon my rudimentary vocabulary and my years as an English speaker, I would translate from the common English phrase I am good, and reply to my hosts with a hearth “Ich bin gut.”
I must admit I was rather proud of myself for figuring out this little piece of German expression on my own, and said it loudly and often for weeks.
Finally, one day, a member of my host family pulled me aside and told me that although this phrase was technically correct, it had some connotations I wasn’t aware of.

Specifically, “Ich bin gut” connotes that I am good in the sense of “Oh yeah, I’m so good, look at me and bow down you mere mortals.” It was like I walked down to breakfast each morning and told my host family that I was better than them!

It turns out a more appropriate response to the question “Wie gehts?” is “Mir gehts gut” which approximates the more polite English phrase I’m doing well.
So it turns out that approximating polite, rather than colloquial English phrases may serve as a better guide to intercultural communication – unless you are Lady Ga-Ga or something. Then maybe you really mean it when you say “Ich bin gut.”

Das interkulturelle Reisetagebuch ist ein Blog von change.project und der crossculture academy.

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