Thursday, 13 June 2024

When is “kleine” not “kleine”

Written by  Jan 13, 2016

“Kleine Leckerbissen,” read my mother-in-law slowly from a packet of dog biscuits. “What the hell are you talking about,” I answered, wondering if she had taken up German lessons. “Kleine Leckerbissen,” she spelled out letter by letter, adding “Mit Rind,” as if I understood. “Kleinere brocken…never mind it is important that they are kleine!” she added as if understanding everything she was reading.

Sub City has brought up a whole new set of challenges for my mother-in-law, well for me as well. With the major shops inside the centre coming from Germany, DM, Müller and New Yorker are all German companies; the language barrier has been raised. A trip to “Das Sub City,” or should it be Die or Der Sub City, means we either have to take a microscope or a Croatian – German dictionary.

“Oh look at this Aerial…it has 100 wäschen!” exclaimed my mother-in-law with delight. With the majority of products in Müller coming directly from the fatherland they are, of course, covered with combinations of ä, ö and ü (and even ß). Of course, and in line with the law, they have a Croatian translation on a small white sticker on the back of the product. However as both my mother-in-law and myself has the eyesight of a short-sighted mole these miniature descriptions need an electronic microscope borrowed from CSI to understand.

“Can you read this,” she was holding a 2 kg bag of dog biscuits a few millimeters from her nose. “I can see the white sticker but the words might as well be written in Swahili,” came my answer. That’s how we ended up buying the wrong bag of dog biscuits in the first place. And as nobody in the immediate family has been a “gastarbajter” we don’t even have pigeon German. When one of our family members tried to explain to a German friend that his father, and namesake, had died a few years ago this is what the man heard, “Ich bin kleine Božo, und grosse Božo ist kaput!” As I said German is not our strong subject.

The confusion doesn’t stop there. I have been a regular guest at the dentist recently and as a show of solidarity my wife bought me an electric toothbrush in Das Sub City. Of course all of the instructions were in German; I had managed to throw away the Croatian instructions with the rest of the packaging. Now this was no ordinary toothbrush it looked like a vibrator and a Christmas tree molded into one. “Which end goes in my mouth,” was the first question. This thing had more settings and functions than my television. It took me ten minutes before I had the thing started…humming away in my hand. “Do you understand any of those instructions,” I shouted to my wife. “I was born in Dubrovnik not Dusseldorf,” came the answer. Toothpaste was flying around the bathroom and before long I had more toothpaste on the mirror in front of me than in my mouth. Everything was Weiß! I ended up going online to try and find English instructions…danke.

Many of the products you already know, or have a good idea of what they are for by the illustration on the packet. It is a little like pantomime shopping, and you never really know what you will get, a little like Christmas. But when you need to get a little more complicated, or more specific, then the mystery begins. Maybe this a tactic from Müller to sell more products, if it is then it is certainly working in the Thomas house. We have all sorts of different dog foods, washing powder, cleaning products, anti-insect sprays…the list goes on.

“Kleine Leckerbissen,” repeated my mother-in-law again. This was confusing. We knew that “kleine” meant small but there was a huge wolf-like dog on the front of the bag. Our pantomime shopping was not going to work here; it was a contradictory bag of dog biscuits. We both peered like newborn babies at the sticker on the back of the bag. “If they had printed this any smaller it would be invisible,” I added. With our German failing, the wolf photo confusing us and minuscule Croatian we were left with the last resort…touch. I felt through the bag to try and judge the size of the biscuits, believe me our small dog will immediately reject the wrong sized biscuits. “I reckon they will be OK,” I answered holding one biscuit between my thumb and forefinger. Next time we will but dog biscuits in another supermarket…maybe Lidl…oh blimey!

Mark Thomas 

The Voice of Dubrovnik


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