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German words and idioms every Expat in Germany should know

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As an Expat in Germany, you will often hear German words and idioms at work and in new social settings. Find out 10 words and idioms you are bound to hear while you are in Germany

As you embark on a life in Germany as an Expat, language will become more important. Here you will find a list of 10 beautiful German words to learn and 10 useful German idioms to help you understand your German friends when they are having conversations. 

10 useful German idioms that every Expat in Germany needs to start using

10. “Na?”

The literal translation into English would be: “What’s up?”

What does the term mean and how do you use it? It’s not that easy to start a conversation with a German, but if you know someone very well, you can just start with a questioning “Na?” begin and the person will respond to it. Na is probably one of the most effective way of saying “Hallo” and “wie geht es dir?” at the same time. If you want to express yourself a little more clearly, you can add a short question to the Na, for example: “Na, alles gut?” (How are you? Everything okay?) Or “Na, was machst du so?” (What are you doing? What’s cooking?).

9. “Jemandem die Daumen drücken”

The literal translation into English would be: “To press your thumbs for someone”

What does the term mean and how do you use it? In Germany this phrase is used to wish someone the best of luck. Often times, the speaker will raise their fists and show you that they are actually crossing their fingers. So if you want to wish someone luck, then you correctly say: “Ich drück’ dir die Daumen!” or in English: “I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you”.

german word

8. “Nur Bahnhof verstehen”

The literal translation into English would be: “To only understand train station”

What does the term mean and how do you use it? If someone says, “Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof” (I only understand train station), it means that the person has no idea what you are talking to. You either have to explain it to him again or change the subject right away. The English equivalent would be “It’s all Greek to me”.

7. “Bock haben”

The literal translation into English would be: “To have a goat”

What does the term mean and how do you use it? This expression comes from the old Rotwelsch word for “Hunger ” – because it meant “bokh” in Rotwelsch. It is most often used to say that you are in the mood for something or that you have absolutely no desire for a certain activity.

“Ich hab voll Bock auf Bier” (I’m totally up for a beer)

“Ich hab null Bock auf Kino!“ (I have zero interest in going to the cinema!)

If you want to ask people whether they want to do something, you can also formulate the whole thing as a question: “Wir gehen was essen. Hast du Bock?” (We are eating out. Wanna come?)

6. “Ich glaub mein Schwein pfeift”

The literal translation into English would be: “I think my pig whistles”

What does the term mean and how do you use it? Don’t think now that we’ve gone totally mad; we know, of course, that the idea of ​​a whistling pig is totally ridiculous. And that’s where the expression comes from, because a whistling pig would be so silly that nobody would believe that it actually exists anyway. Germans use this expression when they cannot believe or grasp something, or to express that they are extremely surprised. In English, the phrase “I think a horse is kicking me” probably comes closest to the matter.

german word

5. “Ich glaub’ ich spinne”

The literal translation into English would be: “I believe I spider”

What does the term mean and how do you use it? Germans love metaphors – especially those that use an animal. In this case, however, the actual origin of the expression is questionable, because the word “spinne” could also simply be the verb “spinnen”, like Sleeping Beauty on the spinning wheel. In any case, this idiom is used everywhere in Germany to express surprise (whether positive or negative), or to say that a situation or fact can hardly be grasped. A comparable expression in English would be something like: “I think I’m going crazy”.

4. “Das ist mir Wurst”

In English this literally means: “This is sausage to me”

What does the term mean and how do you use it? This expression is used when you are indifferent to something or have no opinion about something. Germans often answer with this idiom – when someone asks you: ” What do you want to do today ?” (What would you like to do today?) And you do not care, then you can simply answer the answer: “ This is my sausage! ”Would you like to sound even more authentic? Just turn the word “ sausage ” into “ sausage ” – because that’s how sausage is pronounced in southern Germany.

3. “Fix und fertig sein”

The literal translation into English would be: “To be fixed and finished”

What does the term mean and how do you use it? This is the normal way of saying that you are completely exhausted. In English one would say something like: “I am completely knackered” or “I am all wiped out”. If you want to use this expression correctly, you say, “Ich bin fix und fertig!” Alternatively, you can sigh: “Ich bin fix und alle”  – whereby the word “alle ” here means “empty”.

2. “Jemandem auf den Keks gehen”

The literal translation into English would be: “To go on someone’s cookie”

What does the term mean and how do you use it? Believe it or not, this phrase has absolutely nothing to do with cookies (which is a shame). It expresses that someone is getting on your nerves. Most often you can hear someone shouting: “Du gehst mir auf den Keks!” – This means that the person is annoyed by his counterpart, or is fed up with him.

german word

1. “Die Nase voll haben”

The literal translation into English would be: “To have the nose full”

What does the term mean and how do you use it? Here we just have a creative twist on “enough is enough”. The term is often used when someone is fed up with a particular situation and doesn’t want to talk about it anymore. For example, if you really can’t hear your neighbor’s loud music anymore, you say, “Ich habe die Nase voll von der lauten Musik!” (I am fed up with the loud music.) Often you may also hear the variant: “Ich habe die Schnauze voll!” (I’mfed up !) – the word “Nase” (nose) is then replaced by the less polite expletive expression “Schnauze” (snout).

10 beautiful German words that every Expat in Germany needs to understand

10. Sehnsucht

That is why it is a beautiful German word: It not only sounds beautiful, but also describes a feeling that expresses both joy and sadness.

9. Herzschmerz

That’s why it’s a beautiful German word: Because it not only rhymes, but also falls easily off your lips.

8. Sternstunde

That is why it is a beautiful German word: It often describes a very special point in time or also a high point in life. In addition, the repetition of the gentle ‘st’ also makes the word sound beautiful.

7. Gänseblümchen

That’s why it’s a beautiful German word: it sounds wonderful thanks to the gentle umlauts that are pronounced.

6. Wintermärchen

That is why it is a beautiful German word: it connects the beautiful feelings of winter (such as snow, white, quiet) with memories of beautiful childhood stories.

5. Zweisamkeit

That’s why it’s a nice German word: It sounds nice and describes pleasant feelings, such as closeness, love and warmth.


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4. Schmetterling

That’s why it’s a beautiful German word: Because it combines the harsh word sound of ‘schmettern’ with a very soft ending.

3. Frühlingserwachen

That is why it is a beautiful German word: Another popular word that not only sounds beautiful, but above all appeals to our emotions. Because spring growth means that the cold, gray winter is finally disappearing and is being replaced by sunshine, warm air and colorful flowers.

2. Fernweh

That’s why it’s a nice German word: Wanderlust is basically the opposite of homesickness. Instead of longing for home, the word ‘wanderlust’ describes the longing to simply drive far away and experience something new.

1. Blütenzauber

That’s why it’s a beautiful German word: it doesn’t just roll over your tongue, it also sounds soft and hopeful.

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Tim Gumbert
Tim is the go-to guy when it comes to finding all the gems regarding life as an Expat in Germany. His whole motto is discover Germany on your own and without a roadmap, explore new routes while climbing or mountain biking.
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