July 13, 2015

Sailing from Germany


Germans are funny people, but not in the humorous sense. While sailing along the York River with her husband’s family, Rebecca Westrum regaled us with stories of teaching English in Germany. I wondered how they could possibly grasp so many American idioms, or figures of speech unique to our culture. Someone suggested the idiom of raining cats and dogs, and she said, “Well, they do use the term ‘raining buckets.’”

She continued, “My favorite is what they say when you come up with a crazy idea: ‘Do you have tomatoes on the eyes?’ No one knows where it’s derived, and of course it makes no sense. I asked her if JFK really said “I am a jelly donut” in his 1963 speech before the Berlin Wall when he famously said, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Rebecca explained, “The Berliner is a pastry, sure, but they knew what he meant. It was the difference between saying ‘I am a New Yorker’ vs. ‘I am New York.’ No one laughed at him for the error. They were very respectful and appreciative.”

Rebecca’s husband, Ian Sidden, works as a professional opera singer in Germany. “Many towns and cities have their own opera,” he said modestly. “Germany is, after all, where opera started. They would sooner go to the opera than the movies.” His father, Duane Sidden, said, “I’ve got the bragging rights because I’m very proud of his work.”

We sailed along for several hours and pursued other topics in a rising breeze. At one point, the giant Coleman Bridge swung open even though there wasn’t a Navy ship in sight. It was a test to check repairs that were done that morning.

Eventually Duane asked if I get many foreign visitors as customers. I told him that I recently had to turn down a German couple because it was forecast to storm badly that day. He was cordial and persisted until I insisted that it would be dangerous to sail, and then he became brusque. People on board nodded, as if to confirm that was typical of Germans. Another guest, James Wilkerson, said, “You should have told him he had tomatoes on the eyes.”

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