Deutsch, Language

“Are you sober?”: Where to be careful when learning German

German can be a tricky language sometimes, despite me having learnt it over half my life and having a degree in it. It’s quite worrying when I come across a situation where I completely misunderstand what has been said, but it does make for good stories afterwards. And good blog posts. Here are some random words and phrases to be careful of when learning German.


What it means: tonsillectomy (i.e. having your tonsils out)

What I understood: almond operation

The German word “Mandel” means almond, and it also gets me very excited when you stick the word “gebrannte” in front of it – roasted almonds at a Christmas market, yum! But, because German is, well, German, “Mandel” also means tonsils. It took me a minute to work it out when somebody told me they had had an ‘almond’ operation when they were younger…


What it means: sunset

What I understood: the end of the sun
(I was having a dumb moment)

Thankfully this one didn’t take as long to realise I was thinking wrongly, but it’s interesting to think that the word “Sonnenuntergang” means sunset, then if you change “Sonne” (sun) to “Welt” (world) – “Weltuntergang” – you suddenly get a word which means the end of the world, as in, doomsday. I heard a lot about the “Weltuntergang” back in Hannover due to 21st December 2012, so the word “Untergang” stuck in my head for that reason. Took me a moment though to realise that “Sonnenuntergang” is completely harmless.

Kannst du das entbehren?
(Asked by a colleague)

What it means: Can you do without this?

What I understood: Can you un-bear this?

This was the first word at work that was said to me where I simply couldn’t work out what it meant with the context. Sometimes you get faced with a word but can work out with the context what it means (or at least have a good guess), but this time I sat for about 5 seconds, thought about it, then just had to apologise because I didn’t have a clue what my colleague just asked of me. “entbehren” also sounds like “entbären” which isn’t actually a word but if it was it would mean “to un-bear” which is, of course, also not a word. Hence my confusion.

vom Fleisch fallen

What it means: to lose weight

What I understood: to fall from meat

I can’t remember the exact conversation when this little beauty of a phrase made an appearance, but I remember being shocked at what seemed like a sudden change in topic. I think I’d maybe mentioned that I needed a new belt and suddenly a phrase about me falling off meat was thrown at me which seemed a little harsh. It was quickly saved though with a quick “das heißt abnehmen!” (“That means to lose weight!”).

Der will auf allen Hochzeiten gleichzeitig tanzen.

What it means: (rough translation) He wants to have his cake and eat it.

What I understood: He always wants to dance at all wedding parties at the same time.

One minute I was hearing about a guy in a normal situation, next thing he suddenly wants to be dancing at all wedding parties at the same time. It threw me off, that’s for sure. Nice little Redewendung though!

Sind Sie nüchtern?
(Asked by a receptionist at the doctor’s)

What it means: Have you fasted?

How I understood it: Are you sober?

Another word with two meanings (“nüchtern” means sober, both in the alcohol and also the food sense), but this time it makes a little more sense than almonds and tonsils. I was going for a blood test (nothing bad, don’t worry) and I was too busy panicking about the blood test itself to think cleverly about the question. There I was speaking broken German in my panic at the doctor’s, and I’d got something mixed up with my paperwork which made me want to turn around and leave and cry in a dark corner even more, so when I was asked “Sind Sie nüchtern?”, which I of course understood as “Are you sober?”, I stood and stared, almost offended by the cheek of her asking if I had had a drink (it was 8am). She quickly rephrased and asked if I’d eaten anything that morning. I had. It was an unsuccessful trip to the doctor’s.

Das ist noch Zukunftsmusik.

What it means: We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

What I understood: That’s still music of the future.

A sneaky little German idiom came into conversation yesterday on the way back from the Großer Feldberg. Luckily, I was only listening to the conversation and not fully taking part so I had time to look it up on my phone, but I wondered how on earth the music of the future had anything to do with what was being spoken about. But it turns out it’s actually quite a nice little German phrase! We cross bridges, they have music of the future.

And to finish off, here’s a photo of the track up to the Großer Feldberg:


Danke fürs Lesen!

11 thoughts on ““Are you sober?”: Where to be careful when learning German”

  1. pretty funny and easy for me to understand as I arrived to Germany with very little knowledge of the language and had to talk to people just like you 🙂

  2. you also use “vom Fleisch fallen” in the context, when you are f.ex. invited for dinner at sb home, and have special eating habits, and person is inviting you, is not sure what to cook. you cans say ” ich werde schon nicht vom Fleisch fallen” which means, I will not die from hunger (even if you have nothing/not much for me I can eat.)

  3. “Vom Fleisch fallen” isn’t exactly the same like “abnehmen” (losing weight), usally you say it, if somebody is already really thin and shouldn’t lose more weight, because otherwise he “falls from meat”. Or you can use it in a funny way: “I’m so hungry, I need to eat something, otherwise I’m falling from meat” 😉

    1. Hey there!

      Ah, I didn’t realise that one. I think my friend just panicked when helping me learn the right meaning because I looked shocked at what he’d just said!!

      Thanks for reading and the tip 🙂


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