“You’ve got a pickle on your face”: Some common false friends in German

False friends. Aren’t they fun? They either make you sound daft when you’re speaking (in this case) German, or make Germans sound daft when they’re speaking English. In this post, I’m going to tell you some simple and common false friends which you may come across and may lead you to confusion.


Smoking

Translation: tuxedo

This was brought into a conversation one day, in German, and I was very confused. Using a verb as a noun? What is this nonsense?! Luckily, I was told what it meant when I showed my best confused-but-I’m-trying-to-understand face. So if a German were to ask you in English: “Do you have a Smoking?”, they’re talking about a tuxedo.


Gift

Translation: poison

Well, that escalated quickly! The German word Gift translates, in a very false-friend manner, to ‘poison’. So make sure not to tell a German in German that you’re going to give them a Gift as they’ll be pretty concerned.


Handy

Translation: mobile phone

This is one I hear Germans say often when speaking about their mobile phones: “I don’t have my Handy with me”, “My Handy is ringing”. And don’t forget to pronounce like an American would pronounce, so less of that beautiful ‘a’ sound which so many Germans don’t realise the Brits say, and more of that ‘e’. If you’re interested, one way to say handy in German is praktisch.


Pickel

translation: spot

If a German tells you you have a pickle on your face, don’t panic! You probably just have a spot. Maybe a pickle would be more desirable as you could just take it off… but, whatever. Pickel is a very fun false friend (if you can call false friends ‘fun’, that is).


Wand

translation: wall

This is one of the first words you may learn in German, with houses and their rooms etc. being a common beginner’s topic. It’s also pronounced with a ‘v’ to start with, so if you were to hear it you would less likely get confused. But still – be aware! Unfortunately, your house doesn’t have any wands, it has walls.


Chef

translation: boss

Unfortunately, not all bosses can make 5-star quality meals (imagine that!). If Germans start talking to you about their Chef, they’re talking about their boss. The word for ‘chef’ in German is Koch for a male chef and Köchin for a female chef.

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