Archive | August, 2012

“hilfsbereit” or the difference between things and people

6 Aug

Hello all,

I have a new apartment. It needs a lot of work before I can move in but I am fortunate to be surrounded by people who offer their help (let’s hope they mean it). In this context I noticed something that is probably tiny and insignificant but this is the internet. If I can’t talk about insignificant things here, where can I?

In German the word for people who help you with stuff is “hilfsbereit”. Well, it is the adjective to describe them. The obvious English translation for this is ‘helpful’. But when I translated the word back and forth in my head a couple of times – yeah, I do that for fun sometimes – I noticed that we have another German word for helpful: “hilfreich”. Apparently I am not the only one who ponders the difference of “hilfreich” and “hilsbereit”, as this forum article shows.

In the forum the distinction is explained like so: “hilfsbereit” only talks about the intention to help, “hilfreich” says something about the actual ability to help. Seems to make sense, right? I don’t know. The longer I thought about it the more I felt that “hilfreich” is a strange word to describe a human being. I might be the only one but it strikes me as odd. I personally find tools, instruction manuals, and directions “hilfreich”. Those are things that help me. People that help me are always “hilfsbereit”.

In the next two weeks when I will be painting my apartment I hope that many people stop by and help or even just hang out with me. And I don’t care whether they are DIY experts or complete amateurs who drink beer and play a song on the piano while I scrape off the old wallpaper. I will still be happy that they were willing to come by and help in any way they could. I guess I only use “hilfsbereit” for people because unlike “hilfreich” it does not include judgement of their ability. It just appreciates that they are ‘ready to help’. And I am grateful.