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“Einen Korb kriegen” or what baskets have to do with dating

25 Jul

So the other day a friend of mine got rejected, meaning a girl he liked turned him down. He wrote me about it in an e-mail and the phrase “I got rejected” stood out to me. It seems so absolute. You are rejected! What a horrible sentiment.

Maybe it is the non-native speaker in me that immediately goes to a dark connotation here. You, as a person, are not good enough to be in my life. Also, the phrase can be confusing, when I read it first, I didn’t know if he was talking about a girl or a job application. I thought about this phrasing and how we would put it in German, and it occurred to me that we have a kind of wonderful, slightly outdated but still used phrase for this situation: “Einen Korb kriegen” – to get a basket. This phrase really only applies to the romantic rejection. You can’t use it if you get turned down for a job or aren’t allowed to enter the United States.

I have never thought about the origin of the phrase but researching for this post I found that it goes all the way back to the middle ages. There are a whole lot of customs revolving around asking someone to marry them that involved a basket in one way or another and subsequently there are several theories as to where the phrase comes from. If you speak German you can read about it here.

Years ago when I had gotten my heart broken yet again a good friend of mine gave me this advice: “Go out, and get yourself a basket.” Now, you have to admit that sounds much nicer than: “Go out, and get yourself rejected.” What he meant, of course, was, put yourself out there, get turned down once or twice and it will help you to diminish your fear of rejection. I liked the phrase because unlike “getting rejected” it seems more situational. The truth is, if you meet someone you like and you get up the courage to ask them out and they say no, there are a million possible reasons, a ton of which might not even have anything to do with you. The other person could be in a relationship, not in the mood to be hit on or simply having a crappy day. If you had asked half an hour earlier or later it might have been a yes.

When you get a basket the subtext that comes to my mind is really just that. You got turned down for a date. It doesn’t mean you are not desirable or impossible to love, it doesn’t mean the other person hated your smell; it just is what it is. And thus, a basket is somehow easier to live with than a rejection.

The bad news is rejection still sucks. Even in German.

„Geborgenheit“ or what we really need

13 Feb

Dear reader, I would like to apologize for my long absence. I have started a new job this year and I still need to get the hang of this whole work-life-balance-thingy that everyone keeps talking about. However, I have chosen this specific day for my return because today is Soma’s birthday. So, honored reader, Happy Soma’s Birthday to you!

Today’s word is a bit of a weird one: “Geborgenheit”. Now, imagine you don’t know what it means (maybe you really don’t) and you just look at its letters and listen to its sound. It is not a pretty one. I don’t think that it is ugly; it is just a word that doesn’t strike me as particularly beautiful. There is no melody or poetry to the mere word, but the meaning, oh, the meaning. Leo tells me that the English translation is ‘security’ or ‘feeling of security’. Puh-lease! There is so much more to it.

But I am a good digital native and know better that to trust just one user-generated source. Wikipedia actually has an article on the word and informs me that some panel chose it as the second most beautiful word in the German language and it is considered impossible to translate. The article also lists a whole lot of things that are part of its meaning, for example: security, protection, warmth, closeness, peace, trust, acceptance, and love. Reading this list you could get the feeling it means so much that it ends up meaning nothing. Not true. I know exactly what it means, so does every other German speaker, but I would bet that almost all of us have a hard time coming up with a general definition.

It is much more likely that the person you ask for a translation would come up with examples. One might tell you “Geborgenheit” is when he comes home to his parent’s place for Christmas and sits at the old kitchen table like he always has and his mum is still buying the special pudding for him even after all these years. Another one might tell you a story about that one special friend she can easily cry with without feeling ashamed. If you ask me, I think of a cave. Wow, that sounds weird. But it is the image that springs to my mind. A warm, dark and cozy cave. How about that for Freudian insight into my psyche.

The bottom line is this, “Geborgenheit” as the sum of security, warmth, protection, trust, and love is an essential human experience and the lack of it can and will do great harm to a personality, according to psychologists. We humans are crafty, though. When we really need something we will go out of our way to get it. I have seen how people who didn’t get “Geborgenheit” at home went out looking for it and found it with friends, lovers, in books or music. And sometimes you can find it in words. That’s what Soma did.

“Ich hab dich lieb” or German as the language of romance

7 Nov

No, that is not a very elaborate typo you see in the headline. I mean it. One of the things that I frequently encounter when outside the German speaking area is people looking at me either with derision or doubt and saying something like this: “German is not a bad language but it is impossible to say something romantic in it.” And then they proceed to demonstrate by saying the phrase “Ich liebe dich” – I love you – in a way that I can only call a Hitler impression. First of all, the words “ich” and “dich” are pronounced softly and secondly, I have never met anyone who talks in staccato all the time. But okay, today I don’t want to talk about the widespread prejudice that we speak like soldiers. I want to talk about romance.

Apart from the pronunciation misconception there is another error at work here. The phrase “Ich liebe dich” is not the best way to express the queen of all emotions; at least that’s my opinion. I recently met someone who phrased it perfectly. He said “Ich liebe dich” is at the same time too common and too radical. Granted, he was talking about Slovenian, but the same thing applies in German. The phrase seems so overused that it has become a cliché. On the other hand I shy away from saying these words. They are radical, too much to bear. Fortunately we have another way of expressing extreme fondness for someone: “Ich hab dich lieb”. This phrase is intimate and private and romantic on so many levels that I don’t know where to start. Its power is not limited to romantic love, though. It can also be said to a friend, your mother or your nephew.

The best thing about it is that it is always personal. While “Ich liebe dich” becomes somewhat of an unimaginative and maybe even boring phrase, “Ich hab dich lieb” will always be understood as coming straight from your heart. In other words “Ich liebe dich” is like giving red roses on Valentine’s Day. Men with no imagination spend a lot of money on red roses because the whole world says they are romantic so they must be. But “Ich hab dich lieb” is the equivalent of surprising me with a bunch of white tulips (my favorite) on a completely inconspicuous Wednesday.

Lucky for my Slovenian friend his language also has this more personal option. “Ich hab dich lieb” in Slovenian is “rad te mam” (for guys) or “rada te mam” (if you are a girl). Don’t say I never teach you anything…