Monthly archives: April 2008


There’s a subtle difference between the book geek and the book snob. Book geeks have unabashed, passionate obsessions with eccentric niches, grammatical intricacies, and clever turns of phrase, and will rave until their puckered little mouths foam if you show even a hint of interest. They are prone to social awkwardness and can be found in used bookstores and dimly lit reading nooks everywhere. Book snobs, on the other hand, conspiratorially drop the names of the edgy contemporary authors they’ve been reading and the number of times they’ve read Milton/Flaubert/Joyce/Dostoevsky over expensive, foamy coffee.
You guessed it, continued on Young Germany.


I met Joey at the Tuesday Fischladen Vokü. He was standing outside, smoking. I was early, and awkwardly looking for a way to break the ice.
“You have a light?” I asked him. He did. I rolled us both cigarettes, and we sat at a table outside making small talk and drinking one-euro beers while waiting for our food.
Anyone else would have noticed that Joey was crazy within the first couple of minutes. I suppose I must have noticed, but considering that I often come across as being a few cards short of the deck, I like to give people the [...]

the bloody chain

“You, umm, how do I say this? It’s always a rather awkward topic.”
I was sitting in the grayish office of The Woman Formerly Known as My Boss. When I had called to say I would be back in Frankfurt and available to work, Former Boss had called brimming with artificial niceties and the suggestion that we meet up for a “little chat” before I started working again.
I had wondered how bad it would be. “Little chat,” after all, is business speak for stern conversation about what you’ve done wrong. I was pretty sure I knew what [...]

all your base are belong to us

“Das ist sau komisch.”
Literal translation: “That is pig strange.”
What I would have said in English in the same situation: “That is really f@–ing strange.”
And therein lies the entire problem of translation. The itch that can never quite be scratched. The photo that just won’t hang straight. It’s not just the (impossibly imprecise) art of translating culture- or language-specific idioms that get my panties in a bunch. It’s the (impossibly complicated) translation of what a certain person with a certain personality would say in a certain situation. It’s an issue that goes beyond [...]

putting the suit back in pursuit

The best thing about teaching business executives English is that they’re usually too busy to actually attend entire lessons.
“Excuse me, I have to take this call,” the executive secretary tells me as she rushes out of the room. Later an accountant apologetically begs to end class fifteen minutes early and the Siemens executive sings “Traffic again!” at me as he arrives half an hour late for the fifteenth week in a row.
I sit at their dreary gray tables in their bland gray meeting rooms (the meeting rooms are always gray) and smile and nod. “Don’t worry about [...]