Idioms are like weirdly designed toilets. They look really cool from afar, (ESPECIALLY if they’re some high-tech model from another country) but you’d never want to actually use them for total fear of embarrassing yourself. (“Why are there five levers? Where does this spout lead to? Why is the water swirling in the other direction? WHY ISN’T THERE ANY WATER?”)
So yea, idioms are kind of like that. They make perfect sense to the culture that they belong to, but to outsiders they feel totally confusing, ridiculous, or just straight up hilarious. The U.S. is def guilty of having some pretty odd idioms (what exactly did you hear “straight from the horse’s mouth?”) but we’re not the only ones.
Romania: You can’t reconcile the goat and the cabbage.
If, like me, you don’t understand why people would use a phrase like, “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” (for the record, if I bought a whole cake, I’m going to eat it, whether or not you approve), you can try using Romania’s version, which roughly translates to, “you can’t reconcile the goat and the cabbage.” Not weird enough for you? Here are some more:
Denmark: You cannot both blow and have flour in your mouth. (I don’t know what this means and I don’t want think I want to.)
Germany: You can’t dance at two weddings at the same time. (I wasn’t planning on dancing at either of them, so that’s fine with me.)
Hungary: It is impossible to ride two horses with one butt. (Well there go my weekend plans.)
The Netherlands: To polar bear.
The Dutch verb “to polar bear” (or, ijsberen) means exactly what you think it means: to drink Coca Cola on a snowcap with a bunch of other bears. JK, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a word for that. To polar bear simply means “to pace up and down.” It’s not that weird when you remember that “to crabwalk” is one of our fave expressions and involves doing something significantly weirder.
The Netherlands: I sweat carrots.
I tried my hardest to narrow my list of Dutch phrases down to one but it was just too difficult. Ik zweet peentjes, meaning “I sweat carrots,” is the Dutch variation of our expression, “I’m sweating like a pig.” Not only is their version healthier, but it makes me far less uncomfortable. I’d much rather imagine baby carrots popping out of my pores than imagine someone sweating like a hog. That’s my personal preference.
Germany: I’ll squeeze my thumbs for you.
When I first heard this one, I imagined someone squeezing their two thumbs together, which seemed rather inconvenient compared to our version, “I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.” In reality, “I’ll squeeze my thumbs for you” means making a fist with your fingers curled around your thumb and squeezing them. It’s like giving someone a thumbs up, but without your thumb. A decapitated thumbs up, if you will.
Italy: To have one’s eyes lined with ham.
In Italian, the expression, “I can’t see the wood for the trees” becomes “to have one’s eyes lined with ham.” While, technically, it makes sense (if your eyes are lined with slices of ham, it’s not surprising that you can’t see anything), I don’t understand the ham aspect. Why not turkey? Or bologna? Or a non-meat product? Why are people putting meat in their eyes? I’m Italian and I still don’t understand.
Japan: If there was a hole, I’d want to go in it.
When someone made fun of you on the playground in elementary school and you wanted to curl up in a ball on the ground and cry forever out of sheer embarrassment? That’s kind of what this phrase is saying. Rather than shrivel up and hide, the Japanese prefer to find a hole and disappear into it to hide from their shame, which is an idea I can definitely get behind (or crawl into).
Portugal: To feed the donkey sponge cake.
To feed the donkey sponge cake means to give good treatment to someone who doesn’t deserve it. Maybe you were trying to “be the better person” by being nice to your mortal enemy or buying your cranky uncle a Christmas present but in doing so, you fed the imaginary donkey a delicacy that he did not deserve. How dare you.
Know any other idioms from around the world? No? What about weirdly designed toilets? I’m a fan of both so feel free to share examples of either.
Featured image via Edgecastcdn.net.