If Germans were to say “Fi*k dich!”, that would be considered extremely rude – and it's very rarely heard. But you might have noticed that, if they're even slightly irritated, they'll start effing and blinding in English like nobody's business.
For some reason, Germans don't see English swear words as being nearly as offensive as their own. Even German companies, advertising firms, and newspapers are happy to use them in ways that would be completely inappropriate in Britain or the US.
Here are three times when Germans have sworn rather unexpectedly.
1. The German word “Shitstorm”
This isn’t even that common a word in English. We know what it means, and you might hear it in a comedy programme, or coming out of the mouth of your boss when you’ve messed up at work.
But in 2013, “Shitstorm” was actually entered into the Duden dictionary, which is the German equivalent to the Oxford English Dictionary.
— SPIEGEL English (@SPIEGEL_English) September 2, 2013
Spiegel Online described the fallout as a 'Shitstorm' Shitstorm, after Duden was awarded the 2013 Sprachpanscher (language adulterer) prize from the Association for the German Language (VDS).
The word has now slipped into everyday German, and is particularly beloved by the media.
For example, with the revelation last week that Toblerone chocolate bars were changing shape in the UK, German weekly news magazine Stern described the affair as a “Schoko-Shitstorm”.
Germans don't even seem to realize it's rude in English. Take a look at this German man being interviewed on British television when he accidentally slips the taboo word into his post-match analysis:
2. Don't f*ck with the Berlin Transport Company
In 2016 the Berlin Transport Company (BVG) – which runs the capital's bus, tram and metro system – posted a new photograph on their official Facebook page.
Known for their unusual approach to advertising and their hashtag #weilwirdichlieben (#becauseweloveyou), the advert fits with their abrassive, hip image.
Referencing the famous American hip-hop group, the Wu-Tang Clan, the photo caption reads: “We’ve heard the frontman of the Wu-Tang Clan is in town. So we have to make this clear”.
The photograph’s slogan reads “U-Bahn-Clan ain’t nothing to fuck with.”
This new “down-with-the-kids” BVG image made headlines at the end of last year when they released a rap video called “Ist mir egal” (“I don't care”) by rapper Kazim Akboga.
3. Unilever’s “Fuck the Diet”
Germany is clearly becoming more used to this casual use of English profanities, since BVG has not come under nearly as much criticism as consumer goods company Unilever Germany did back in 2012.
They used the slogan “Fuck the Diet” to advertise their “Du darfst” (“You’re allowed”) range of allegedly healthy food products.
In the advert, the voice-over tells viewers that “Du darfst means above all that you don't have to do anything. Just help yourself: fuck the diet”, reverting to English for the final exclamation.
After complaints from the public, Unilever changed the advertisement from “Fuck the diet” to “Diät ohne mich” (“Diet without me”).
They told HORIZONT.net that “we have seen… that some people have felt irritated by the slogan of our campaign. This was and is in no way our intention.”
By Alexander Johnstone
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