Illustration by Raúl Soria
Some people may say that German is a difficult language. Or, more accurately: Everyone says that German is a very difficult language. If only there were 10 super easy and exceptionally useful German phrases that allow you to master the most common everyday situations in Germany… Lucky you — this is exactly what we’re offering you!
Curated by native German speakers, these 10 sentences enable you to speak just like a local. Think of these phrases as your personal toolbox that you can rely on to comfortably and authentically engage with German people. It’s the beginning of your language learning experience — you may well increase the risk of actually falling in love with the German language. But let’s not spoil the happy ending! For now, just enjoy: Viel Spaß!
1. Das ist nicht mein Bier.
Literally: That is not my beer.
Meaning: I’m not interested; I don’t like it.
It’s no secret that Germans love their beer — and also the occasional American IPA or Irish Guinness. Could it even be that “love” is too weak a word for this special relationship? Beer has become one of the main German cultural goods and maybe the only conversational ice breaker for every German person. In Germany, your choice of beer brand or beer type says a lot about you. In a way, you are what you drink. The six pack of beer you bring to a party is even referred to as your “six friends” (sechs Freunde). So if you say that something is not your beer, you are conveying, in the clearest way possible, that you want nothing to do with it.
2. Drück mir die Daumen.
Literally: Press your thumbs for me!
Meaning: Wish me luck!
Try pressing your thumbs to the rest of your fingers. Looks a lot like a fist, right? But don’t mistake this gesture as an indication of violent intent. It might just be that your best friend is “pressing the thumbs” to either wish you good luck, or asking you to wish her good luck. It’s the German equivalent of crossing your fingers. Now good luck trying to interpret the true intention behind every fist waved in your face!
3. Jetzt mal Butter bei die Fische.
Literally: Now butter for the fish.
Meaning: Get to the point!
Not only is this a useful phrase to ask someone to pass the butter, it’s also your key to interrupting a tedious rant. Simply utter this phrase, and your conversation partner will get the message that they need to get straight to the point. We Germans need our facts, so serve them quickly, please!
4. Abwarten und Tee trinken.
Literally: Wait and drink tea.
Meaning: Wait and see.
This useful phrase might be the most elegant way of expressing both your inability to change a future outcome as well as your acceptance of said outcome. Instead of stressing out over your exam results or the night bus that hasn’t shown up, you brew yourself a metaphorical cup of tea. It might be true that this popular expression was used primarily when drinking tea was a cold’s remedy — but nowadays, drinking tea is blissful enlightenment.
Meaning: “Attention!” or “Heads up!”
This call for attention might only be one word, but Germans make use of it in a variety of contexts. Want to give it a try? Just replace long sentences like, “Look out, that ice block could fall any second and crush your skull,” or “Get out of my way,” or “Listen, someone is about to say something really stupid,” with a heartfelt Achtung! The advanced speaker may use it in combination with an infinitive. Is that guy over there bothering you? Just tell him, “Achtung, weitergehen!” Irritated by your street cred and impressed with your authority, he’ll be sure to get a move on.
6. Rechts stehen, links gehen.
Literally: Right stand, left walk.
We never really think much about escalators, and why should we? They bring us from the subway to the city surface or from the 4th floor of the mall to the 5th. But in Germany there are rules to escalators. If you leisurely take the escalator, stand on the right side. If you are in a hurry, walk up the left side past the standing people. And if you don’t obey the (until now) unwritten rule, someone might shout that phrase at the back of your head.
7. Das war ja so was von klar.
Literally: That was so clear.
Expectations can be a complicated thing: too high, too low, or just plain unrealistic. This popular German phrase is the perfect response when you expect to be disappointed — and you end up being disappointed. In such situations, this phrase provides the small comfort of at least being able to say you were right.
8. Palim, palim!
Humor and Germany go together like Döner Kebab and ice cream, right? Well, believe it or not, these can be combined.
An iconic comedy sketch by Dieter Hallervorden introduced the onomatopoetic words palim, palim for someone entering a shop and imitating the bell sound. Whenever you enter a German shop and you’re being ignored, try bringing attention to yourself. If you’re brave, try, “Achtung! Palim, palim!”
9. Wir sind ja nicht aus Zucker.
Literally: We’re not made of sugar.
Meaning: Don’t be a wimp. The rain can’t hurt you!
Your friend Anna is having reasonable doubts: It’s raining, but you want to go for a walk without an umbrella. Now, how do you convince your skeptical friend that she’ll be fine? This sweet and useful German phrase should persuade her with the simple reminder that, unlike sugar, humans don’t melt in the rain. Anna might put on a sour face, but she will surely follow your lead.
10. So jung kommen wir nicht mehr zusammen.
Meaning: We’re not so young anymore.
It’s 4 a.m. and you are having a hard time convincing your friend to hang around for one more beer. What to do? Simply apply the omnipresent fear of old age, death and the ravages of time: “We’ll never be as young again as we are now!” So seize the day… and start using these German phrases to make your life so much easier!