Book Reviews - Review 356
What's for Tea?
Category: Miscellaneous | Published: 2008 | Review Added: 24-09-2017
A book in German, for Germans, about English. Claudia Hunt spent fourteen years in the UK, and here educates her compatriots in the nuances of English idiom - "English as you didn't learn it at school" is the book's German subtitle.
I'm always interested to read about how Britain and the English language appear to foreigners. What to some extent disappoints me is how many stereotypes they find confirmed. Perhaps the stereotypes have more substance to them than I imagine; or perhaps there is an unconscious "confirmation bias" at work. At any rate, Claudia Hunt doesn't do much to subvert the popular image of Britain as the land of tea, scones, warm beer and the Class System.
Still, the aim of her book isn't to give a picture of Britain, but to supply her readers with a lexicon of phrases to make their English less stilted. I suppose she does a good job of this, conscientiously inserting English translations of informal German phrases into the flow of her accounts of fish and chips, pubs, cider houses and the brewing of tea. The constant switching of languages irritated me a little, as an English speaker, but after all I'm not the target readership. I did learn a lot of German idioms in the process - discovering, in fact, how much colloquial German passed me by in my studies and the nine months I spent living in Germany.
Hunt's English is fluent, as it would need to be, but she makes a few howlers. "Watch it" isn't a synonym of "Watch out"; "Don't get embarrassed" should be "Don't be embarrassed"; German "letzenendlich" translates as "actually" or "when it comes down to it", but not usually "after all". Sometimes she doesn't pick up on nuances of tone, which could get her readers into trouble. "Crap" is a milder swear word than "shit"; conversely, "Thank Christ for that" is far cruder than the German "Gott sei Dank". And nobody outside the army makes arrangments for "twenty-three hundred hours".
Frau Hunt imagines the reader as her guest in London and, briefly, the West Country; intimacy grows, her tone becomes decidedly flirtatious, and after a night of alcoholic excess the reader wakes up sharing a bed with her. I wasn't sure what to make of this development, but it does at least show her grasp of one aspect of English culture, drunkenness.