Your #dailydeutsch: scheiden

I’ve been in Germany long enough that I should be fluent by now. I’m not. I make a lot of mistakes.

I took a German class at university, right after I met my husband (who, despite being German never learned the language; we’d planned to spend the summer with his grandpa and I thought it’d be nice to be able to say more than hi to the old bugger. It didn’t work.). The teacher in that class told me not to bother memorizing genders so I didn’t. Didn’t think they were important. So now I tell people that I’m going to the bench when I really mean the bank.

I stopped going to regular German classes once university ended and just picked up my German from the school of life, and from my kid and her friends. Never underestimate the power of a bi-lingual child. I translate reams of documents for my work sometimes, but as a result of my education, if you talk to me, you’ll realize I have the accent and grammar skills of a toddler. That doesn’t stop me from pretending I am the goddamned queen of the German language or from telling embarrassing stories or trying to make jokes in German. At Karneval, I even tried to pun on my accent by telling a guy whose brilliant pick-up line was, “Ich bin nicht schwul,” (I’m not gay), “Sorry bin ich auch nicht schwuel” (Sorry, I’m not moist/sensual either). He didn’t get it (pun intended).

Anyway, as everyone knows, I’ve got a kid — a girl, in fact — and when I was pregnant with said kid, I did a birth prep class in German. I could’ve done it in English but the idea was to go to the class to learn all the proper vocabulary so I could avoid situations like this one, in case my delivery attendants couldn’t speak English (they couldn’t, hence that horrible situation). The class was lovely and useful and very good for my mediocre German. Every week I took a notebook and wrote down all the new vocabulary and went home to my dictionary and looked up the words and finally understood why all the ladies gasped when the teacher talked about tearing. Up until that class, I had no idea that a vagina in German is Scheide (die, as it’s feminine, of course). I’d only learned the word Muschi from a nightclub advertisement (from which I got all my best, most vulgar German) and I guess that’s not all that appropriate to be screaming in a labor and delivery ward.

The word stayed in my vocabulary after my daughter was born thanks to our playgroup, which held an informal roundtable about what to call the kids’ ladybits. Any American who’s ever been to a Pekip class will understand the creepiness I felt during this discussion, so I was happy to have no ammunition to contribute, because while there are like 5 million semi-non-offensive words for penises and the moms had no troubles shouting them out, seems there’s only one go-to word for vagina in German: Scheide.

caitlin moranOn a side note, Caitlin Moran said in her book, “How to Be a Woman,” that the problem exists in English, too. Among the words she cited other moms using for a lady’s plumbing (that’s one of them) were ducky, muffin, tinkle, fairy, and pocket. Good lord. Guess I dodged a bullet by deciding on using the medical term with my kid.

Anyway, fast forward two years after the kid’s born. I’ve just split from my husband and playgroup mamas want to know all about it. Because, you see, the playgroup was actually comprised of the same women who did the birth prep class with me and in that class, the midwife leading it was so nice as to say, take a good look around. Half of you will be divorced in the next five years. Who’s it going to be? To which I was like, duh, me. But the other ladies were shaken by the idea. And any time we’d meet and they’d bitch about their baby daddies, there was always this caveat spoken aloud for everyone to hear, I still love him, though. We’re going to be together forever.

Long story short, the ladies want to know all the dirty details, want to know if we really, truly are divorcing because that shit is earth-shattering in its abilities to make you doubt your own marriage. Having known in advance this conversation was coming, I had looked up the word for divorce: scheiden. I even conjugated the damned word in advance so I could announce to the world, I am getting a divorce. Sweeter words have never been spoken.

Except here’s what I said: I, Vagina.

Turns out, you don’t actually conjugate scheiden like other verbs for this very reason. Instead of calling yourself a vagina, you say “We’re letting ourselves divorce.” You know, like giving ourselves permission or whatever. And both of us have to do it. It’s a reflexive verb so if you divorce as a singular person, you’re only divorcing yourself.

But that’s beside the point. Point is, the most appropriate medical term for the most important part of a female anatomy can also translate to exit, parting, or, even better, the separation. Keep that in mind next time you’re trying to come up with a new name for your fanny. The separation.

I sure as hell am keeping it in mind as I stroll my parting on over to the Volkshochschule to register for another German class.


24 thoughts on “Your #dailydeutsch: scheiden

  1. barbtaub March 3, 2013 / 12:19 pm

    Laughing so hard I was in tears. Please, please keep blogging!

    • Milly March 5, 2013 / 11:00 pm

      Why, if you insist, I will! Glad someone else finds my vulgar sense of humor and embarrassing foot-in-mouth episodes funny.

  2. Federico March 3, 2013 / 9:27 pm

    Ahah! It’s not your fault. It’s not our fault. It’s clearly German’s fault. This language is too difficult! And by the way, this reminded me of my first week in Berlin; I needed a clotheshorse (Waeschestaender auf Deutsch) and I asked my flatmate (who I had known for one week) “Hast du einen Staender?”–>”Do you have an erection?”…a wonderful start I’d say. Might write about this on my blog too, now that I think about it 😉

    • Janis Felidae March 5, 2013 / 9:12 am

      hahaha, yes please write about this 🙂

      btw if you find German difficult you should try English! I sometimes despair of the grammar, all the tenses which are unknown in German (as far I´m aware of; I´m glad i don´t have to learn German 😉

    • Milly March 5, 2013 / 11:00 pm

      Clearly missed last week’s morgen latte Twitter thread. Yours would’ve been a nice addition to the boner jokes the other expat men were throwing around at 8 am.

  3. Stephanie March 4, 2013 / 3:59 am

    I love this — and everything you write. xo

    • Milly March 5, 2013 / 10:58 pm

      Thanks, Steph. Glad you got back in the game, too. ❤

  4. cliff1976 March 5, 2013 / 2:44 am

    I like to think of it as a sheath. You know, the best place to keep my sword. Someone with an OED or other etymological reference materials can look it up and tell us if there’s a common linguistic root there.

    • Milly March 5, 2013 / 10:58 pm

      Oh God, Cliff, you stole my next joke. Who needs etymology when you can talk about sheathing your sword?

      • cliff1976 March 5, 2013 / 11:03 pm


        I suppose “scabbard” gets a new, yucky connotation now, too.

      • Milly March 5, 2013 / 11:05 pm

        If only I knew what the word scabbard was and used it in every day context, I’d be disgusted. To keep from vomiting, though I’ve relinquished the word back to the part of my brain in which I have no idea what you’re talking about.

  5. Janis Felidae March 5, 2013 / 8:50 am

    LOL *wipe tears* selten so gelacht 😀 As being a Gerrman (kitty) with a pretty good English (I think) it reminds me to myself and some pretty embarrassing mistakes I´ve made. But it´s sometimes so dang tricky to pick the right word, if you have least twenty others with the same meaning.

  6. Amara March 12, 2013 / 11:38 pm

    “I, vagina”, is great! Reminds me of a friend of mine… Her first birthday in Austria, there come the cake all ablaze with candles, and she declares happily: “Ich liebe blasen!” or, “I love giving blow jobs!”

    • Milly March 17, 2013 / 6:43 pm

      Love it. Totally going to trot that story out during my next round of “in appropriate anecdotes by non-native German speakers”

  7. Lauren @Ephemerratic March 17, 2013 / 6:31 pm

    Gawd, that is hysterically funny. I love (other people’s) language faux pas.

    • Milly March 17, 2013 / 6:44 pm

      I’m glad I have a sense of humor about sticking my foot in my mouth because I do it all the time.

  8. Dan June 10, 2013 / 1:34 pm

    Okay, so you like stories about messing up vocabularies. I have one to show that you are not alone in this. See, I consider myself quite decent in my mastery of the fine English language and I rarely fall into language traps or “false friends”, but when I do …boy…

    Picture a 24 year old in a club up in Northern England – Sheffield to be precise. As a young rascal I used to be I was, of course, intoxicated and as I happen(ed) to be single I was, of course, pretty much in love with that redhead English girl next to the bar. She successfully defied all mean stereotypes about English girls not being pretty with these Northern eyes of her. So? What to do? Of course gather up some confidence and talk to the lady. I gathered up a few more pints first, but that weirdly enough had not been the problem for my short-comings on that night. And oh heaven, I actually DO manage to strike up a conversation which then had been going almost effordless for nearly an hour. I think she even really liked me. The topic diverts to siblings and now your language reared its ugly head. Too explain that shortly, you might have noticed that Germans tend to compose new meanings by adding words together (the English use auxiliaries all the time – same thing) so the German word “herumalbern” consists of the verb “albern” (to be foolish, to be childlike, maybe “kidding” comes closest) and “herum” which simply means “around” or “all over the place”. “Herumalbern” therefore means nothing but being loud, noisy, foolish and is mostly accompanied with a general mess. Like kids do in general anyways. So, here I am in a club with a beautiful girl and all I want to get across is the fact that despite the rather unusual age gap between me and my sister we still are good friends and used to have loads of fun together.
    Unfortunately, I chose the sentence “Me and my sister, we used to fool (albern) around (herum) when we were younger!”, which in my head was simply the direct translation.

    Needless to say, she stormed off leaving me rather puzzled.

    Well, I did what I use to do in these situations. I got over it with loads more pints and simply had a good night out, but the next day I was curious why this conversation turned so badly so I asked my good friend Lisa who happened to be a fine English woman herself. To cut a fairly long story short: She almost pissed herself laughing before explaining to me that the phrase “to fool around”, at least amongst English youngsters, has a rather inappropriate meaning. Up to this day, there is probably a beautiful woman in her late 20s who is telling the story about a young German chap, whom she liked at first, who told her openly that he shagged his sister.

    Languages. There are weird sometimes.

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