Bananas, cake and chicken
The beauty of speaking multiple languages is that you feel less of a foreigner when you travel to these countries but the truth is you don't quite feel at home until you learned to use at least the most common idioms.
When I moved from Hungary to Germany and later to the US, I spoke the languages fluently but kept a journal for everything new. I quickly learned that English speaking people use a lot of idioms and you won't know the meaning until you understand the culture, the context and sometimes even the rules of popular sports. It gets confusing because these expressions don't translate directly. I have to admit that not only was I amazed but found some of these hilarious especially when I started playing with them and comparing English idioms to other languages. I am about to share some gems with you so keep reading.
My favorite English idioms with some commentary:
That is nuts!
I never quite figured out what is so crazy about a nut but what else if not nut? You probably guessed right but don’t go bananas!
I am chicken to do that
Why single out poor chickens when there are so many timid and introverted animals. I am no okapi to suggest substituting it with something else once in a while (you might try panda, owl and deer).
Know like the back of my hand
While English speaking people settled on their ability to recall a vivid and extensively detailed image of this special body part (really?) Germans like to study the pocket of their waistcoat (Ich kenne es wie meine Westentasche) and for Hungarians it is "known as bad money" (Ismerem, mint a rossz penzt). But who am I to judge?
You cannot have the cake and eat it too
This was the most disappointing and cruel lesson for someone having a sweet tooth. Broke my heart.
It's raining cats and dogs
This one really captures my imagination. Especially if we take it a tiny step further and invite hippos, whales, elephants and rhinos to the party.
The best thing since sliced bread
People over here love their food. I am just wondering what happened to the wheel, the fire or the lightbulb? A futuristic version might even quote the internet or commercial space travel, who knows. My personalized version goes like this: the best thing since language and printing (yes, I love my books).
Beating around the bush
It goes back to the bird hunting era and is used when someone avoids answering directly or approaches something indirectly or very cautiously (for example asking a girl out). In my experience, this can range from well-intended diplomacy to annoying guessing games or as they say it here "reading between the lines".
No use crying over spilt milk
It has already happened and cannot be fixed so why be upset. While I agree there is no use crying over spilt milk you may want to be more careful around my coffee, sangria or glass of chardonnay.
Add my two cents
German: meinen Senf dazugeben literally means add my mustard
I terribly miss the Bavarian Currywurst mit Pommes so this one melts my heart. I found the cultural contrast very revealing. Americans and British offer their opinion in the form of money while Germans do the same in the form of an essential ingredient of one of the most traditional meals. You choose!
Bonus #2: Idioms can reveal a lot about a nation’s past, culture and people. I came across this blog post recently with 40 idioms from various languages: https://blog.ted.com/40-idioms-that-cant-be-translated-literally/ Have fun and share your favorite idioms from any language!