Friday, 12 August 2016

Getting My Bavarian On

Barbara Engleder won gold for Germany in Rio yesterday in the women’s 50m rifle three positions event. After being declared winner, she went totally berserk, crashing to her knees, beating her chest, the ground and the air with her fists and hollering victory at the top of her lungs.

Although this exuberant display of emotion may have been a tad out of the ordinary for a German athlete, there was something even more striking about what happened next.

In the post-competition interview, in which Engleder explained her joyous outburst as the need to release the build-up of tension, she spoke in the broadest Bavarian imaginable. 

Image result for Barbara Engleder
My mum was aghast during the entire news report, while I stared at the screen with bemused incredulity. We are both native Bavarian speakers, to be sure, but there is a widely held consensus across Germany that dialects are only to be used in informal situations, e.g. with friends and family, but NOT in formal settings like TV broadcasts or job interviews.

On such high-brow occasions, you are meant to speak Standard German (Hochdeutsch), which every German can understand. By switching to dialect "inappropriately", the speaker risks coming across as an uneducated, uncouth hillbilly*. Or worse, a farmer. 

For the past few years, whenever I’m on a home visit, like I am right now, I make a concerted effort to stick to Bavarian as much as possible, even with strangers in shops and restaurants, as long as I think that they, too, are Bavarian.

I generally find that the reception to my speaking Bavarian is overwhelmingly positive, with most people replying in the dialect without raising an eyebrow.

If there’s one advantage to getting older, it’s that you care much less about what people think of you. So what if anyone takes me for a barn-raised redneck? 

I’m really enjoying putting a conscious effort into expanding my Bavarian vocabulary. I’ve learned at least a dozen new words this summer already. My home village is a rich picking ground, and people of the older generation are particularly rich source of terminology, which is fast falling out of use. It pains me having to watch my very first language dying a slow death. (I did not start to speak Hochdeutsch until I went to kindergarten). But who knows, now that I have an Olympic gold medallist on my side, maybe there's still hope?

[Click here to listen to an interview with Barbara Engleder]

(*Hinterwäldler in German).


  1. Love Hinterwäldler :) And also that your mum was so shocked!

    1. I think it was the whole banshee act that took her aback more than the interview, but that kinda put the cherry on top of the cake for my mum ;-)

  2. I have mixed feelings about dialects. I once met a retired teacher from Sicily, who talked about the difficulties of teaching Sicilian kids to speak proper Italian. He had kind of a catch phrase: Talk in such a way that people who grew up 50 km from your village can still understand you.
    He himself spoke very clear, correct Italian with a beautiful and spicy Sicilian accent.

    I do not speak my native dialect fluently, and sometimes I deeply regret that. But I live in Bavaria, and people would not get it if I said things like "Zwehren geht fehr, dann kommn inse!" which means: starting out from Kassel, you will first pass the village of Zwehren, then my village. (a way of describing the hillbilly area where I come from)

    1. Hello there dear blogger pal! Delighted to see you commenting on here :)

      Great example - that sentence makes no sense to me whatsoever!

      I do agree that people should make an effort, as far as they can, to be understood by their audiences, rather than see them struggle. I'm not going to launch into Bavarian if it's obvious that the other person is not a local. I'll switch to Hochdeutsch immediately once I realise that my initial assumption may have been incorrect. Neither would it occur to me to start talking in Bavarian in Cologne or Berlin.

      On the other hand, maybe some people find it hard, in very emotional moments, like after winning an Olympic gold medal (or losing a competition, for that matter) to come out with well-enunciated Hochdeutsch, if they hardly ever use it in daily life....

  3. As a card-carrying redneck, hillbilly farmer I say - good for her! It's her moment, she worked hard for it, so shag the begrudgers!
    On a related topic, if you haven't seen them already you need to watch the two videos below!

    1. Hi June! Nice to see you :)

      True. These are sports people, top athletes, not catwalk models, news casters, or what have you. Why criticise their hair, their bodies, the way they speak?

      Oh, and Linda got in there before you and sent me those links!!! Very on-topic. Thanks for sharing them on my blog, I forgot to do that.

      Note to readers: The videos are of two Olympic Irish rowers being interviewed, speaking in a very accenty Irish accent ;-)