On a recent trip to Britain from Germany, I was sick within six hours of arriving. And when I say "sick", I don't mean that in the North American sense of just generally feeling ill. I mean violently sick - vomiting or, as we say more colloquially, "throwing up". I realize that's probably TMI (too much information). And I do apologize if you're reading this over lunch.
I can imagine the typical German reaction to my experience: "Well, what else would you expect from that ghastly food?" Much as Germans love Jamie Oliver and his countless cookbooks, many still believe that the average standard of food in Britain lies somewhere between disgusting and life-threatening. And that, à la Asterix, we put mint sauce on everything (that's true only for lamb).
But let's get back to my illness. The most likely causes were either some kind of gastro-flu or - wait for it - something that I ate in Germany before arriving in London. Whatever the cause, the effect was dramatic. I could hardly eat anything for three days. And then, I was so hungry that I could have eaten a horse.
Now when an Englishman says he could eat a horse, he means this metaphorically. He means that he has an enormous appetite: he's starving, ravenous, famished. He doesn't mean that he wants to eat this year's favourite in The Grand National or The Derby, Britain's two most famous horse races. We love our "gee-gees", as we call horses (particularly when we are betting on them).
The horsemeat scandal is shocking for us Brits
This is what has made the recent horsemeat scandal so shocking for us Brits. Unlike in a number of other countries, including France, horsemeat is not seen as a healthy, low-fat, low-cholesterol alternative to beef. Horsemeat, to Brits, is something we simply don't eat, just as we don't eat the metaphorical cats and dogs that rain from our skies.
Interestingly, in English, unlike German, we often prefer not to call meat by the animal it comes from. We say "pork" not "pig", "beef" not "cow", "veal" not "calf", "mutton" not "sheep", and "venison" not "deer". There are some exceptions, including "lamb", "chicken", "turkey", "duck" and "rabbit". But horse, cat and dog? No way!
Britain, of course, isn't the only country to be hit by the horsemeat scandal, which has brought to light the absurdly complicated supply chains in the food industry and the dangers of "unbridled capitalism" (bridle = Trense). Interestingly, the Pope criticised unbridled capitalism in his speech on New Year's Day, in which he called for a renewed focus on the world's food crisis. Did the Pope have divine insight into the scandal to come? I'm only asking.
Be careful with the expression "I'm hot to trot"
The Brits have developed two strategies for dealing with the horsemeat crisis. First, in addition to their famous stiff upper lips, they have added stiff lower lips - to make sure that no part of Black Beauty enters their mouths. Second - and what else would you expect? - they reacted by making jokes. Here's a small selection: The waiter asked me if I wanted anything on my burger, so I said, "Yes, £10 for it to win the next race at Ascot." Tesco has a special offer on petrol and burgers. It's called, "Only fuel and horses". (This is a reference to the famous British TV comedy series, "Only fools and horses".)
Now I understand why that burger gave me the trots. (To trot = traben; the trots = Durchfall, die Reneritis). "Trot" is a very useful word in English. If you "trot out an excuse", you come up with an unlikely explanation for something. "On the trot" means "in a row, consecutively", as in: "My football team has now lost five games on the trot." And if you say someone has just "trotted off to the shops", it means they have just left - no doubt to buy horse-infested frozen lasagne. "Trotters", on the other hand, are part of a pig, not a horse (Schweinshaxen).
Be careful, however, with the expression, "hot to trot" as it has different meanings. If in a meeting at work you say, "I'm hot to trot", it could just innocently mean that you are ready to start. But the expression also means "sexually exciting or sexually excited". You have been warned.
Useful phrases for eating out:
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