What Makes a Flu Spanish?

This month’s centenary of WWI has put the conflict back in focus. But what about the greater disaster which started in 1918?

In the UK, the mythology of the war has a long development which has slowly expanded to include discussions about trauma, conscientious objection, and the racist attitudes of various sides. (See the November 13th episode of podcast The Europeans for some introductory information of treatment of non white soldiers and labourers).

Lesser known is the Spanish Flu pandemic, which in my history class was barely mentioned. It lasted from 1918 to 1920 and wiped out between 2.5% to 5% of the world’s population (the huge margin shows how much epidemiologists still do not know). Last week I picked up Laura Spinney’s book Pale Rider which gives an great overview for dummies like me who knew nothing about the extent of this “Spanish” tragedy.

The flu was not a result of the war but the mass movement of people surely intensified its spread and the consequences. Tragically, it had the worst mortality rates for adults in the prime of their life, and often killed recently returned soldiers – whatever your view of the war, these deaths could not be seen as glorious. There were no memorials for these men, women and children.

Why Spanish? The flu almost certainly did not come from Spain, but the journalism did. The country, being neutral in WWI, was the first to allow wide reporting of the illness. The rest of Europe, unable to know the full extent of the flu in their own towns and cities, assumed the sickness came from Spain. The Spanish called it “The Naples Soldier”, after a catchy song of the time (get it).

Applying distance and stigma to the flu echoes the naming of many illnesses throughout history – such as syphilis, which was called the Spanish/French/German/Italian/Polish disease – depending on where you lived.

Also this week I learned that the Spanish dub of Terminator changed “hasta la vista” to “sayonara, baby” which to me makes him sound like that Simpsons character Troy McClure. You might remember him from such self-help videos as “Smoke Yourself Thin” and “Get Some Confidence, Stupid!”

A German Word from History (No.3)

The previous post in this little series was a word from German history but this week I’m picking something from Austria:

Psychoanalyse (f.)

This is Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis and a bloody hard word to pronounce. (Something like “puh-soo-show-anna-loser”, but quickly).

Sigmund Freud, 1905

In researching these German words my starting point is my own knowledge of German history, which in school was focused on 1933-1945, and then later I became fascinated with the East German state.

Beyond Nazi history, Freud was included in my 2 years of school psychology – though don’t test me – and I think as teenagers we all found his theories a bit ridiculous but super interesting because of their drama and absolutism. He captured concepts in his work which are still part of our language now, such as defining the subconscious.

On a related note, there is a great fictionalised version of Freud in Robert Seethaler’s book Der Trafikant, about the elderly psychologist befriending a young man in 1938 Vienna. Short, charming and sad.

Foreign Horror Tips!

Here’s some foreign-language suggestions for the spooky season – boost your listening skills while enjoying some scares…

backlit dark dawn environment
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Dark
A German Netflix production which portrays life in an isolated small town where various children have gone missing over the decades… could it have something to do with the power plant? Or with what lies beneath it? Low-Medium Spooky

Los Ojos de Julia (Julia’s Eyes)
Spanish thriller about a woman who is quickly losing her sight to a genetic illness. Her twin sister, who recently killed herself, had the same condition. Was it a genuine suicide? The eye stuff brings this into the horror genre… Medium Spooky

Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In)
This atmospheric Swedish film, adapted from the novel of the same name, is one of the best examples of a vampire movie. It is creepy and effectively chilling but in some ways it is also quite moving. Medium Spooky

El Orfanato (The Orphanage)
Would it really be Halloween without evil child ghosts in an abandoned orphanage? This is the best version of that. Very Spooky

REC
This tense zombie flick is one of the best examples of the found footage genre and uses a claustrophobic quarantined apartment building to excellent effect. Turn out the lights and try and remember to breathe. Super Spooky

Because it is almost Halloween and there are many amazing horror movies in English – especially in the last 5 years – here are some of the best (and scariest) I’ve ever seen:

The Babadook (2014)
Ghost Stories
(2018)
The Witch
(2015)
The Borderlands
(2013)
It Follows
(2015)
Hereditary 
(2018)

… and The Blair Witch Project, imo it’s still scary.

P.S. I am obsessed with the new Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, it is terrifying and I can’t stop watching!!

How hard is German vs Spanish?

IMG_0549

There is a lot to love about German and Spanish. If you are a native or fluent English speaker, it’s easy to see that German is from the same language family. If you live in certain areas of the US, you probably hear Spanish frequently and have a feel for its rhythms. Finally, all three languages share a lot of vocabulary, mostly via Latin/French.

I am seriously impressed if you have learned or are learning a language from a totally different part of the world, but it is comforting to know that a word like information works all over Europe. If you master the accents then all the “-ion” words will fall into your vocabulary-lap.

Here are the similarities and differences to watch out for if you choose to learn both Spanish and German:

SIMILARITIES

  1. Gender: German has three genders. Spanish has two. Learning German first, then, is a good way to ease yourself into el vs la! Nevertheless, they have similar rules. Some things are always feminine, and overlap across the languages – such as die Information and la información.
  2. Spelling: is easy! English spelling, to an outsider, can be a bit of a nightmare. Bear or bare? Where or wear? Spanish and German both follow regular rules of spelling and pronunciation, and in standardised speech, you should pronounce all the letters. (Classic example: the German word for fries is pommes, from the French, but it has two syllables).
  3. Sentence Structure: Okay, sentence structure is not exactly the same. But in both Spanish and German you have to get used to the idea of ditching English structure and realise that a direct translation does not work. You can train your brain to think in the target language and learn how to build sentences differently.

DIFFERENCES

  1. Pronunciation: okay, if you show someone a phrase like Öffentliche Verkehrsmittel (public transportation) then you might get the idea that German is a hideous pronunciation nightmare. But I have always found German much closer to English than Spanish – I can make myself understood in Spanish and French, but way more than with German, I will always sound like I am super mega obviously British.
  2. Cases: Nominative, Accusative, Dative, Genitive – the four horses of the language learner’s apocalypse. German cases took me years of school to get my head around and they are not worth explaining here. Needless to say, Spanish wins this one (even accounting for indicative vs subjunctive).

At the end of the day, these are both wonderful languages and talking with native speakers in their own tongue is amazing.

IMG_0651

Language Lessons Learned From a Weekend in Madrid

I have just returned from a weekend in Madrid, where it was crazy hot (for late September) but the atmosphere was the best and I got to throw out a bunch of “holas” and “graciases”. Here is a breakdown of how it went, language wise – and let me know about your own experience of putting your beginner or intermediate language skills to the test!

img_0560.jpg

  • I learned that the casual thing to say in Madrid is just “Buenas” or “buenos” and drop the “días” – one step closer to sounding like a native.
  • I had a mixed English/Spanish conversation with the hotel receptionist about a museum, and although I resorted to a bit of English and she explained some things in English, she kept returning to regular speed Spanish (which I could follow) which was nice of her and really rewarding!
  • I remembered to use the formal address “usted” instead of “tu” – this can be difficult at first because most learners use informal pronouns the whole time.
  • I overheard some old men calling their friend an “hijo de puta” – finally, something from Narcos heard in real life!
  • I asked questions! They were mostly fairly basic but I was proud of requesting a book in a shop and understanding his response and well as explaining a little further.
  • I used an impersonal construction! (I pointed at the mega spicy sauce and asked “se come con pan?” Apparently you could eat it with anything as long as you liked setting fire to your face).
  • I understood a whole bunch of plaques!

img_0572

  • I was asked by people, in Spanish, to take their photo, and I think just looking like I can speak Spanish is an achievement.