etre de birmingham
January 2, 2010, 5:09 am
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , ,

In Japanese, the word for foreigner means ‘stinking of foreign hair.’  To the Czechs a Hungarian is ‘a pimple.’  Germans call cockroaches ‘Frenchmen’, while the French call lice ‘Spaniards.’  We in the English-speaking world take French leave, but Italians and Norwegians talk about departing like an Englishman, and the Germans talk of running like a Dutchman.  Italians call syphilis ‘the French disease’, while both French and Italians call con games ‘American swindle.’  Belgian taxi drivers call a poor tipper ‘un Anglais.’  To be bored to death in French is ‘etre de Birmingham,’ literally ‘to be from Birmingham’ (which is actually about right).  And in English we have ‘Dutch courage,’ French letters,’ ‘Spanish fly’, ‘Mexican carwash’ (ie. leaving your car out in the rain), and many others.

-from The Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson


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