alles gut – gleiche Baustelle

Language changes and what your observations as a non-native or non-resident is drawn to – changes. In my chosen home country, for the time being, I increasingly notice the completely non-sensical question ‘are you alright‘ – preferably asked when someone has just hurt themselves. (Only once, in a pub, have I heard someone, a mature woman, answering with the counter question: In what respect…? Delightful that.

To keep the balance, let me also repeat the story – on the return journey by coach, a couple of years ago, I knew I was home when the coach driver at Victoria, going up north, said ‘your’re welcome meduck (pronounced u:), a term of endearment.

Back in my native Germany, I notice the casual ‘alles gut‘ – for it’s ok, no problem or your’re welcome. Perhaps I am biased but it sounds to me just a little bit less casual than the English versions. Perhaps it’s because the sounds a- and u- seem to indicate something genuine, from the heart or it appears to me so because I remember my fellow country folk not as particular casual. Have to remember that most now grew up or grew together as West and East after I left the country. Also, alles gut seems to have morphed from its earlier version schon gut.

Schon gut, again sounds almost as casual as the English no problem. o- u, sincere perhaps but also rather closed. Being open to being casual – or even accept that which you can’t change indeed seems to be a new trait I observe, perhaps I am older and more that way inclined. My observations now are from the old west, I have not been back to former East Germany, GDR since the wall was brought down. And in Britain, it may surprise, I have been fortunate only twice to have encountered a touch of xenophobia, one was in the 1970s and the man was drunk.

Another thought I quite like creeps in here: Alles gut may have been introduced by immigrants who didn’t quite make it to the German idiom, not yet, and was then accepted by the mainstream German speaker? I almost hope that is true. It seemed so when the housekeeping lady, probably from the former Yugoslavia, said it to me when I thanked her for letting me pass in the hall earlier.

Especially just now, we all live on the same provisonal terrain – so it’s good to make each other feel at ease. Alles gut.

A couple of years back, in a feminist women’s group, I heard a retired solicitor say about her partner and herself ‘wir haben ja manche Baustellen gemeinsam‘ – literally we share some building sites – intended as: We have some common ground, work on the same projects. That now, I think may indeed go back to the immigrants from the ’60s – familiar with the building trade most likely, as one of their first terms were able to say ‘andere Baustelle‘ – which could mean anything from I don’t understand a word,, to I am from another country, I see that differently.

So, I find myself having as much sympathy for my fellow country folk in casual conversation alles gut as with the northerners in the other place – meduck. Notice what I did there – ‘the other place‘ of course in English diction typically is the House of Lords – but that is a completely different kettle of fish, or andere Baustelle.


~ by Barbara S on December 5, 2021.

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