One afternoon, not too long ago, I was browsing Pinterest with my girlfriend from Lithuania (as stereotypical ladies do). And as you can imagine (and as evidenced by my other Mistranslation Monday
posts), mistranslations are quite common when us two non-German women spend the day speaking German with each other.
Anyways, as we were browsing Pinterest
, my friend found a lovely centerpiece that we thought would be perfect for a winter wedding. It looked something like this:
After thinking about all the different flowers and greenery we could put in the water, we starting talking about where we could buy the floating candles – except we were speaking German, so we were saying schwebende Kerzen – the literal translation of “floating candles.”
After typing schwebende Kerzen into Amazon, however, we couldn’t find what we were looking for. Do floating candles not exist in Germany? Are they just unpopular? Are they illegal?!
About 15 minutes later, Marco (the German) came into the room, and I asked him, “Do you know where we can buy floating candles?” – except we were speaking German, so I asked, “Weißt du, wo man schwebende Kerzen kaufen kann?“
He looked at us both, obviously confused. then replied “Like in Harry Potter? Do you those really exist?”
|These are the kind of floating candles Marco was picturing
Like with most mistranslations, his confusion only caused us to become even more confused. After showing him some pictures of what we were talking about, however, the confusion was solved.
Schweben does mean “to float,” but unlike English floating, schweben can only happen in the air. Maybe a more accurate translation would be “levitating.”
Things don’t “float” on water in German. They swim. So, the candles we wanted weren’t schwebende Kerzen, they were schwimmende Kerzen (or just Schwimmkerzen). Lesson learned!
These are the candles we ended up buying, and like many things sold in Germany, the German word for the item isn’t even on the package. Instead, there is just English and French. The Germans are just left to figure it out, I guess (and foreigners are left to wonder).