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Grease Jar #1: Auntie and Uncle


Date21 Jan 2022


There is a German proverb that goes “ins Fettnäpfchen treten” which actually means “to put one's foot into the grease jar”. The figurative meaning is to make a careless comment or insensitive reaction which embarrasses or insults someone else or which causes someone else distress. Often it happens by mistake.

So here's to grease jar number one:

When we face new situations, travel to new worlds never seen before, experience completely different cultures than the ones we were used to as we grew up, that one awkward situation may pop up. Mostly it happens when we least expect it, we cannot anticipate it, and sometimes we are even slightly unaware, as it happens, and yet, moments later we find ourselves right in it! And it is about to happen:

The cultural clash

Let me put it right. I am not trying to find a definition for that word, that almost sounds like an accident. Maybe what I am trying to describe is even one step before the clash of cultures. When different cultures meet, it is the most wonderful gift to enjoy the moments of togetherness that become the more delightful as we learn to cherish each other's differences. 

But every culture has its own traditions, and at times we may end up being hurt, when those thin invisible boundaries that make up our concepts of right and wrong are being transgressed. Sometimes it helps to know more about social life and traditions, and in this way we can at least understand what is happening, and why our friend suddenly seems angry or hurt. Because sometimes it is the little things that matter.

The anti-auntie society

During her visits in India B. was called “auntie”, or as it were “chachi” (Hindi for aunt) by many friendly girls, being relatives or not. It is quite normal and it is surely a sign of respect and love. In Germany, however, you can definitely put somebody off by addressing them as “auntie” (or as uncle, just to maintain gender equality). This title is strictly reserved to two kinds of people: either the sister or brother of your mum and dad or their respective partners (FYI, “Onkel” stands for uncle and “Tante” stands for aunt). In a very special and particular situation, a very close friend of the family can be assigned the title. It means to say that a person literally earns their dignity of being called aunt or uncle, although he or she is not the brother or sister of your mum or dad. Another situation when some random lady can be called “auntie” is in kindergarten. Very small kids are “allowed” to call their kindergarten nannies “Tante”, just to make them feel more at home, I guess. Later, in primary school, they have to learn to address their teachers properly: “Mrs. Schneider, could you please explain again?”.

How to avoid stepping into that grease jar?

So, next time you address a German person as “auntie” please be aware that in their heads this will always be “Tante”. There are even some German idioms that put “aunties” in a rather unflattering light. “Was ist denn das für eine Tante?” – literally: What kind of auntie is that? – means: what a weird personality! So please, if you want to show love and respect to people, do not turn them into “aunties” and “uncles” without proper family bonds. 

In Germany, it is the safest thing to address the people who are your friends by their first name: “Hallo, Anna! Servus, Peter!”, while it is advisable to address elders and people you do not know by their family name, using the official form. “Guten Tag, Herr Maier!” If you want to know more about how to address people correctly in Germany, read article number two of our “grease jar” series. 

Have you ever experienced a similar situation? Get back to us in the comments section or get in touch via the New2 FORUM

Written by: Martina Mathur (http://www.martinamathur.com/?author=1

Cover Photo Credit: NeONBRAND - Unsplash

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#immigrant mistakes#common mistakes#living in a new society


Rachna Adhikari

January 24, 2022 at 09:12 AM (UTC +2:00)

Thanks for the information!