So that's what they think of us
July 5, 2011 7:15 AM   Subscribe

What are some foreign-language terms for things that involve the name of another country or culture?

We've got plenty of these in English: French letters, Irish coffee, Chinese fire drill. I know a couple of French examples -- poing américain (American fist) means brass knuckles, and montagnes russes (Russian mountains) are roller coasters, although that one originally comes from English. (Russians apparently call them "American mountains.") I was wondering if some of our polyglot members knew about others. Bonus points if it refers to Americans.
posted by theodolite to Writing & Language (78 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Cafe Americano
posted by 256 at 7:19 AM on July 5, 2011


According to one theory for why the general Slavic word for German is some form of the word "nemets," the source is the word "nemoy" which means "mute" (as the Germans could not speak the language of the Slavs.) More explanation here.
posted by griphus at 7:26 AM on July 5, 2011


Wikipedia made a fun list of what other languages use in place of "Greek" in the idiom "That's Greek to me". There's an equivalent term in most languages -- where when someone says something incomprehensible, that "that's [blank] to me." Interestingly, lots of other languages fall back on "Chinese" being the "incomprehensible" other language.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:28 AM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


'Indian chicken' is the Hebrew name for turkey.
posted by Paquda at 7:29 AM on July 5, 2011


'Indian chicken' is the Hebrew name for turkey.

Oh, yeah, in Russian, turkey is called "Indeyka."

Also, the Russian word for lighting is "molniya" which intertwines some way with Mjolnir, although I'm not 100% sure whether it is based in the myth itself or in the meaning of the word.
posted by griphus at 7:31 AM on July 5, 2011


In the Netherlands, one finds "filet Americain", steak tartare used as a sandwich spread.
posted by knile at 7:31 AM on July 5, 2011


I have seen steak tartare referred to in a number of places outside North America as filet américain. I can't remember whether those places include France, though.

In Chile, meatloaf with hardboiled eggs in the middle was described to me as pastel de carne alemán.

posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 7:32 AM on July 5, 2011


I don't remember hearing these when I was in Italy, but:

tovagliette all’-a Americano - place mats
confronto all’-a Americano - police line-up
(source)
posted by hydrophonic at 7:33 AM on July 5, 2011


Amerikaanse toestanden = American conditions/situations/to-dos.

Dutch term used to describe things as diverse as a huge rich/poor divide, public shaming of those involved in adultery, lack of social security, the media naming suspects in criminal case, civilian arms races, political fanning or use of public fear, the drug war, (overly) emotional outpourings, lack of national health care....
posted by likeso at 7:34 AM on July 5, 2011 [15 favorites]


I think 'Portugal' (burtuqaal) is the Arabic word for an orange.
posted by Paquda at 7:34 AM on July 5, 2011


And don't forget the French inhale.
posted by knile at 7:34 AM on July 5, 2011


You know, of course, that the French call a french letter une capote anglaise (English hood)?
posted by Segundus at 7:36 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


"The French Disease'' is what the Italians of the 16th century called syphilis; the French, naturally, called it the Italian Disease," (source)
posted by adamrice at 7:44 AM on July 5, 2011


Caning: the English vice (in French).
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:47 AM on July 5, 2011


The Francesinha ("little French thing") is a Portugese sandwich that apparently originates in Porto.
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:48 AM on July 5, 2011


Well, there are all those wars...
posted by iamkimiam at 7:49 AM on July 5, 2011


Never heard of filet américain and I live in France, so it must be elsewhere. There is sauce américaine, however. Capote anglaise is pretty old, never hear it anymore (note that I run in a necessarily under-65 crowd at the office); they're just called plain old capotes nowadays.

There's not much that comes to mind in daily usage, other than one unfortunate instance I hear rarely, but just enough that it irks me and stays with me (I have dual citizenship, originally American, recently also French). Please note, before I give it: I practically never come across overt anti-Americanism. The vast, vast majority of French people I have met are curious, respectful, and open. Exceptions are in dating (oh god don't even get me started on how many emails I sent were replied to with nothing more than "no, you're American"), and young'uns who don't know any better. Said young'uns have, on occasion, before knowing that I'm American, said in front of me, "putain, c'est vraiment américain, ce truc." Translation (not for the slang yet): "damn, this thing is really American." Translation for the slang: "damn, this thing is really stupid." Siiiiiigh. (Why yes, I do immediately retort with, as deadpan as possible, "eh ben, heureusement qu'il est pas français, ce serait encore pire." Translation: "well, good thing it's not French, that would be even worse." It works, they get the point and knock it off.)
posted by fraula at 7:51 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


The oboe's lower-pitched cousin actually originated in Prussia, but is called the "English horn" in most European languages: for example, we have the French cor anglais, German Englischhorn, Spanish corno inglés, Russian aнглийский рожок, Finnish englannintorvi, Hungarian angolkürt, Polish rożek angielski. According to Wikipedia it got its name from the similarity between the German words for "English" and "angelic". Amusingly, the English name for the instrument, "English horn", is derived from the French name; you'd think that the English, at least, would have known that the instrument wasn't actually theirs. The only sensible folks (among the Europeans, at least) seem to be the Dutch, who call it an "alto oboe".

(Also, the modern form of the French horn, with rotary valves rather than pistons, is essentially German. But that's neither here nor there.)
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:05 AM on July 5, 2011


In Québec, very confusingly, they call shepherd's pie "pâté chinois.
posted by urbanlenny at 8:10 AM on July 5, 2011


"French postcards" [NSFW] are erotic photos.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:12 AM on July 5, 2011


This very common species of cockroach is called the German cockroach, except in Germany (what do they call it there?) and Russia, where it's the Prussian cockroach. (It's originally from Africa, as is another very widespread invasive species).
posted by jb at 8:15 AM on July 5, 2011


Amusingly, the English name for the instrument, "English horn", is derived from the French name; you'd think that the English, at least, would have known that the instrument wasn't actually theirs. The only sensible folks (among the Europeans, at least) seem to be the Dutch, who call it an "alto oboe".

In Britain, it is usually referred to as a cor anglais. And the translated term is used in other English-speaking countries. It is thought that the name was originally cor angles ie angled horn.
posted by joboe at 8:19 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Never heard of filet américain and I live in France, so it must be elsewhere.

Yeah, it's a French name referencing America which isn't used in either of those places. How odd.
posted by atrazine at 8:25 AM on July 5, 2011


Gharbzadegi ( غربزدگی ) is a term used by (mostly older/revolutionary/fundamentalist) Iranians. It has been variously translated as "Westoxification," "West-struck-ness", "Westitis", "Euromania", or "Occidentosis". Wikipedia quote: "It is used to refer to the loss of Iranian cultural identity through the adoption and imitation of Western models and Western criteria in education, the arts, and culture; through the transformation of Iran into a passive market for Western goods and a pawn in Western geopolitics."

Some of the younger kids don't see it that way...
posted by seasparrow at 8:31 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


A Danish is known as Viennese bread ("wienerbrød") in Denmark.
posted by martinrebas at 8:33 AM on July 5, 2011


ttyn: Funny. американские горки (American Mountains) is the Russian term for roller coasters.

But then, roller coasters in Spanish and Italian are las montañas russas and le montagne russe, respectively — "Russian mountains." In old Soviet amusement parks, "русские горки" more often referred to rides that went on tracks around a central hub, kind of like a tilt-a-whirl.

griphus: Also, the Russian word for lighting is "molniya" which intertwines some way with Mjolnir, although I'm not 100% sure whether it is based in the myth itself or in the meaning of the word.

As far as anyone can tell, the connection is etymological more than anything else, since Mjölnir just means "smasher." Vasmer's etymological dictionary of Russian connects молния to a bunch of words in I-E languages that mean "lightning" and "fire," and more tentatively to words like the Latin malleus and English "mallet" (Russian молот).

Some other Russian words derived from toponyms are персик/"persik," peach, from Persia (compare English damson plum); китайская грамота/"kitayskaya gramota" Chinese writing for "it's Greek to me" (see more here for other languages). There are also lots of words like "angora" that are shared with English.
posted by Nomyte at 8:37 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


My German grandmother called a common weed "Franzosenkraut" ~ "Frenchman's weed". It apparently got it's name because it spread through Europe during the napoleonic wars.

In Danish, a common condiment made of pickled red beets and mayonnaise is called "Russian salad". (It's red...)
As the Dutch we use the term "American conditions" for what likeso said, but also to describe extreme violence (with firearms).
posted by Thug at 8:41 AM on July 5, 2011


In Japan they call roller coasters jet coasters. (This example isn't actually relevant, but some might find this datum interesting.)

There's also geographic bits we could bring into this discussion, like how Europeans call the English Channel La Manche (the sleeve).
posted by Rash at 8:45 AM on July 5, 2011


In Dutch, there's a term "American party" which I think refers to what Americans would call a potluck. (If I recall correctly.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:46 AM on July 5, 2011


British English is a foreign language to me; I'd never heard the term Mexican wave until the newlyweds participated in one.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:46 AM on July 5, 2011


Brits (and Americans?) call having a drink to bolster courage 'Dutch courage'. The Dutch, apparently, call it 'English courage'. Origin is the Thirty Year's War apparently.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:01 AM on July 5, 2011


In English, there is "French leave" which means to depart without permission or ceremony
in French: “Sortir a l’anglaise”
in Spanish " marcharse a la inglesa"
(ie "English leave")
posted by canoehead at 9:02 AM on July 5, 2011


We call it the Mexican wave in Australia as well.

Wikipedia on the origins of the term: it was first seen by many people at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
posted by Georgina at 9:04 AM on July 5, 2011


It is thought that the name was originally cor angles ie angled horn.

I don't have any better cites than the Wikipedia article, but according to that page the "anglé = angled/bent" idea is a false etymology. The cite given is to Grove's, but unfortunately it's subscription-only.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:15 AM on July 5, 2011


Wikipedia lists some perjorative phrases involving the word "Dutch" in English that spring from the Anglo-Dutch wars, such as Dutch courage, Dutch uncle (mean, critical person), and Dutch wife (prostitute). I believe there are similar terms in Dutch relating to the English. (I'm pretty sure Dutch oven is modern, though.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:20 AM on July 5, 2011


Italy:

- "un Americano" (originally "un Milano-Torino") is the Campari-based cocktail; I've also heard it called that in France (pronounced americaNO).

- "un caffé americano" is a type of "long" coffee, served in a cappucino cup; it's either an espresso topped up with hot water, or else they let the machine run the water through the grounds until the cup is full.

- "orario francese" is a film production term referring to to a reduced workday with no lunchbreak (7 hours, instead of 9+1 Rome / 8+1 Milan).

- "le montagne russe" = rollercoaster

- "andarsene all'inglese" is to leave without saying bye

- "Inglesina" is a brand of fancy baby-strollers that has become so commonplace as to signify "fancy pram"

- "gabinetto alla turca" is a squat-down toilet

- "fumi come un turco!" you smoke too much!

- "la spagnola" is the Spanish Flu

- "le polacchine", literally little Poles, are ankle-high boots

- "una canadese" is a traditional small tent

- "fare l'indiano" to pretend not to understand (apparently in Spanish this translates to "hacerce el sueco", to play Swedish)

- "fare il portoghese" = to gatecrash

- to be "scozzese" or "ebreo" (in Rome) = to be stingy
posted by progosk at 9:21 AM on July 5, 2011


I think 'Portugal' (burtuqaal) is the Arabic word for an orange.

Interestingly, this is reflected in many Italian dialects: Naples - purtuall', Calabria - purtualli, Sicily - puttualli, Piedmont - portugaj, Bergamasco - portügàl, Lodigiano - purtügàl, Ferrarese - portogàl, Abruzzo - partaall, Salento - portacallu, Gargano - purtiall. In Romanesco, it's seen straight up as portogallo, like the country.

(While burtuqāl is the sweet orange, nāranğ (Persian in origin) is the bitter orange. In Germanic languages it's all ascribed to the Chinese: Apfelsine/Sinasappel derives from Chinese apple.)
posted by progosk at 9:33 AM on July 5, 2011


Apfelsine/Sinasappel derives from Chinese apple

Ooooh, interesting!

I came in to say "filer à l'anglaise", but I see that has already been mentioned.

Does "en file indienne" (in a single line) count? I guess it's not specifically a country, but a people.

Oh, and "filet américan" is used in Luxembourg as well, FWIW. I didn't know it wasn't in France. Quite amusing.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 9:45 AM on July 5, 2011


Oh, yeah, in Russian, turkey is called "Indeyka."

And it's "dinde" (as in "from the Indies") in French.

On a similar tangent, quite a lot of languages which had Islam as their main point of contact with the West - everything from Turkish to Thai - derive their word for foreigner from "Frankish". This is because the Franks took on the mantle of the Western Roman Empire (so, as distinct from the "Romans" who are the folks we call the Byzantines) and were early players in the Crusades.

The upshot of all that etymology being that an Australian in Vietnam will almost certainly be referred to in the local language as a Frank.
posted by Sara C. at 9:54 AM on July 5, 2011


Does "en file indienne" (in a single line) count?

Used in italian too, "in fila indiana". As with "fare l'indiano", it refers to the American Indians, not understanding their conquerors in that case, and walking in a single line in order not to leave tell-tale foot-prints, in this.
posted by progosk at 9:57 AM on July 5, 2011


The upshot of all that etymology being that an Australian in Vietnam will almost certainly be referred to in the local language as a Frank.

Which is where "lingua franca" comes from.
posted by progosk at 10:02 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


- "un Americano" (originally "un Milano-Torino") is the Campari-based cocktail; I've also heard it called that in France (pronounced americaNO).

- "un caffé americano" is a type of "long" coffee, served in a cappucino cup; it's either an espresso topped up with hot water, or else they let the machine run the water through the grounds until the cup is full.


These are both used in exactly the same sense in the USA. Though the cocktail is really fucking obscure here.

I believe a caffe americano is a "long black" in Australian coffee terminology, though.
posted by Sara C. at 10:06 AM on July 5, 2011


oh, and: a cappucino cappuccino cup - ftfm.
posted by progosk at 10:10 AM on July 5, 2011


I love how in the wikipedia list EmpressCallipygos linked to nearly half of the listed languages use Chinese as their stand-in for incomprehensibility, while Mandarin speakers are the only ones not to point to another human language as "Greek to them" and instead use the language of birds, god, and Martians.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 10:22 AM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Canadian Bacon isn't Canadian (or bacon). It's ham.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:59 AM on July 5, 2011


In Mexico, there's a taco called "Gringa", made with flour tortillas, meat (pastor is common), cheese and other condiments, depending on the region.

By the way, in Mexico, the "mexican wave" is just a wave (ola).

Oranges are called "chinas" or "chinitas" in Puerto Rico. The same word is used for the orange color too.
posted by clearlydemon at 11:02 AM on July 5, 2011


the idiom "That's Greek to me". There's an equivalent term in most languages -- where when someone says something incomprehensible, that "that's [blank] to me."

In German we would say "das kommt mir spanisch vor" (that seems spanish to me or that appears spanish to me), meaning: I am not quite clear about this, I don't really understand this, I find this weird or confusing. It can also mean: there is something wrong (off, odd) about a thing or a person.
posted by GermanChef at 11:25 AM on July 5, 2011


There's also a whole sub-category of country-based sexual slang, isn't there? Greek love for anal sex, un francés for a blowjob in Spanish. There's got to be tons more.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 11:40 AM on July 5, 2011


In Khmer the word for foreigner is "barang". It actually means French or France, but is used for any foreigner and can sometimes be used in a derogatory sense.


Although, Wikipedia has more to say on the topic.

posted by jujulalia at 12:08 PM on July 5, 2011


Also French fries and French horn.


Coiffure anglaises ("English hairdo") are ringlets (no idea how dated the term is).
Crème anglaise ("English cream") is custard.
posted by jujulalia at 12:24 PM on July 5, 2011


I'd be curious to know if creme anglaise is used in France and if it describes the same thing referred to by that name in English.
posted by Sara C. at 2:34 PM on July 5, 2011


Ein Engländer is an adjustable wrench in German.
posted by jonesor at 2:37 PM on July 5, 2011


Ein Engländer is an adjustable wrench in German.

It's a "chiave inglese" in Italian, too.

Also: "It's all Greek to me" is "Per me, è arabo".

(This use of "Greek" is also where "gringo" comes from.)

Another curious meat word: the patty of hamburger meat, simply grilled, is called a "svizzera" in Italy.
posted by progosk at 3:23 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Creme anglaise in France is this thick yellow(ish) milky/whipped creamy sauce that you put over dessert type things like strawberries or scones. (It can be bought from a box in the grocery store which says "creme anglaise")

(note: this is what the british couple who invited me over to dinner in France did. I'm an American and to me custard is either frozen and similar to ice cream or frozen yogurt or it is something baked in the oven- almost like rice pudding but smooth. I have no idea what creme anglaise is in America, I don't know that there's an equivalent.)
posted by raccoon409 at 3:30 PM on July 5, 2011


The little, rough wash-cloths used for harsh exfoliating scrub-downs in Korea are called Italy towels.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:01 PM on July 5, 2011


In Spanish, a "cuento chino" (Chinese story) is a tall tale or a fish story.
posted by Nerro at 4:15 PM on July 5, 2011


This is creme anglaise. It's sourced to the Larousse Gastronomique, but that's haute cuisine.

Then again, the fact that creme anglaise is in the Larousse Gastronomique implies that it's at least somewhat used in French.
posted by Sara C. at 4:17 PM on July 5, 2011


In New Zealand and Australia (possibly other countries that were colonized by England), gridiron football (NFL football) is either called "American football" or just "gridiron," to differentiate from football, which most Americans refer to as "soccer."
posted by hootenatty at 6:03 PM on July 5, 2011


Rosa mexicano is a certain type of bright, cool pink. Here's an example.

By the way, searching for rosa mexicano in google images brings up a lot of pretty pics!
posted by CrazyLemonade at 6:27 PM on July 5, 2011


German:

Swedish curtains - prison
English shopping - stealing
Polish shopping - stealing (I guess English shopping became polish shopping in the 90ies)
American - (Amerikaner) Some kind of black and white Doughnut
posted by yoyo_nyc at 7:19 PM on July 5, 2011


In Japan, processed cheese slices are called "American Cheese: ”アメリカン チーズ”
posted by birdsquared at 10:04 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought an "Amerikaner" was a sort of apple pie.

In Canada, "Canadian bacon" is called "back bacon."
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:11 PM on July 5, 2011


I just was in Chile and had the opportunity to appreciate mayonnaise on whole new levels. "Salsa Americana" is a some sort of mixture of mayo and, as far as I could tell, pickle relish. Sort of a tartar sauce, had it on my lomito sandwich.

Also, a "cappuccino Italiano" was a traditional cappo but a "cappuccino Americano" had whipped cream on top- disgusting.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:13 PM on July 5, 2011


In Italy, "portoghesi" (as well as progosk's "gatecrashers") are also passengers who ride public transport without buying a ticket (about 30% in Rome, I believe).

When I was a kid, my mother used to mention "the Dutchman's anchor" as something one claims to have but in fact cannot produce: a seafarer in Chinese waters urgently needed an anchor, and asked a passing Dutch captain if he had a spare one. "Yes," answered the Dutchman. "Could you lend it to me?" "No, it's back in Holland." I've never been able to find any other reference to this expression.
posted by aqsakal at 12:31 AM on July 6, 2011


birdsquared: "In Japan, processed cheese slices are called "American Cheese: ”アメリカン チーズ”

In America, processed cheese slices are called American cheese, too.
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:36 AM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


When I buy crème anglaise from the supermarket (in Paris) it's generally the same as the custard I bought in Scotland/England/Australia. Although, sometimes it's thinner or lighter. I didn't know Americans have a different type of custard other than the stuff you put on your mince pies?

Is it jelly/jello/jam all over again?

(There's something beautiful about bog standard Ambrosia Devon Custard. In wanky British pubs they call custard "crème anglaise", sometimes with irony I suppose.)
posted by jujulalia at 5:19 AM on July 6, 2011


I think the deal is more that Americans aren't much for custard at all unless it's "frozen custard" (which is basically... ice cream? so I don't know why they insist on differentiating it somehow?).

Personally I don't think of creme anglaise as a type of custard per se (though, formally speaking, it is) but as more of a sauce. However as I said, Americans aren't really custard people.
posted by Sara C. at 5:31 AM on July 6, 2011


I didn't know Americans have a different type of custard other than the stuff you put on your mince pies?
posted by jujulalia

Americans aren't really custard people.
posted by Sara C.


I can affirm that we aren't custard people. I think what you think of as "custard", we call "pudding," and we make that with a mix from a box fabricated by the Jell-O Corporation. We sometimes use it as a filling FOR pies -- the "chocolate cream pie" or the "banana cream pie" is the best example. We also eat it straight up as a dessert on its own.

What we put ON pies is usually either ice cream or whipped cream (preferably REAL whipped cream, although some people go for something called "Whipped topping," which you can spray out of a can and I'm not sure what's actually in it).

Incidentally, Americans aren't necessarily mince pie people either. Apple, cherry, peach, plum, and other fruit pies are more common, as are the aforementioned "cream" pies.

Now I'm hungry.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:34 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Filet américain is super popular here in Belgium, which often leads to horrifying misunderstandings (warning: gross) on the part of American expats and tourists.
posted by dhens at 11:01 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I did run into filet américain in France, but it was near the Belgian border, and was horse tartare with a raw egg.
posted by cindywho at 11:54 AM on July 6, 2011


quite a lot of languages ... derive their word for foreigner from "Frankish"

The Amish call outsiders "the English," like in the colonial days...
posted by dhens at 2:17 PM on July 6, 2011


In Japan, corn dogs are called "American dogs".
posted by Quonab at 3:47 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


In America, processed cheese slices are called American cheese, too.

I've heard that in Canada, this substance is known as Canadian Cheese, but I was unable to locate any product with that name during my last trip to Vancouver.

I think what you think of as "custard", we call "pudding," and we make that with a mix from a box fabricated by the Jell-O Corporation.

In times past one could find little boxes on the same supermarket shelves for Egg Custard, a mix you added milk and an egg to, then cooked like real pudding. But I haven't seen any egg custard in the supermarket or the cafeteria for a long time now -- however, I bet the recipe isn't difficult.
posted by Rash at 4:08 PM on July 6, 2011


American cheese is an interesting example because so far (unless that Canadian Cheese business is true) it's the only instance we've seen of a group naming something after themselves. Are there any others like this?
posted by villanelles at dawn at 5:20 PM on July 6, 2011


I've never heard of "Canadian cheese" - I've always heard it called "processed cheese" or "cheese slices" (when it's individually wrapped in plastic).
posted by jb at 7:37 PM on July 6, 2011


In Japan, I noticed coffee shops would sometimes sell "American Coffee" which is watered down coffee. Oddly enough, that's also what we English speakers in Canada think of American coffee.
posted by Gortuk at 7:35 AM on July 8, 2011


Gortuk: You can go to a café in the US and get an "americano," which is an espresso with water.
posted by dhens at 2:43 PM on July 12, 2011


In Spain, ensalada americana refers to cole slaw. Salsa americana is a fish stock and wine sauce. Enslada ruso is potato salad.
posted by melt away at 8:33 AM on November 30, 2011


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