That takes the biscuit….

I work for a German company and spend a lot of time conversing with German colleagues whose English is one thousand times better than my German!

In fact they are so fluent I sometimes forget it is not their native tongue…until I use some idiom that gets me puzzled looks.

I used the phrase ‘that takes the biscuit’ in a recent conversation and with dawning realisation I saw that this was causing some confusion. The etymological origins of this actually took me longer to explain than the whole original conversation so in this instance, using an idiom was not a good shortcut.

For those not in the know, its meaning is from 1800’s Naval times basically saying ‘well that takes the prize’ , and not necessarily for something good and  in reality probably something bad like running out of food and even using the last ships biscuit,  very much a last resort food item!

Anyway, I digress a little but still on biscuits………..

In the same way that choosing a coffee has become a university degree course,  and using the right name for a bread roll in different parts of the UK requires a phrase book (see my previous blog  ‘Please come to visit us’ on the joys of buying coffee and   choosing bread rolls in the uk…click on the  highlighted words to link..), the art of biscuit selection requires at least some higher level training to be completed before a simple purchase can be made. It is a complex subject….

As a child, based on my limited biscuit expertise (i.e. what darkened the door of our house and biscuit tin) I would have sworn in a court of law that only 4 types of biscuit ever actually existed in the world: namely rich tea, chocolate digestive,  regular (boring!) digestive and custard creams.

But now when asked to ‘pick up a packet of biscuits’ when at the supermarket can leave me totally overwhelmed. The range seems endless now….Balzen biscuits from Germany, Hobnobs, Jammy Dodgers , Penguins (no Penguins are harmed in the making of those biscuits…to reassure those of you from non Penguin biscuit countries)  and Chocolate Chip cookies. And don’t even go down the route of Wagon Wheels or Oreo biscuits (why are they a very strange colour and indeed  remind me of dog biscuits? ) or numerous others untasted and unknown in the array that will welcome me  in the supermarket.

And then of course there are Kit Kats……..

As a child I think they were seen more of being in the confectionery world but have now absconded to the biscuit aisle joining their new younger cousins Breakaways and Rocky Road. And then  I find some UK regional items have sneaked in.

Tunnocks Caramel wafers: as plentiful in Waitrose in Harrogate as in Aldi in Glasgow now. I think I have also seen them for sale  in the Middle East!

There are whole hierarchies of biscuits and their usage to be understood …everyday biscuits, luxury biscuits, speciality biscuits, biscuits only served with coffee, hand made, home made, Christmas biscuits and a whole lot of crossover products that are somewhere in the middle! Give a man inadequate instructions on the social standing of the occasion and it is guaranteed the purchase will be wrong one….

I realise for my non UK readers this is very UK centric but I suspect in your countries too the dilemma is the same!

And in the USA of course then there are biscuits that are in a whole new world of living on dinner plate…with gravy! My first ever visit to Georgia, USA has that experience etched on my mind.

But one final thought going back to second languages…the word biscuit is not an English word at all ….but derived from two French words ‘bis-cuit’..simply meaning twice cooked.

Vive la France!

Look forward to your comments.  Biscuit choice is of course a very subjective matter!

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Will you join me for lunch?

In the uk, the concept of having lunch in terms of a sit down meal is a dying tradition in the workplace.Yes, people will go and meet friends at lunchtime for food and drink but this is not what I mean. The concepts of colleagues stopping work and having food together with each other is a fast declining activity. The pressures of work whether generated by a true over burdening workload or an individual need to measure their importance and wave a flag of ‘ no time for lunch’ as a badge of honour are more and more the norm. Services such as Deliveroo and Uber eats have fuelled the lunch at your desk trend to an all time high.But none of this is good – at one time 70% of us used to meet our future life partners at work…ok some of this from water cooler liaisons, but often from a chat in the staff canteen where Brian from Accounts gets to make small talk with Julie from Dispatch.From a personal space point of view, in an open plan office do you really want fumes from your colleagues Miso soup wafting across your desk. And nothing is more soul destroying (from every aspect) than watching your neighbour splosh through their curried vegetable pot noodle as they flick through Facebook on their phone aimlessly.So what is the alternative? I have just returned from working most of the week in my company’s German HQ, stopping for lunch and going with your colleagues (and visitors) to the staff canteen is the norm not an exception. And not always there, sometimes to a small cafe/restaurant and sometimes to fast food truck/caravan. But akways some unwritten golden rules, we talk to each other, and ideally not on work matters and most definitely no use of phones.Everyone is a winner…social interaction, a true break from work…and actually some nice simple, wholesome food!

Anemometer..not an easy word to spell or say!

I have an anemometer in my garden, part of a small weather station and to be open and honest, I am a bit of a weather geek. In the uk we often get 4 seasons in 1 day so its actually quite good to have a measure of what is going.

However anemometer is a difficult word to pronounce let alone spell. In English we happily use words of Greek or Latin origin… in this case the Greek word for wind, Anemos. In German they make life a bit easier for themselves and call it a ‘wind messer’…ie a wind measurer. Germans not only are good at cars, beer and sausages…they have some great ‘say it how it is words’ this being one of them.

Anyway back to the anemometer and my ‘obsession’ with the weather. One day a family member on hearing me quoting a weather statistic (that admittedly was probably verging on the soporific) prompted an outburst of ….”Oh you are such a….” and then the silence of realisation that there is no obvious word in the English language that describes this overheated fascination with the weather.

After a little research the simple answer is that the English language doesn’t have one. Strange as we have words for perhaps lesser interests e.g. those embroiled in all matters French (Anglophile) or even booklovers (Bookworms) but for an almost national obsession…nothing!

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