Happy Friday, everyone!
And welcome to a post that might not make any sense whatsoever! Seriously, I apologize in advance if any of this comes across as even more chaotic than usual – I’ve been in a feverish haze since getting my COVID booster shot this Wednesday, which means that it is entirely possible that I wasn’t of sound mind while writing this…
(Also, cut me some slack, because I may well be traumatized from the very experience of getting this shot. I went to the doctor’s office with my youngest brother, they sent us to the waiting room, and then we waited. And waited. And waited. What felt like hundreds of other people came into that room, got called on, and left. Of course, after about half an hour of this, we did become suspicious. Why were all these people who arrived after us getting their turn when we weren’t? But, since my brother and I got the full-on dose of this family’s introvert genes, neither of us felt saying anything that could be construed as complaining, so we just decided to wait some more. But an hour later, we were still there, which meant that I did have to eventually pluck up the courage, cut ahead of the people waiting to register, and stutter out that there might have been a mistake. And there had been! The computer had somehow deleted us from the waiting list! Thankfully, the staff was super apologetic about it, but interactions like that are still the bane of my non-confrontational existence 😅)
But let’s get back on topic and talk about misunderstandings that are a bit more bookish in nature. This is a book blog, after all. The whole reason it exists is because I love, have always loved, and probably will always love reading!
Which also means that I have a wealth of bookish memories to draw on. And today, we’re going to be revisiting some from my childhood! Because no matter how smart and well-read I thought I was as a kid, I sometimes got things wrong. Very wrong 😂 The most ordinary details sometimes got me thinking along utterly bizarre tangents, and in this post, I will be sharing seven of my biggest such misconceptions with you:
1. A Very Bloody Feast
If you’ve been following me for a while, you will know about this traumatizing childhood experience of mine already, but since it was also my first foray into bookish misconception territory, I think it is only fair to mention it again here. We’ve got to start at the very beginning, after all!
Anyway, music has always been a huge part of my life. Both of my parents grew up in extremely musical households, where playing multiple instruments and singing eight-voice choral pieces at family gatherings was the norm, so it’s probably not very surprising that we’ve constantly had a ton of sheet music and songbooks floating around the house.
And even as a toddler, I loved it! When I wasn’t singing, one of my favorite things to do was look at the pictures in the songbooks. Well, all pictures save one. In one of the books, there was this page spread showing kids eating berries that I was positively TERRIFIED of. I’m serious. I avoided this book like the plague, and whenever my parents flipped past those pages when singing songs with us, I inevitably burst into tears.
You see, I was beyond convinced that the red stuff covering the children was, not berry juice, but blood. That one kid, the one with the leering smile, had probably stabbed all the others and would be coming to massacre me and my baby brother next!
Seriously, guys, you have no idea how scared I was of this songbook! And since I couldn’t really express myself all that well yet, my parents never dreamed of their daughter’s gruesome imaginings and kept wanting to sing songs from it anyway 😭
2. Homework, the Epitome of Chores
Look – I’m the oldest child in my immediate family. I do have a bunch of older cousins, but since my siblings and I were always those weirdos whose parents constantly moved them around to places “so far from the Bavarian Forest that they didn’t even grow up speaking proper dialect”, I usually only saw them during the holidays or when they were on summer break. So until I started school myself, everything that went on there was either a great mystery to me or came from books. And let’s just say I didn’t always interpret things entirely correctly…
One of absolute favorite books as a kid was Astrid Lindgren’s Die Kinder aus Bullerbü – Barnen i Bullerbyn in the Swedish original or The Children of Noisy Village in English – which follows the lives of six children growing up in the Swedish countryside. Like many other children around the world, they went to school, and when they got home, they had to do their homework before they were allowed to go play.
Sounds easy enough, right? After all, everybody knows what homework is!
Well, not four-year-old me 🤣 But I sure thought I did! The German word for “homework”, Hausaufgaben, is pretty much the exact same as the English one; it literally translates to “home-tasks”. So it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to me that homework was tasks you did around the home. You know, like sweeping, scrubbing floors, washing the dishes… And since Lisa, the protagonist, actually did do all of these things in the Bullerbü books, I never questioned my assumption or asked for clarification.
Until I started school myself. Just imagine my surprise when I found out what homework actually was! 🤯
(Here’s a picture of me on my first day of school, right around the time of my grand homework revelation. I ended up preferring the real thing to washing the dishes, though. Especially when it was math homework 😇)
3. Dragon Alley, the Shopping Mall
I first read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone a few months into second grade. It was the winter after Order of the Phoenix had come out, so everyone, including my parents, was in an absolute wizarding craze. Which I so badly wanted to take part in! The only problem: That summer also happened to be the one my family moved to the United States, which means that my English skills were next to non-existent.
However, there’s nothing that will make you learn a language quite as fast as battling yourself through a foreign school system and crying yourself to sleep at night because you literally understand nothing anyone around you is saying. So by Christmas time, I considered myself reasonably fluent enough to try Harry Potter. And the rest is history. Obviously, I loved it!!
Still, upon rereading the series for the first time a few months later, I ultimately came to the conclusion that, quite possibly, my English skills might have been a bit lacking after all… Either that, or my reading skills in general. Because somehow, it completely escaped my notice that Diagon Alley was supposed to be a street. I had no freaking clue what an “alley” was at the time, and to me, “Dragon Alley” just sounded like the perfect name for a shopping center!
Yes, Dragon Alley. I also somehow managed to make it through five entire books without noticing that I was misreading that first word, because let’s face it – I knew the word “dragon”! “Diagon”, on the other hand, made absolutely no sense at all, so why shouldn’t it be “Dragon”? In fact, even though I did notice my draconic mistake by the time my first reread came around, I think it took me until I was about twelve and living in Germany again to finally notice the glorious punny significance behind Diagon and Knockturn Alley…
But back to the shopping center thing. To be honest, I have no clue what gave me that idea. Reading Harry Potter now, Diagon Alley is so clearly a street that I am astounded it is possible to see it as anything else. But I vividly remember picturing Harry and Hagrid walking through something that looked suspiciously like the clothing section in one of those glorious American shopping-mall department stores I had come to discover in the previous months.
Like I said, just blame it all on my lack of language skills 😂
4. The Steam Engine Powered by Cabbage
We return to another one of my German childhood favorites with this one – Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver is the start to a fantasy duology about two unlikely friends going on adventures with their railway engine. And Emma, the engine in question, also happens to be at the core of what might be my dumbest misunderstanding to date. You see, for an embarrassingly long time, I was convinced that Emma was powered by cabbage. Yes, you heard me right. Cabbage. The vegetable.
To understand how this misunderstanding came about, you have to know four things:
1) The German word for “coal” is Kohle.
2) The German word for “cabbage” is Kohl. And the logical plural form of that is also Kohle. (It is debatable whether there actually is a plural, but for the sake of this argument, we are just going to ignore that.)
3) It is therefore perfectly plausible to interpret the sentence “Wir brauchen Kohle für Emma” as We need cabbages for Emma rather than We need coal for Emma. Especially when your parents first started reading this book to you when you were around two, a point in your life where you had come into way more contact with cabbages than coal.
4) It is also perfectly plausible to not question an engine running on cabbages. After all, a big reason why the protagonists needed coal in the first place was because the trees in the country they were in were made from glass, which means that there was no wood. And what is the closest thing to wood? Other plants, of course! And cabbages are plants.
Honestly, I see no flaws in my reasoning. Sure, maybe I could have rethought things when I was, say, eight, and had a bit more knowledge of the world, but by then, I had just grown so used to the idea of Emma running on cabbages that I didn’t think to question it.
5. The Famous Five, Drunk on Beer
While we Germans are constantly teased/reprimanded for our low legal drinking age – you are allowed to consume beer and wine if you’re over the age of 13, as long as a legal guardian is with you – even I, as a German, was shocked at which age people in the UK apparently had access to alcohol. There were kids as young as eight drinking in all of these British children’s books! Without supervision! And no one even batted an eye! Why didn’t anyone think this was weird?
Well, maybe because not every word that has “beer” or “ale” in it is necessarily a type of beer or ale 😜 Instead, the British are just weird about naming things sometimes… How was I supposed to know that this ginger-beer or ginger-ale that everybody was drinking in my favorite mysteries and school stories wasn’t actually a type of alcohol? All the while, I had been picturing this mysterious, intoxicating, reddish concoction, so imagine my disillusionment when I found out it was just a type of soft drink!
(Coincidentally though, ginger-ale has since also caught on in Germany, and is now one of my favorite summery drinks 😉)
6. We Traversed to School
I’d just like to preface this by saying that I am not at fault here. This one is entirely on Cass and Jemmie, the protagonists of Crossing Jordan.
A middle-grade novel focusing on two girls trying to preserve their friendship in spite of their families’ racial prejudices, Crossing Jordan was one of my elementary school favorites, and I got quite a few of my friends to read it, too. As a result, all of us mysteriously adopted a lofty new way of speaking, full of fancy vocabulary words that we were sure made us sound incredibly smart.
Why? Well, in the book, Cass’s deceased neighbor leaves her her childhood copy of Jane Eyre, and Cass and Jemmie eventually proceed to read it together. Doing so, they learn a whole bunch of new words, which they then start using in their daily lives. And of course, as devout Cass-and-Jemmie admirers, my friends and I did the same thing!
The only problem was that it completely went over our fourth-grade heads that part of the humor in Crossing Jordan consisted of Cass and Jemmie not fully knowing what all of these old-fashioned Jane Eyre words meant. They cluelessly applied them in contexts where you just can’t use them, and as a result, so did we. We no longer walked to school, we “traversed” there. Our food was suddenly “preternaturally delicious”. I hate to break it to you, younger self, but “traversing” makes little sense unless you also mention what you are walking across, and “preternatural” always implies a certain element of uncanniness that I don’t think you were going for here 🤣
7. The Advantages of Eating Chalk
This last one is not so much about misunderstandings as it is about child-me being a clueless idiot who believed almost everything she encountered in fiction, no matter how improbable…
Like many German kids, my siblings and I grew up with the Grimm’s fairytales as our main bedtime stories, and my first brother’s favorite happened to be the one about the wolf and the seven little goats. Which is why we had to listen to it about every second night, even though there were so many better stories out there. Like Allerleihrauh! Or Godfather Death!
But anyway, for those of you unfamiliar with the fairytale, The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats is about seven little goats (surprise!) being left behind at home while their mother runs errands. Before she leaves, she warns her children that the evil wolf might try to gain access to their house so he can eat them, which he promptly does by trying to disguise himself as the goats’ mother. One of the ways he does this is by eating chalk, which makes the wolf’s voice way higher than it normally is.
How do I know that this is unrealistic? Well, because I talked my brother into trying it, of course! What kind of big sister would I be if I deprived my siblings of the experience of getting to talk in funny, squeaky tones?
However, instead of giving us high-pitched voices, the chalk only gave us a major coughing fit. We were so disappointed! 😫
(Although my brother does still swear that it not working might have been due to us only eating a miniscule piece of the chalk and not the whole stick. However, that tiny bit we did try tasted so disgusting that I am not willing to repeat this experiment a second time!)
So yeah – I guess our takeaway from today is that I was a really dumb kid 🤣 Still, I hope you had fun reading and could relate to at least some of this! Let me know which misunderstanding of mine was your favorite, and if you have any similar anecdotes to share from your own childhoods, I’m all ears!