Munich in English - selected by independent Locals for Cosmopolitans, Newcomers and Residents - since 1989

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July 1999

House Pests: Life in a country without screens

A look at "flying" expressions

Buzz, bzzz, bzzz — every year it’s the same battle, trying to keep pesky summer interlopers from invading your house, your life, your sanity. “Why don’t the windows in Germany have built-in screens?” I ritually mutter as I chase the winged invaders through my apartment, wishing for an arsenal of high-tech Bruce Willis weaponry, but armed only with a rolled-up newspaper and a primitive flyswatter. Since I usually get in a good workout while pursuing these pests, one could say the endeavor is zwei Fliegen mit einer Klappe schlagen or killing two birds with one stone. A flyswatter is called a Fliegenklappe, but if someone says “Halt die Klappe!” it has nothing to do with laying down your plastic weapon, but rather shutting your mouth. If you want someone to get lost, yell “mach die Mücke!” (make like a mosquito!) or “mach die Fliege” (make like a fly) — “schau dass de schleichst” in Bavarian. Be forewarned, though, this isn’t effective against irksome insects. A person bugged by every little thing is referred to as jemanden ärgert die Fliege an der Wand (someone annoyed by the fly on the wall). If you’re anxiously awaiting payment on a promise, you’ve had einen Floh ins Ohr gesetzt (someone’s put a flea in your ear.) Far be it from me to blow things out of proportion — aus einer Mücke einen Elefanten machen (make a mountain out of a molehill) — but do those German bakery sweet rolls actually look more tempting adorned with flies and bees? Certainly spying a wasp doing the backstroke in your Maß can be the fly in the ointment — ein Haar in der Suppe — of an otherwise enjoyable summer afternoon at a beer garden. This reminds us that a beer coaster is not for preventing unsightly water rings on the table, but for placing atop the mug as a barrier against such unwanted aerial invasions. Last year, I decided not to fly off the handle — in die Luft gehen — at the first sight of these seasonal stingers and ankle nibblers. But my simple wish to be pest-free was like in ein Wespennest greifen (reaching into a wasp nest). I had assembled an armada of bug-battling tools, from citronella candles and umweltfreundlich (environmentally safe) repellents, to an electric bug zapper for the balcony and a series of expensive velcro-fitted screens for my windows and balcony door. I also invested in a device that plugs into an electrical outlet and emits an ultra high-pitched, insect repellant tone, as well as several tubular, cardboard thingamajigs that were basically strips of sticky packaging tape hanging from my ceiling. Bzzz, bzzz, bzzz — it wasn’t long before every trap had been evaded and my apartment invaded. In my effort to keep the windows open, I only succeeded in das Geld aus dem Fenster werfen — throwing money out of them! Whoever came up with the idiomatic phrase “dropping like flies” — umfallen wie die Fliegen is, based on my experience, sadly mistaken. The only thing I’ve seen dropping is my patience level! The Germans will tell you, in der Not frisst der Teufel Fliegen (in an emergency the devil eats flies). The general meaning in this case being that when it gets as hot as Hades in a land without air conditioning, there is no alternative — we must open our windows! Just be sure to keep a rolled-up newspaper — or this column — handy.

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