“It’s like Eskimos and ‘snow’.”

My husband drew this apt analogy in relation to Germans and ‘sour cream’. Well, it applies to Germans and a lot of words, really. In class, one of my English students used her smartphone to look up the word “to happen,” which I was struggling to explain, and informed me that there were 50+ German words that came up in response. English, you win that round. And possibly only that round.

However, my sour cream dilemma occurred not in the classroom, but in the grocery store. I found this bangin’ recipe for enchiladas, and I was going to find all of the ingredients, or find viable substitutes. I would not let the grocery store defeat me once again!

I saved dairy for last, and was feeling pretty good about myself before that point. No black beans, so I got kidney beans. Whatevs, it works. No jalapeños or green chiles, but I found some Russian green bottled peppers that said ‘würzig’ (they weren’t, in the end). Things were going well. I even saw a man at the store that had a full out handlebar mustache. I had never expected to see a handlebar-mustached individual not riding a large unicycle, but there he was, shopping for produce. How delightful!

And then it came to the dairy aisle. As described in a previous post, the dairy aisle takes up a long section of the store. You could get lost in the yogurt if you’re not careful. I finally found some things that used words that I was looking for (“Saure” (sour) and “Sahne” (cream). But wait…what…are these other things?

Saure Sahne…Saurrahm…Schmand…Schlagsahne…

This is a grocery store that is sometimes out of meat. Like, the meat case is empty, and you’d better hustle somewhere else to find a Thanksgiving turkey. Why all the creams?!? My plan for perfection was foiled! This had to be the doings of the moustached man, damn him. I pulled out my phone and searched the Leo app, which has been one of my best friends in Germany. I considered asking an employee, but I could tell that this went beyond my language capabilities. (“Ja, der sahne ist saur, aber es ist saure sahne?). Anyway, no one seemed to notice that I was standing there sounding out words with wide eyes, like I just washed up on shore.

Finally, it was Russian that saved me. I can’t seem to retain a useful phrase in German, but the Russian that I took five years ago pops up everywhere. In my class, I was the only one who liked sour cream, as established through scintillating questions like “Who likes sour cream? Do you like sour cream?” Da, ya lublu smetanu. Schmand seemed close enough to сметана, in that it was one word and probably did not mean “cream that is sour,” so I grabbed it and that was that. A few minutes later I found something labeled as “Sour cream” at the other end of the dairy section. The container stated specifically that it was to be eaten with baked potatoes or used as a fish dip. The English was so tempting, but the part about fish? Not so much. Schmand ended up being great for the recipe, probably because it had a much higher fat content than I actually needed or wanted.

I’m not the only one who’s confused. Apparently the terms for sour cream can be regional, and the different types of cream are determined by fat content. If you’d like to read more, check out this excellent baking blog and this German forum.

That all concerns me not, because all that matters is that these enchiladas were. Amazing. Go make them now.



One response to ““It’s like Eskimos and ‘snow’.”

  1. Pingback: The Confusion of When and Where | Wie sagt man...?·

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