Thursday, February 2, 2012

Border control

There’s an article in today’s paper about how badly run the little railway is that goes through our valley. The rot set in, apparently, when a company from Hesse took over. Never mind that half the problems catalogued existed before the takeover. Never mind either that half the remaining problems aren’t the operator’s fault at all. The important thing is that the operator is from Hesse, and so is responsible for everything that goes wrong, including the stuff it’s not responsible for, in stark contrast to the pre-takeover days when any problems that did occur were part of the rich tapestry of life. The Squealing Wheels Problem used to be just one of those things, and since there are no trains at night there was no point in getting worked up about it. Now that the Hessians are in charge, the Squealing Wheels Problem is an unbearable assault on everyone’s ears and mental health.

You see, we’re in Bavaria, but only just. We are right at the most northwesterly corner of the most northwesterly part of Bavaria, and everything to the north and west is Hesse. The attitude of the locals to all things Hesse is best summed up in this joke:

The local train (the same one that now has the Squealing Wheels Problem) derails. A local journalist interviews the driver. “There was a Hessian on the track,” says the driver. “Then why,” asks the journalist, “didn’t you just run him over?” The driver looks at him and says, “Well, he jumped off the tracks, so I derailed the train and I still missed.”

Talk to anyone from around here, and you quickly get the impression that the Hessians are bad at everything: they’re badly educated, badly behaved, bad at driving (especially the ones from Offenbach), bad dressers, bad lovers and bad at building houses. Their cities are dirtier and noisier, their police ruder and more violent, their speed traps more plentiful and less forgiving.

The local dialect, incidentally, is continually confused with that of Hesse. It’s an easy mistake to make, of course: the dialect is most definitely Franconian, despite the fact that it sounds completely different to the Franconian spoken in other parts of Franconia. Under no circumstances whatsoever can it ever be described as “Hessian”, because it is a completely different dialect with absolutely no features in common. The fact that it sounds exactly the same is just one of those great, unsolved mysteries of life (there’s a rumour that the Higgs Boson may yield an explanation).

One linguist tried to make a point some years ago by placing a large stone monument at the place where the Hessian pronunciation of the German word for “apple” gave way to the Franconian pronunciation. This stone is several miles east of here, roughly halfway between Aschaffenburg and Würzburg. This was reported in all the local media as the border between two subtly different variants of the Franconian dialect.

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