10 Quirky Idioms From Around The World

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Explore the world in all its linguistic glory with these 10 illustrated idioms by the folks at Hotel Club. From “feeding the donkey sponge cake” to “letting a frog out of your mouth,” these quirky idioms can sound hilariously confusing to outsiders. Check them out below.

Foreign Language

“Not my circus, not my monkey”

Language: Polish
Translation: Nie mój cyrk, nie moje malpy
Meaning: Not my problem

Not my circus, not my monkeys

While more cryptic than just saying “not my problem”, the Polish expression “not my circus, not my monkeys” makes perfect sense, and is a lot more fun to say. Poland can offer a traveller some difficulties in terms of cultural customs – holding your thumbs means good luck, not crossing your fingers, for example. You’ll probably need a bit of luck, what with all those monkeys running around.

“To feed the donkey sponge cake”

Language: Portuguese
Translation: Alimentar um burro a pão-de-ló
Meaning: To give good treatment to someone who doesn’t need it

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To feed the donkey sponge cake

Portugal’s variation on the Bible’s advice about pearls and swine, “don’t feed the donkey sponge cake”, means don’t give fine treatment to those who don’t deserve it. After all, why should we have to sit around chewing raw oats because some idiot’s given all the cake to the donkey?

“To give someone pumpkins”

Language: Spanish
Translation: Dar calabazas a alguien
Meaning: To reject somebody

To give someone pumpkins

As we’re sure you’ve guessed, “to give someone pumpkins” means to turn somebody down. It’s just one example of the colourful idioms you’ll find in Spain, and it originates from Ancient Greece, where pumpkins were considered an anti-aphrodisiac. Try eating one seductively, and you’ll probably see why.

“To have a wide face”

Language: Japanese
Translation: Kao ga hiro i
Meaning: To have many friends

To have a wide face

We all know that Asian countries have the best proverbs. Well, they also have some fantastic idiom too. “Having a wide face” means you have lots of friends and are well liked. It could be based on reality, as men with wide faces supposedly earn more money and are more attractive to women. Or it could come from the Chinese concept of “face”, which is where we get our own term, “losing face”, from.

“To have the midday demon”

Language: French
Translation: Le démon de midi
Meaning: To have a midlife crisis

To have the midday demon

For the funniest idioms, look no further than our cross-channel neighbours in France. “To have the midday demon” means “to have a midlife crisis”. And what better way to explain reaching 50 and suddenly swapping the suit and tie for a ponytail and a Harley than demonic possession?

“To let a frog out of your mouth”

Language: Finnish
Translation: Päästää sammakko suusta
Meaning: To say the wrong thing

To let a frog out of your mouth

Finnish idioms have a lovely tone to them, often referencing Mother Nature and their homeland. Having “rye in your wrists” means to be physically strong, for instance, while “own land strawberry, other land blueberry” reflects Finns’ love for the motherland. “Letting a frog out of your mouth” means to say the wrong thing, which makes sense, as spitting a frog at someone is almost always the wrong thing to do.

“To ride as a hare”

Language: Russian
Translation: Exatj zajcem
Meaning: To travel without a ticket

To ride as a hare

As home to the Trans-Siberian Railway, Russia probably has quite a few train-related idioms. “To ride as a hare” means to ride the train without a ticket, as we all know hares are prone to do. Apparently it comes from the fact that fare-dodgers would shake like a hare whenever the ticket inspectors would come round.

“A cat’s jump”

Language: German
Translation: Katzensprung
Meaning: A short distance away

A cat's jump

“A cat’s jump” is in the minority of German idioms in that it doesn’t refer to either beer or sausages. Katzensprung simply means a short distance away, or “a stone’s throw” as we’d say in English. Use whichever one you’d prefer, it’s all sausages to us.

“Into the mouth of a wolf”

Language: Italian
Translation: In bocca al lupo
Meaning: Good luck!

Into the mouth of a wolf

“Into the mouth of a wolf” is a very popular Italian phrase that’s similar to our “break a leg”, and perhaps much more understandable. You’d say it to someone facing a tough trial or nerve-wracking performance, such as an exam or a concert. But don’t say “thank you” in response: it’s bad luck. The correct answer is “may the wolf die”.

“To have a stick in your ear”

Language: Danish
Translation: At have en pind i øret
Meaning: To not listen to someone

To have a stick in your ear

A lot of Danish idioms will sound familiar to us – “not the sharpest knife in the drawer”, for instance. But Danes would “go absolutely cucumber” at you if you were to “have a stick in your ear”. This means to not listen to someone, which can be a very bad thing to do to somebody with a strong Viking ancestry.

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