Why you should add this wonderful word to your remote work vocabulary
Updated: Mar 18
A few months ago our CEO Kristi DePaul sent me a message, asking why I had never told her about “Feierabend”—a commonly used German word referring to the end of the work day. It literally translates to party (“die Feier”) evening (“der Abend”). Germans use it to tell someone they are done with work for the day and are moving on to other things, like having a “Feierabendbier” (after work beer) or maybe reading a Feierabendlektüre (after work reading) —you get the idea.
To give you some context here: I am a German living in America and Kristi (an American in Israel) is always eager to broaden her linguistic horizons. So she was intrigued by the Feierabend concept and how it is embraced in the German culture.
I have to admit, up until that conversation I hadn’t given the word much thought. As a German, I love compound words—let’s face it, we are known for creating incredibly long words! Our grammar lends itself to it and frankly it’s a great way to describe new things or events that are in need of a name.
Did you know that the pandemic alone has spurred over a thousand new words in the German language? If you’re interested to find out a little more on how creative language can be in the midst of dramatic life-changing events, check out some of these fabulous multisyllabic, tongue-twisting Deutsche words put into the spotlight in this recent Washington Post article.
Not all words are created equal.
You may not know this, but Germans love borrowing words from the English language. In recent years the internet, social media, and marketers have furthered the push of English into the German vocabulary. It is lovingly referred to as “Denglisch,” speaking a mix of “Deutsch” and “Englisch”. English words are literally plastered all over Germany. Yogurt flavors are now listed as strawberry instead of “Erdbeer” and journalists, as well as Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel for that matter, are using English terms like “sh*tstorm” in articles and speeches. When I first noticed the usage of sh*tstorm in German I was quite surprised, but it was widely embraced and even voted Germany’s anglicism of the year in 2011.
English words are not all used the same way across English speaking countries. And German words used across the US do often not hold the exact same meaning they do in Germany. The same holds true for many anglicisms used within the German language. In fact, sh*tstorm, as it is now used across Germany has a much narrower definition than the original English word. As defined by the Duden (i.e. German dictionary), it refers to a storm of outrage that might include offensive language on online communication platforms.
One of the things I have learned from living in the United States for many years is that my understanding of words or expressions is still, at times, insufficient. Why? It’s not for lack of vocabulary. It is because I’m missing some of the stories. If you’re not sharing the same stories that come with the words you’re using, you're not going to fully understand what they mean. It’s the meaning that comes from experiencing language within the culture rather than simply studying it.
Sad but true fact: It’s why I don’t get all the jokes at comedy shows. I understand the words but I’m missing some context!
As marketing guru, Seth Godin puts it in this recent blog post on the meaning of words: “If we share the same story about a word, about its place, its possibility and its promise–then we know what it stands for.”
It is one of the reasons why companies that strive to take a foothold in a foreign market are best served by hiring a team that includes local nationals or at the least people that have been immersed in the country for an extended period of time. You hold a much greater chance of getting your messaging right.
#feierabendtime for everyone!
In my search for understanding where the word Feierabend came from I learned that it derived from vīrabent, which is late Middle High German, or as Germans like to call it “spätmittelhochdeutsch” 🤯 . The word originally referred to the eve before a holiday.
“We need a new word when the old words are insufficient to express a shared understanding. And the new word is a placeholder for a story.” - Seth Godin
In a world where we are working across multiple time zones from our respective home offices, mixing a variety of cultures and languages, maybe it’s time we all started to embrace the concept of Feierabend. The idea that we fully unplug from work, the way we do when the next day is completely free and full of possibility. When we really mentally take a break from work.
Let’s embrace that mindset. In an attempt to find a new shared understanding of how our home office becomes off limits upon the arrival of a certain time in the day, because it’s #feierabendtime.
I encourage you to fully experience all that Feierabend has to offer: Get into Feierabendstimmung (end-of-work mood), have a Feierabendbier (end-of-work beer) or enjoy your Feierabendlektüre (end-of-work reading) in peace and quiet.
Before you completely drift off and start dreaming of your FeierabendXYZ. One last thing “Jetzt ist aber Feierabend!” — meaning: Enough of this! This is what my mom used to yell at us kids when she truly had enough of our shenanigans. Why? Maybe because Germans are rule followers and Feieraband must be adhered to.
So don’t disrupt your precious #feierabendtime. It’s sacred.
🥳 “Schönen Feierabend!”