M for Mami

It was only quite recently that I really noticed this, when speaking with German friends and their daughters. Now, I know that in English there are also variations on what you call your mother: Mother (love that capital M!), Mummy, Mum for the Brits, and Mommy or Mom for the rest of the English-speaking world seem to be the most common. I’ve come across various titles in German, from Mutter to Mützchen (little cap) but in Germany, the most common form of address is Mama. The word for “mother” is “Mutter” and (logically) takes a feminine article, ‘die’ Mutter, hence ‘die Mama’. mama

Strangely, although girls are also female, the word “Mädchen” (girl) takes the neutral article, ‘das’ Mädchen (my mother the linguist might help with “why?” in the comments?! I would have assumed it had to do with the minimising suffix “-chen”, but Mädel is also das, so…??) and Made is a maggot… I digress. (help!)mami

So, in Switzerland, it’s different. Die Mutter, yes, but the minimisation here is Mami – and it does not take ‘die’, it takes ‘das’. Das Mami. Our German friends were astonished! It seemed extremely weird to them. I couldn’t explain why, but it most definitely is das Mami – I have three daughters and never gave it a thought, but yes, es liäbs Mami, es böses Mami, miis Mami… (nice mother, mean mother, my mother…). Hm. Spass_nicht_mama

Two more thoughts:

German = Papa, Swiss = Papi… and the article doesn’t change, it’s always masculine, “der”…

It doesn’t help that in France, people stared when my children called me Mami – in French, Mamie is what you call your grandmother (Maman is the French for Mum)… and Papi is what you call your grandad…! And now my grandchildren call me Nana, which in France is what we would call a “dolly bird” :O So confusing.

While you muse on that with me, let me point out that a big orange M migros

(M, MM or MMM depending on the size of the shop) is what you will see all over Switzerland, something I have mentioned before, our national supermarket, the Migros (again, no idea why we call it “the” Migros, but there you go…!!). It’s our largest retail company (and one of the 40 largest in the world, not bad for tiny Switzerland!), founded 90 years ago by Gottlieb Duttweiler. One of the quirks is that Migros doesn’t sell alcohol or cigarettes, so often partners with other supermarkets (which in the meantime they have bought up) which do, in order to fulfil this requirement – few people in Switzerland can do without wine (or beer), though cigarettes is another matter! Not only is it a great supermarket with the best deals and lots of own brands, but it has its own travel agency, bank, petrol stations, recreation parks, insurance company and another trademark organisation, the Migros Club School, where you can learn languages or crafts, go to a gym or fitness class, do a whole variety of sports (incl. golf), learn to cook, apply make-up or get a qualification in marketing, computer studies or simply attend a class on the latest computer software… and all at much more reasonable prices than such things generally cost here. The Migros is an excellent and progressive employer, especially for youngsters entering training programmes, and is really a fantastic all-rounder, long since having introduced concepts such as organic, sustainability and recycling, way before most of the rest of the world. They aren’t paying me for this (unfortunately!) but I am a big fan so thought I’d just pass that on. Those who think Switzerland is expensive – go to Migros 🙂m-magazin

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7 thoughts on “M for Mami

  1. Quite right about -chen = das. Both Mädchen and Mädel are from Magd + chen/ el (same as -lein) so also das and nothing to do with maggots. No idea why Swiss Mamis are neuter! And the Migros has a fascinating story: Der Name «Migros» setzt sich aus den Elementen «demi» und «en gros» zusammen und bedeutet, dass in einem einzigen Unternehmen sowohl eine Grosshandels- als auch eine Detailhandelsorganisation bestehen.

  2. Certain dialects will confuse you even more with their gender designations; My friends from Aargau, Solothurn and Basel would say “en Frau” and thus use the masculine article when talking about “a woman”, as opposed to most other swiss dialects that say “e Frau” and thus are in accordance with the Germans that one should use a female article when in fact talking about a female. (We would always jokingly mistake their use of “en” for the mathematical “n”(which means “any number”) and ask how many women they were talking about. Children these days ;P )

    I remember talking with a multi-dilectual friend from canton Valais about the traits of Walliserdüütsch, since it’s still very much like Old German and sometimes terribly hard for other Swiss German speakers to understand – especially dialects like theThurgauer dialect, which is quite close to modern German. His stance on articles was that in the end they don’t really matter to “country folk”, as he put it. Comparable to the habit of farming families to call all of their children the same/similar names, where in the end the adults would just call them all “Boy!” or “Girl!”, everyone /knows/ that a Mother is female- how could it be any different? So semantic accuracy matters little to busy working people, as opposed to posh townspeople who need to impress one another.

    I could go on and on, but DH just chuckled over the length of tis comment, so I’ll shut up 😉

  3. Your grocery store offers all that? I’m impressed. Here the sale of alcohol is different by state as that’s one of the few things the states seem to be free to legislate on. In my state, alcohol is not permitted to be sold in stores. We have state run liquor stores where you can buy hard alcohol or wines but beer is able to be sold by independent businesses such as a beer distributor or bars (where you can buy six or twelve packs to take home). Tobacco, other than the states getting their taxes from it are sold at almost every store although a few have decided to stop carrying them because it doesn’t fit with their health conscious philosophy.

    As for names. Here mom or mommy is the most popular for mother, and dad for father. When it comes to grandparents it’s slightly different. Traditionally it was grandma or gram and grandpa, but recently grandparents don’t want to be called by these names because it makes them feel old so many request their grandchildren call them nana. My grandchildren call me different things. The oldest two called me grandma until their dad started to teach himself, and the kids, German. They liked the shorter Oma for grandmother and began calling me that to differentiate from their other grandmothers. The younger granddaughter when very little utter what sounded like Nama and the name stuck. As for the baby, I’ll just have to wait and see but my feeling is they can call me whatever they like. 🙂

    • Britain is similar to your system with alcohol (or used to be), with special stores selling it, known as “off-licences”, because “licenced” would be a pub… These days you can buy alcohol in supermarkets there, too.
      Here we have a relaxed attitude with less prohibition – kids can buy and drink wine and beer legally from 16 and spirits from 18, it’s no big deal and although there are of course always going to be some youngsters who will be excessive, on the whole, it’s all very easygoing. You have to be 18 to drive (and it’s very expensive to learn) and in the past few years they have introduced a trial period of 3 years for young drivers with a 0% alcohol tolerance plus extra advanced driving courses that are obligatory, which has helped a great deal with mature behaviour. So very different to the US.

    • My daughter asked us what we wanted to be called when they had their first baby – in our family we are so many generations living that we need to be able to distinguish between everyone!! We already have confusion with Granny and Great-Granny (mostly they just use Granny out of laziness, so the poor ladies aren’t always sure who is being addressed!! In truth she is a Great-great Granny!!) and the “other” grandparents wanted the traditional Swiss names of Grosi and Opi so I chose Nana… My own German grandmothers were Omi and Oma (again to distinguish) and my husband called his mother Mama, his grandmother Mami and his great-grandmother Ama…!!

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