Jamie Oliver in German

One of the most bizarre cultural experiences on German TV is the German-dubbed version of Jamie Oliver’s Naked Chef. Repeats of the first series are nearly over, on Saturday mornings on RTLII. Maybe they’ll repeat the later series next.

So bizarre is the German dubbing that I was obliged to get a DVD so I could compare the English and German versions.

Jamie Oliver is quite a media curiosity in the original, and here he is shown on German TV to viewers who have not gradually been prepared by watching Gary Rhodes, Nigella Lawson, The Two Fat Ladies and Nigel Slater, and for whom one of the most exciting TV food programmes is the avuncular Alfred Biolek with guests. It must be a shock.

Presumably to outdo the competition, he is shown outside the kitchen only in action, sliding down the banisters, dashing out on his scooter (blurred images) to small shops where everyone knows him. In most episodes he has met up with friends to engage in activities new to him (going to dog races, go-karting). How far is he, or was he in this first programme, a product of the media?

This must have been made with an international market in mind, and conveniently most of the recipes need no quantities or adaptation, although things like double cream or the coriander leaves you can get on every corner (but not in Franconia) are glossed over. The idea is good ingredients, half a pound of fresh herbs on everything, and quick simple dishes, often very good. (The recipes can often be found on the Internet, including on the RTLII site linked above and on the BBC site).

The main problem for the translator seems to be Jamie’s Mockney (mock Cockney) speech. He comes from North Essex and his sister sounds much more normal. I don’t think it’s quite estuary English that he speaks – perhaps he started with estuary and then played up the Cockney element. An example:
JO: I’m gonna lightly flour the old surface (‘the old’)
DE: Als erstes etwas Mehl.

For more examples, continue reading.Oliver lays the Cockney on in spades, whether at the suggestion of the producer or for his own purposes. I wouldn’t describe this as a kind of youth slang – it’s Cockney as it’s been spoken for decades. Perhaps Berlinerisch would be an equivalent, but it wouldn’t be widely accepted, and anyway I think the project originated in Austria.

Instead of using a normal straightforward High German, the translation tries to create a kind of Jugendsprache that doesn’t quite convince, the less so because it is delivered in an unconvincing voice. The translator seems to regard Oliver’s style of speaking as worth preserving in German, but fails to understand its quality. The voice is the worst thing. It doesn’t sound relaxed, and it constantly makes fake pauses that are not in the original ‘umm … er …’ I noted:

das kommt super
zum Niederknien
Mal sehen, ob die Johnnies hier schon fertig sind.
Guck dir die Babies an – die sehen klasse aus. (Those little round bits – they look dead cool).
Das wars – fertig – easy peasy.
Einfach nur schälen und die Bestie kleinhacken (Peel it and finely chop the old boy).
und was den Rest von diesem Monster angeht (with regards to this lot: [referring to a Savoy cabbage head])
Plop, weg sagts denn? (There you go.)
So hast du ein echt strange aussehendes Metallbeutelchen (You’ve got like these really strange like metal handbags like).

The use of English words in German is familiar, but I can’t say I’ve heard ‘easy peasy’, ‘Johnnies’ or ‘strange’ before.

Oliver’s accent is often criticized in Britain – in fact a web search will turn up some hate sites – and often, I get the impression, liked in the USA. It’s true that the German speaker does not have Oliver’s lisp, but I find him more irritating because of the mismatch between text and voice.

(Can anyone tell me if Loyd Grossman’s accent is genuine, that is, spoken by anyone other than him? Surely they don’t speak like that in Boston?)

6 thoughts on “Jamie Oliver in German

  1. Allegedly Jamie Oliver is going to open a restaurant here in Holland to teach the art of cooking to Dutch kids….To be honest, I wouldn’t eat anything cooked by someone who ‘chucks’ ingredients around and calls food ‘pukka’.
    Like you, I am curious about Grossman’s accent, but also: is Nigella like the rest of us, i.e. a size 16?

  2. Paul, I’ll note that. I want to post something on a site on estuary English – it was too much to put in here.

    Isabella: I take your point on Nigella Lawson, but television is supposed to make you look fatter, and I have seen a photo of her as a rather tall and skinny teenager, so maybe. She certainly conveys an impression of sheer indulgence!
    Have you seen all those programmes on wonderful undubbed Dutch TV?

  3. Margaret,

    Yes, I saw all the programs on the undubbed Dutch TV and on the BBC. I love food programs, although I can only boil and fry (not very Italian, I’m afraid) ;-)

  4. That Geezer – whose North German dubbing drives Austrian TV viewers mad using Kartoffel instead of Erdäpfel for spuds, Mohrrüben for Karrotten/ carrots, Aprikosen for Marillen/apricots and, worst of all for some queasy locals, Meerrettich for Kren as in horse radish – has also got his German imitators:

    Schmeckt nicht, gibt’s nicht from Hamburg on Vox TV on which – according to my Haubenköchin wife – Austrian dishes are all turned into Hamburgers .

    There’s also a young boy Zacherl on Pro Sieben TV: Einfach kochen! who invites bigwigs onto the set. On Viva, there’s Das jüngste Gericht (dish/ court)on which a young chef /cook invites spaced- and freaked-out young pop stars onto the show to rustle up something ‘echt cool, Mensch’ – like baked beans on toast..

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