Another holiday-related cultural oddity I’m experiencing this week…here in Hamburg everyone I meet, from good friends to shop clerks, is wishing me “Guten Rutsch”. It seems a bit cruel, because literally translated, this means “good slide”. Are they hoping that I will fall over comically for their amusement (among all the ice and snow this year you see many signs saying “Rutschgefahr”, or “danger of slipping”)? No, they are hoping that I have a “good slide into the New Year”.
Of course Germans don’t hear this literally, as I as a non-native speaker do. To them it means simply “Happy New Year”. But why “slide” instead of just wishing people a Happy New Year? It’s an example of the German superstition that it is bad luck to wish someone well for an event that has not yet happened. For example, Germans do not wish someone happy birthday before midnight of the actual date of birth. In fact, many people usher in their birthday with champagne at exactly midnight on the day. Wishing someone a “good slide into the New Year” is a way to wish them well for the new year before midnight on New Years’ Eve, without jinxing them. Once that moment in time is passed, it is then appropriate to wish everyone Happy New Year. Which I will hear from friends and shopkeepers starting tomorrow.
Thanks to my husband for the cultural edification, and I wish everyone a Good Slide!