Advent Calendar 21 – “Nailing it at Christmas dinner”

Written By: Emanuel Updated: April 6, 2021

Nailing it at Christmas dinner

Hello everyone,

wie geht’s :). Are you ready for the final stretch of the Advent Calendar?
Today we’ll take a quick look at something that will make you everybody’s darling at Christmas dinner:


  • And if you thought “Hmmm, that sounds kind of like mehhh.” then you’re spot on because going “Mehhhh” is the essence of mäkeln.
    When you look up mäkeln in a dictionary, you get to criticize. But that is way to general. And because mäkeln is hard to translate, let’s just look at an example…

    • “Oh… sind da Kapern in der Sauce? Ich mag Kapern nicht.”
      “Es sind drei Kapern auf deinem Teller. Soll ich die nehmen?”
      “Nee, is schon ok.”
      “Hmmm… oh… irgendwie sind die Kartoffeln echt trocken.”
      “Dann misch die mit Soße.”
      “Aber…. da sind ja Kapern drin.”
      “Ugh… willst du ein bisschen Butter?”
      “Oh… uh… ist das gesalzene Butter?!?!… oh puh… ist ECHT salzig.”

    • “Oh… are there capers in the sauce? I don’t like capers.”
      “There are three capers on your plate. Should I take them?”)

      “Nah, it’s okay.”

      “Hmmm… oh… the potatoes are really dry somehow.”
      “Then mix them with sauce.”
      “But … there are capers in there.”
      “Ugh… do you want a bit of butter?”

      “Oh… uh… is that salted butter?!?!… oh… phew… it’s REALLY salty.”

    THIS is mäkeln – this specific nagging way of complaining about even the smallest flaws just to express your discontent.
    Technically, you can do it with anything but it’s primarily used in context of food and there’s not only the verb but also a few related words.

    • Wenn wir bei meiner Oma sind, bitte bitte bitte mäkel nicht am Essen rum, so wie zu Hause.
    • When we’re at my grandma’s, please please please don’t keep criticize the food like you do at home.
    • Dein Gemäkel/deine Mäkelei geht mir auf die Nerven.
    • Your whining about the food goes on my nerves.
    • Hilfe, mein Sohn ist erst ein Jahr und schon echt mäkelig. Er will nur weiße Trüffel, schwarze nimmt er nicht.Was kann ich tun?
    • Help, my son is only three months old and already quite picky. He only wants white truffle, he doesn’t take the black ones. What can I do?
    • Thomas war als Kind ein echter Mäkelfritze.
    • Thomas was a real “food diva” as a kid.
      (no idea if there’s a better translation)

    Now, some of you (at least those who said they could read Nietzsche in the survey ;) might know the word der Makel. Der Makel is a  German word for flaw, defect and it would make a LOT of sense, if mäkeln was based on that. But actually, it’s not. The word der Makel comes from the Latin word macula, which meant flaw, stain. That’s actually also where macchiato comes from. It’s a coffee “stained” with milk.
    The word mäkeln on the other hand is thought to be related to the word der Makler and the verb makeln. If you’ve ever searched for an apartment in Germany, you might have heard those. A Makler is a basically agent, for real estate, yachts and stock and stuff like that,  and the core idea of the words is trading.
    And now imagine you’re on a market somewhere… what is an essential part of trading and bargaining? Trying to lower the price. And a really really really good way to do that is to find small flaws on the product.
    And then, it slowly made its way to the dinner table :). So if you cook a nice something for someone and they keep uttering minor complaints, just say…

    • Hör auf zu mäkeln.
    • Stop nagplaining.

    Yeah… nagplaining isn’t a word of course. It’s a mix of nagging and complaining and I think it best captures what mäkeln is.
    Or maybe English does have a good word, and I just didn’t find it. If so, let me know in the comments. And also, if English is not your native language… do you have a counterpart to mäkeln your language?
    That’s it for today, have a great day and bis morgen :).

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