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I am a localization manager/translator and intercultural consultant living in Berlin (Germany), passionate about languages, cultures, diversity management, dancing and good movies.  

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

False friends can be very tricky while trying to be classy, or the secret and exclusive club of colourful people

[Red total look: something not so usual in the streets of Berlin...
if it is not Fashion Week]

Dezent is one of those German words that, while speaking Italian as a native speaker, could be easily misunderstood. Dezent is in fact what in linguistics is called a 'false friend', a word in a foreign language that seems to be very similar to some words in your own language, but that actually has a completely different meaning.

False friends can be very tricky while learning a new language, while living abroad, while working in an international working environment, while translating a text.

Dezent can be very tricky not only as a false friend, but also while trying to be classy...

In Italian 'decente' refers to something that is respectable, proper, decorous, and more over something consistent with the morality codes accepted/considered normal in the country.
In German 'dezent' refers to something that is discreet, restrained, unobtrusive.

Having a dezent appearance (clothes, shoes, make up, hairstyle, jewellery, not too much perfume) is a sign of understatement and elegance, while not having a dezent appearance means that you are noticeable, (usually not in a good way) outstanding or even flamboyant.

Do you want to be classy while living in Germany? Then, well, you have to know what is dezent and what not.

In Berlin (and probably in the rest of Germany and in other Northern European countries like Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands too...) most of people tend to wear in most cases very dezent colours like blue and dark blue, gray, green and dark green, beige, champagne, écru, ochre, white and of course black (but not too much). 

[Selma Blair as Vivian Kensington
in Legally Blonde (2001) by Robert Luketic
In a German word: dezent]

Of course people do wear also red, pink, yellow, orange, purple, indigo and neon colours as well, but usually not that much, not too often, and not as a total look.
The situation can be different among the famous Berlin hipsters, goth boys and girls, graffiti artists, designers, actors and the like, but while taking a walk in Berlin you would notice that most people don't wear too much colours and that people like me, that wear almost only purple and black or just one colour as a total look, are often stared at.

Because of it, I usually consider very funny and beautiful when two people in total look or with a very colourful appearance meet each other. It doesn't matter if they are wearing the same colour or not, because they have a lot in common anyway. 

They share the same love for colours. They are brave. They often don't care to be stared at or what dezent people think of them. They enjoy the colours and that's all. 

And as members of a very bunt and exclusive club, they recognize each other immediately and, very often, they smile at each other without saying anything. They don't need it. Both already know everything they need to know.

[Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods
in Legally Blonde (2001) by Robert Luketic
For sure member of a very bunt and exclusive club]

Today I was wearing purple and black clothes, as usual, and my favourite Cat shoes. I came across a woman on the street. We looked at each other for a second, we smiled at each other without saying anything and then we kept walking.
She was wearing pink glasses, a red blouse, a pink skirt, pink stockings, red shoes, a pink coat, a red purse and her umbrella was red.
I was so happy, as I would have met a close friend of mine. And so I smiled again, happy to share a special secret with a stranger.

Do you enjoy a total look sometimes?
If yes, which colours?
What is the word for dezent in your language?

Tags: Dezent appearance, False friends in linguistics, Total look, Wearing colours, Legally Blonde

Further information:
False friends: their origin and semantics in some selected languages by Pedro J. Chamizo Domınguez and Brigitte Nerlich


  1. I don't know if I'd survive in Berlin then.. ;) I always have differents socks (that you don't see by walking on the road, but can be noticed at your friends' home, or in the gym etc), I have a long sleeve shirt under a short sleeve tshirt.. all on the contrary and everything with powerful colours.. they're therapic.. ;)

  2. I am sure that you would survive...
    But for sure you would be considered eccentric and maybe a little strange, most of the time strange in a good way though.

    But you would be definitely a "bunter Vogel" (German for "colourful bird"), expression used to describe someone a little bit bizarre.