Bauchpinseln: When you flatter someone to get in their favor, Germans will say you are “belly-brushing” that person

Literally: “to belly-brush” / meaning: To flatter someone to gain their favor

A German proverb says: “Not complaining is enough praise.” We are truly not the masters of lavishing compliments. For many expats, it’s a culture shock when they’ve just invested 80 euros in a trendy new haircut—and their German colleagues at work don’t even comment on the new looks, but just reel off the usual small talk about the weather. 

You might think that the few kind words you receive from Germans are meant all the more seriously. However, the concept of using feigned compliments as a weapon to win someone’s favor doesn’t seem to be beyond a German’s reach. After all, there is an extra word for it. Bauchpinseln is a term that was coined in the early 20th century and describes precisely this form of “tactical adulation.” 

The origin of the word is not fully clear. It could refer to the comforting feeling that comes from a brush stroke on your body. According to Wiktionary, a reference to lovemaking is also possible. Here, the basic idea would be that the man’s “best piece” takes on the role of the brush on the belly. As long as he receives a nice compliment from his partner for his performance, everyone should be happy in the end.


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