Not my Circus, Not my Monkeys: These Cute Illustrations Show The World Through Foreign Eyes

In today's beautiful and fun guest post, travel writer Matt Lindley is introducing "Idioms of the World", a collection of illustrations for idioms around the world. Idioms are a fun way to think about how other groups of people see the world, and they're always part of what keeps us entertained when diving into another language.

Matt is a language lover and digital content creator based in London. When he isn't at his laptop, Matt enjoys learning Polish, riding his bike and listening to experimental music. You can follow him on Twitter: @MattELindley. His illustrations were commissioned for Hotel Club.

What's in a Bunch of Words?

The idea for Idioms of the World really came about from two observations: The first was realising how interesting the topic of language and culture was. A chat with a friend about the foreign words that have been incorporated into the English language left me wondering:

  • Did we adopt the French word café because we associate France with good food and drink?

  • Did we incorporate the Spanish word siesta into our language because we associate Spain with chilled out afternoons?

The second observation, from my days as an EFL teacher, was realising how much students enjoyed learning idioms. This is what they always wanted to do, even when there were far more pressing things to learn first.

The appeal of foreign idioms comes from the fact that they are not the same the world over. The girl who's "a sandwich short of a picnic" in the UK will have "a spider on the ceiling" in France and "little monkeys in the attic" in Portugal.

I've always found idioms fascinating because they reveal unique aspects of the culture using them. Idioms tell us what matters to a nation, as could be the case with the German phrase "to live like a maggot in bacon", which means "to live the life of luxury".

What are these in their native languages?

What are these in their native languages?

Gems of Fun in Language Learning

A primary reason for learning a foreign language is to learn more about a culture. So it makes sense that idioms should be fun to learn and easy to remember, as they are literally bursting with culture.

For this piece, I asked artist and illustrator Marcus Oakley to draw ten of his favourite idioms from around the world. I hope they show the world in its linguistic glory and highlight how odd these little phrases are, which we sometimes use in our everyday speech without even realising.

I'd love it if you could share some of your favourite idioms in the comments. There really are more than you can shake a stick at.