Illustrated Idioms from Around the World

One of the major challenges of learning a new language, or moving to a new country, is understanding the quirky phrases and idioms that are unique to that particular culture.

Many idioms are steeped in cultural meaning, and don’t have a direct translation, creating a perfect recipe for mix-ups and miscommunication if you’re not a native speaker.

To highlight these linguistic quirks, Office supplies company Viking gathered idioms from its international workforce, then worked with award-winning illustrator Paul Blow to create these charming images, depicting each one in a literal sense. Looking at the results, it’s easy to understand how non-native speakers can become confused!

To Tie a Bear to Someone


This German phrase means to trick someone, or to use an English idiom, to pull the wool over someone’s eyes. It can also mean to confuse someone, which makes a lot of sense, as if you suddenly realised there was a bear attached to you, you might be perplexed as to how it got there.

To Swallow Some Camels


Originating from Norway, this phrase is similar to throwing in the towel, or giving up. The ‘camel’ perhaps referers to that moment in an argument when you realise that you’ve got the wrong end of the stick and have to swallow your pride.

My Cheeks Are Falling Off!


A bizarre literal translation, this Japanese idiom is used as a compliment when you’re eating a delicious meal. The origins are unclear, but we guess it may be due to chewing too vigorously and causing your face some discomfort, although we’re not 100% sure!

To Slide In On A Prawn Sandwich



A fantastic image, this Swedish phrase is used to describe someone who’s had an easy life. We all know someone who seems to come out on top in any given situation. So the next time you encounter a privileged individual who coasts through life, tell them they just slid in on a prawn sandwich.

When Chickens Have Teeth


Just like ‘when pigs fly’, this French phrase uses surreal animal imagery to express incredulity about a situation that is never going to happen. Related fact: chickens are born with one tooth, which they use to break from their shell, then it drops out.

As Cool as a Cucumber


A British phrase that can be used to describe someone who’s effortlessly cool, or someone who remains calm in all circumstances. Being composed under pressure is seen as a huge talent in British culture, and as anyone who’s tried catching the tube in rush hour can attest, it’s a worthwhile ability.

The Raisin At The End Of A Hotdog


In Iceland, finding a raisin at the end of a hotdog is perceived as a pleasant surprise, which is unusual, because it’s an unusual flavour combination to say the least. Although it’s not as shocking that the country that birthed Bjork likes to be quirky with their language.

To Have Hair on Ones Teeth


A surreal phrase originating in the Netherlands, to have hair on your teeth is to be assertive and comitted. This idiom could be used to describe someone who aggressively pursues their own goals, and has subsequently achieved success at a young age.

Not All Donuts Come With a Hole


Hailing from Italy, this idiom deals with the sad realities of life. It is used in situations when things just aren’t fair, when sometimes, through no fault of your own, you’re handed a metaphorical donut with a soggy middle. Devastating.

Mustard After Lunch


This Polish phrase means to receive something after the appropriate time has passed, for example, if you need a lift somewhere, and one is offered after you’ve already gotten into a taxi. After all, who wants to eat mustard by itself?


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