Friday, September 30, 2011

The Sunshine Theory

I’d like to start with a few weather statistics about Aachen and my hometown.

In San Diego the average monthly temperatures ranges from 14.1°C (57.3°F) to 22.5°C (72.5 °F), although late summer and early autumn are typically the hottest times of the year with temperatures occasionally reaching 32°C (90 °F) or higher. San Diego has on average 150 sunny days per year and 120 partly cloudy days (probably most during the “May gray, June gloom” period). The average precipitation is 300 mm (less than 12 inches) per year. On average, San Diego sees some 40-50 days with precipitation per year, with the longest dry period (no rainfall) being 196 days. I guess it’s pretty obvious that there is rarely snowfall in San Diego.

Aachen on the other hand, is a bit different. There is no real average temperature as it tends to change based on the season. In January it can be anywhere from 0 to -5°C (32 to 25°F). In the peak of summer (July-August) it is in the 20s, sometimes 30s°C (70s-80s°F). On average Aachen has about 60-70 sunny days per year and receives approximately 200-300 mm (8-12 inches) of precipitation per month, or about 140-150 wet days per year with the longest dry period being only 36 days (without rainfall). Aachen can also receive up to 50 days of snow per year.

Why am I discussing weather? Well my friends Andy and Emily were cruising around Germany/Holland over the last week and made the trip to Aachen to hang out for the day. Here they are enjoying a late night pizza after arriving Wednesday evening.
I must also say that in the last week Aachen has enjoyed absolutely gorgeous weather. Almost cloudless skies and warm and friendly temperatures that make you think it’s the middle of July, not the end of September. From what I understand, they arrived in Frankfurt last Friday, which is around the time this spell of beautiful weather began. I got to thinking about how fantastic this weather Is and couldn’t help but wonder if there is some correlation between the nice temperatures and the Californians who were visiting. Back in April, which is a notoriously finicky month when it comes to weather in Aachen, my mom came to visit and we enjoyed the two nicest weeks of weather Aachen has seen so far in 2011 (in my opinion). No joke, it was like summer came two months early. We even had to go shopping to buy her some lighter clothes because she packed too many sweaters! It didn’t even rain until the day before she left! I told her she was getting a false impression of German weather, but hey, it was so beautiful who cared?

Look at those smiles! Sunshine tends to bring out the smiles in people here. So I couldn’t help but notice that in these periods of unseasonably wonderful weather, Aachen had visitors from southern California. It’s a typical joke to say “We brought the sunshine with us.” But honestly, you start to wonder if that is in fact what happened! I have this theory about good weather in Aachen. Whenever it’s sunny and warm, most people will do whatever they can to be outside. Just walking through the city you see all the outdoor cafés and restaurants filled with people sitting in the sun, probably one of five people is walking around with an ice cream and any time you talk to someone one of the first things you comment on is how lovely the weather is and what you have been doing to take advantage of it.

Here we are atop the Lousberg. Sidenote, after I politely asked (auf Sie, of course) a gentleman basking in the sun to take a picture, he asked me (also auf Sie) where we come from as is often the case that Germans usually notice when I speak that I'm not German and ask where I'm from. I told him we're from the states, he asked which one, I said California and he said (in English) he was a professor of liquid mechanics at taught at Yale in the 1970s. It's a small world after all!

Having grown up in a region where sunny days are the norm, and cold is any time it dips below 60°F (15°C) you tend to take good weather for granted. I even know of southern Californians who say they enjoy rainy days (probably because of the novelty) and even wish for more of them in a year. Moving here has made me appreciate the potential in a good sunny day. When you spend an entire month with clouds and rain, and suddenly the sky opens up and you can feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, there is just no way to describe how great it feels! My mom and I enjoying some beers at the Öcherbend (a fair in Aachen)

Friday is meant to be another fantastic day here in Aachen so I am on my way out to enjoy it now. But in order to further corroborate my theory about the potential of Californians to bring friendly weather to Aachen I will need more of you to come visit, preferably during the months of November-March! Have a sunny weekend!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Word of the week: duzen

Duzen- mit Du anreden (to address someone with Du [informal] you) „Du“ signalisiert soziale Nähe, Sympathie, Intimität. „Sie“ steht für soziale Distanz, Neutralität und Respekt (Du indicates closeness, sympathy and intimacy. Sie stands for social distance, neutrality and respect)

I had to think of this verb over the weekend when I saw someone whom I’d met a while ago and had seen on several occasions before. I didn’t know whether to address him formally (as he is older than I am) or informally (we’ve met several times before). The first time I heard this verb in context was one day at work earlier this year, and I had no idea what it meant until it was explained to me. To give you a little context, this happened in the copy room of a school where I teach. I was having difficulties doing something on the machine and a professor offered to help me. I had crossed paths with this gentleman a few times before (in the copy room and hallways), and we had previously introduced ourselves so he knew who I was. He wanted to show me something and started by saying “Du musst…” (you must…) and then asked “Wir können duzen, oder?" 

Now let me walk you through a common situation in my day to day life, wherein someone has just asked me a question but I do not know what the verb in the question means, so naturally I end up with a deer in the headlights look. When you are new in a language it’s natural to first translate things into your L1 (native language) in your head, which is what I did, and ended up with the English question “We can (unknown verb), right?” I replied, “Bitte?” which is the equivalent of, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand.” He then went on to explain the meaning of the verb, namely to address each other informally, as opposed to formally (siezen). 

I’ve encountered the formal versus informal question before when studying Spanish. I had always learned that there is an Usted form, used to address someone formally. In Italian this kind of distinction, from what I remember, was more relevant in written form (addressing someone formally) than in spoken form, where it was mostly familiar (informal). However, I should admit I don’t have much experience with using either language in social or work situations in a country where it’s spoken natively (like I do with German). Most of the time when I would address someone it was on familiar terms (tu in both Spanish and Italian) as when I did speak in these languages it was usually somewhere that wasn’t a Spanish speaking or Italian speaking country, thus the concept of formality was somehow pushed aside. This distinction based on interpersonal relationships is something speakers of English find dodgy at times, as we don’t have such a difference when addressing other people, it’s always just “you.” I found a flow chart that through a series of questions can diagnose a social situation to determine whether Du or Sie should be used and found it to be quite a good summary. 

I like the part where it asks “Have you gotten drunk with this person?” where if the answer is “yes,” then the Du form is acceptable. I guess it stands to reason that drinking with someone to the point of intoxication would engender mutual informality, perhaps some degree of informality we’d rather (and with some cases do in point of fact) forget. But what about the majority of times you want to address someone without a liter of beer or cocktail in your hand? As a non-native speaker I can recall plenty of times I walked away from a conversation with someone where I thought, “Why did I use the Du form with that person?” As we’ve seen so far the answer to that question is dependent on a number of factors considering, but not limited to: the social proximity to that person (is this a co-worker, a clerk in a shop, a stranger?), whether or not it’s the first encounter, where this encounter is taking place, what are you doing at the time, all of these preferably considered before the conversation, not after. 

What even further complicates the matter is that using the Sie form with someone you could have used the Du form with can be equally embarrassing given the connotations, namely those associated with the Sie form, which the other person may feel in the given context did not apply to them. I face this situation often when I address people the same age (or thereabouts) and I just let the context influence the level of formality. If you know the person, obviously informal is acceptable. If it’s a friend of a friend, informal is also fine. If it’s a shop or any kind of service encounter, I go with Sie. If it’s the first time meeting someone and I’m not sure, I start with Sie the first few verbs, then just switch to Du, as if the previous two or three minutes of interaction imply a new level of familiarity (beyond our common age range). But with people older than me I default to Sie.

So then is it simply an issue of age? Should I just use the Sie form with people who are older than me, and the Du form for people younger than me or of the same age group? Well, yes and no. I can think of times when people younger than me have addressed me with the Sie form. However, I can also think of plenty of people older than me that I use the Du form with as well as people older than me who have addressed me in the Sie form. On the same token of Du indicating a shared feeling of closeness, I think someone older than you addressing you with the Sie form can also be considered tantamount to a mutual respect, which is to say, someone else (probably someone you yourself would have addressed as Sie) also considers you in a formal capacity. 

There are hierarchies in social interaction that are apparent regardless if people discuss them or not. In any given situation these thoughts and questions are in the background where you try to figure out exactly how you fit in the mix in relation to others, all of this is subtly dictating the choices you make on how to address the person you are speaking to. Is there a degree of authority to consider? For example when in the immigration office it’s clear that I address the person opposite me with the Sie form, not the informal Du form as obviously the person on the other end of the table is an authority figure, namely, a state authority figure (beurocrat or Beamter). When you address someone with Du, does that also imply that you are friends with that person? Is it like we are both members of the Du Club, where we both consider each other equals? In short, yeah, kind of. There’s something about a “Du” conversation that feels more relaxed than a “Sie” conversation, and I dare say, more familiar. Sometimes the topics can even change when you are “auf Du” with someone, which is to say, you may talk about different topics with someone you consider on an informal level than you would with someone on a formal level, and the differences between those topics (perhaps ones that are more personal) may lead to this perceived difference in closeness which pervades the discussion of Du versus Sie.

To the best of my understanding, the question of formal or informal is one of context and tacit permission. There are some cases, as I have found in the work place and other social settings, (“Die Du Grenze,” the Du borders) where you are not sure and by mistake could cross the line of perceived appropriateness and address someone as Du where you should have used Sie, which can be a bit embarrassing, particularly for the person who used the wrong form. Then there are cases, such as my copy room story, where someone offers the use of the familiar form directly and you know it is acceptable. My personal rule for “duzen,” is to keep in mind the context of the conversation, consider the relation to the other person and more often than not, you’ll know which way to go.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


During my senior year at UCSB in the fall of 2008 I went to a talk given by Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez who were running as independents in the election. At that point in time I was pretty sure I knew where my vote was going, but I still wanted to hear what he had to say. It was an eclectic audience, ranging in attendance from scholars and university administrators, to journalists and media representatives, Nader supporters, as well as Nader protestors, and probably more than a few people like myself who were just there to partake in the experience.

I remember leaving before the event had come to a proper close as suddenly a Nader campaign worker started straight up asking the audience to give them money. After all the key speakers had finished, this guy takes the stage to talk more about the campaign, how hard they work to get recognition, how much it costs to travel throughout the country and then eventually asks point blank, “Who here in this room is willing to commit a thousand dollars to support Ralph Nader’s campaign?” What followed can only be described as one of the most uncomfortable silences I have ever been party to. In fact I think he started at some higher number like two thousand and after the first uncomfortable silence lowered his initial request to a more manageable amount. Let’s face it, it’s unlikely that you’ll find someone willing to spontaneously donate a thousand dollars in a room filled by and large with university students, which if they were anything like me at that time, were facing student loan debt, credit card debt and an unwelcoming job market where liberal arts degrees aren’t the most coveted commodity in the midst of a banking crisis and impending economic meltdown, and who didn’t even have a hundred to spare, let alone for campaign contributions. But I digress… What follows below is taken from a notebook where I scribbled random quotes and ideas from throughout the talk (some may be paraphrased)

“You keep voting for winners but you keep losing.” (Gonzalez on the two parties)
“In what other society do people have to be persuaded to vote for someone who espouses their beliefs?” (Nader on obstructions facing third party candidates in a “bi-party dualopoly” wherein voters end up “supporting the last worse candidate.”)
"Corporate crime, put crooks in cells" (Nader on Wall street criminality)
“Why do artificial entities (corporations) have the same constitutional rights and protections as humans who vote?” (Nader on the Fed’s bailouts)
"Cut military budget, solar energy, no nuclear power"
"Consumer distraction, corporate sleight of hand” (Nader on lack of action against aforementioned corporations)
Nader’s closing line, a Chinese proverb, “To know and not to do is not to know."

Why am I talking about Ralph Nader and what has he got to do with pirates? These are excellent questions. I was reminded of smaller party politics as I was watched the news on Sunday evening, which reported the results of Berlin’s recent state election. I guess it’s worth taking a minute to do a brief explanation of this election and the structure of German government in general. Please bear in mind that I am neither an expert on government [especially not on one as complex and layered as Germany’s] nor am I politically inclined [in Germany] as I am not allowed to vote here.

The election on the 18th was a state election wherein constituents (people of Berlin) voted for members of Berlin’s parliament (141 seats up for election) and the city mayor. There are a number of German political parties; the majors, namely those who have seats and thus influence in the federal legislative body (Bundestag), are: the Christian Democratic Union, Christian Social Union, Social Democratic Party, Free Democratic Party, The Left, and The Greens. In the interest of brevity, and because I am not fully able to explain all the differences between the parties, a list will have to do. But suffice it to say, it’s a multi-party system. In addition to the big hitters there are other political parties represented in state parliaments (such as Berlin’s) and other minor parties, which run the political spectrum of causes (Social Equality Party, Feminist Party, Ecological Democratic Party, the list goes on and on).

So the polls close and after all the votes are counted the new layout of Berlin’s parliament is drawn up. How many seats were won or lost by the respective parties? Do individual parties account this election in terms of losses or gains from the last state election, which for Berlin was in 2006? Has there been a shift in majority representation? Is there a new coalition? (A crude explanation of political coalitions: when different political parties ally themselves. For example, the previous coalition in Berlin was known as “red red” [different political parties have different colors] consisting of the Social Democratic Party and The Left, a coalition that spans from the center-left to the left). These are the typical questions reported on after an election.

The post-election stats are published and what was interesting about this election for Berlin was that a freshman on the ticket, the Pirate Party (in its first state election), cleaned up 15 seats in this election, about 9% of the voter turnout. Who are the Pirates? Well actually it’s an international political movement active in 33 countries that has its beginnings in Sweden. The flagship Pirate Party has members present in the European Parliament and owes much of its following to a 2006 Swedish police raid of a facility hosting the Pirate Bay, a file sharing website which is also a board member of the Pirate Party. The police seized all servers and as a trial was put into motion Sweden’s Pirate Party membership surged in response to the website’s shutdown, more than doubling its size in just a few days. In the most recent European Parliament elections Pirates captured 7% of the Swedish vote. In Germany, the Pirate Party was founded a bit later in 2006 and like its predecessor suddenly gained a huge following. The support came in 2009 in response to a piece of legislation that resulted in blocking certain websites. The legislation, interpreted by some as a slippery slope to censorship, prompted tens of thousands of people to sign a petition on the Pirate Party’s website to voice their opposition to the law. The petition was signed by 134,000 people -- the largest number of people to ever put their names on a single Bundestag petition.

The Pirates aim to “bridge the gap” between the ever growing Internet generation, which uses the Internet to exchange and gather information, and the contemporary politicians who according to the Pirate Party are “of a different generation,” and thus have a different take on information privacy and regulation, copyright and patents including Internet piracy, for example, the term which inspired the party’s name. The Pirate Party, who wants to ensure that downloads for personal use are legal, appeals to interests of a considerable sector of young voters and now has a foot in the door. It remains to be seen what kind of role this fledgling party will now play in the state’s parliament. Perhaps over a few decades the Pirates will be as prevalent in Parliament as the Greens, who 30 years ago also had humble beginnings in Germany. Incidentally the Pirate Party pillaged a reported 17,000 former Green Party voters in Sunday’s election. As I said this Pirate movement has gone international with active parties all around the world. I wonder if the Pirates could ever aspire to fairly notable third party status in the US…

Monday, September 19, 2011

Word of the week: spazieren gehen

Spazieren gehen- sich in gemütlichem Tempo zu Fuß fortbewegen, meist ohne Ziel (to walk at a comfortable pace, most of the time without a goal [destination])

It may seem at first glance that my first attempt at a word of the week post is rather uninspired, but hear me out. When you talk about walking in German, naturally there are different kinds of walking to consider. The verb I’ve chosen is one used quite often as something to do on a nice day, or when you come home from work and want a little fresh air, or just any time you feel like not being inside. This is contrasted to the verb “zu Fuß gehen” (to go by foot, to walk), which is not so much an activity in and of itself as spazieren gehen is, but rather, a way of getting somewhere. When you use this you are saying that you went somewhere by foot, so since there is a destination (Ziel) it’s understood in a different manner, namely recreation (spazieren gehen) vs. mode of transportation (zu Fuß gehen).

There are even more verbs which all describe the same activity but have very distinct connotations. Another example is “latschen” which I cannot think of a direct English translation for (traipse?) and I’m pretty sure is an informal kind of German. In any case, it is still understood as walking, but therefore it is probably used to describe a longer trip that made you tired at the end. When you use this word you aren’t necessarily recalling the experience as a pleasant one. Another one I like is “bummeln,” which is basically the same as spazieren gehen but slower and more often than not a way to pass the time. For example, when you have an hour to kill before you meet up with someone or what you do in Aachen on a Sunday afternoon after having coffee and cake.

So going back to the original word of the week, I wanted to describe where I went on a recent walk. There’s a little hill close by called the Lousberg, which offers a nice view of Aachen and a little nature to boot. At the base of the hill is a statue containing a story used to tell the origin of the Lousberg

Side note: some German words are simply a sum of their parts, so to deduce the meaning of the name we look at the parts, namely Berg, which in German means “mountain.” Then we come to the first part of the name “lous,” there are a couple other explanations offered, but the one depicted in this statue is that in the Aachener dialect (Oecher) “lous,” is understood in German as “schlau” (clever, sly, tricky). So this is a tricky mountain? Well, the story presented on the statue explains that the mountain itself isn’t clever, but rather the events that resulted in its creation have some examples of trickery. There are other versions of the origin of the Lousberg, but I quite like this one.

Get ready my friends, because to explain this story (of the Lousberg) I have to tell another story! Another notable landmark in Aachen is the Dome. It is over 1200 years old (the oldest cathedral in northern Europe) and according to a story about the construction of the Dome, the celver Aacheners convinced the devil to help them build the massive cathedral by pulling a classic bait and switch. In exchange for a large sum of money, the Aacheners promised to give the devil the soul of the first human who entered the cathedral upon its completion, but they actually presented the devil with a wolf they’d hunted in the forest. As expected the devil reacted quite aggresively to this and in his rage pounded on a door. This story explains an imprint still present on a cathedral door.

So the devil is pissed and true to form feels a spot of revenge is in order. He goes all the way to the North Sea and collects a bunch of sand in a sack with the intent of burying Aachen’s cathedral. He shleps (fun fact, shlep is a loan word in English from the German word schleppen, to carry [something heavy]) this ton of sand back in the direction of Aachen. Keep in mind that the Lousberg sits just outside the city. The story goes that as the devil was carrying this bunch of sand he got a bit tired and along his way came across an old woman and asked her how much further until Aachen. The woman was quite clever as she noticed that the man asking had a hoof for a foot and explained “Look at my shoes, I got them new in Aachen today and here they are tattered from the long journey.” The devil did not feel like carrying this sand much further, so in a fit of anger he threw the sack of sand on the ground and left. This is just one story of the Lousberg.

 Me and my mom atop the Lousberg, you can see the Dome behind in the distance.  

That was the word of the week, when was the last time you went for a walk?

Thursday, September 15, 2011


 One thing I definitely miss is the independence afforded by having your own car. I was very fortunate growing up and with the help of my parents (and a job scooping ice cream), I was able to buy my first car shortly after I turned 16. 

This car took me through the rest of high school and four years of college including countless trips back and forth from San Diego to Santa Barbara. In San Diego you need a car to do pretty much everything and most trips involve at least some time spent on a freeway. However, a European city like Aachen is laid out much differently than a major metropolitan city in southern California, which is to say it’s more pedestrian friendly. I can find a supermarket, a pharmacy and a bakery without walking more than five minutes from my front door. There is also the added benefit that all the places I work are within a five-minute walk to a train station or bus stop. But suppose I do some day want to start driving here, how would I make that happen?

Now in my mid-twenties, thinking back to when I got my driver’s license seems like a lifetime ago. It was just kind of a routine thing to do, wait until you're fifteen and a half to take a driver’s training course, which from what I recall entailed sitting in a room with other eager pre-motorists “reading” the California driver’s handbook for six weekends at which point you get the certificate of completion, then pass a 46 question test, and presto, you have a provisional permit to drive! After just six months with your permit and six hours of certified driver training (I can remember one of my driver training instructors had me take him to Carl’s Jr. so he could refill his soda. He had a cup from Burger King), you can take the road test at the department of motor vehicles, so long as a parent certifies you’ve had at least 50 hours of behind the wheel practice. That was it, just a little bit of legwork, mostly waiting, and in California a license is yours to be had. If you’re over 18 you don’t even have to take driver’s training, you can just go to the DMV, fill out a few forms, give a thumbprint, take an eye test and a traffic laws test and you are road legal.

In Germany, driving is a privilege. Obviously if you’re going to let people drive without speed limits on Autobahns, you want to make sure they know a thing or two before they’re out there. But like so many other aspects of German life, being a foreigner adds a little extra fun into the process. As it turns out, any tourist can legally drive in Germany so long as they are here less than six months. After six months you are required to have a German license if you want to drive. Are you European? No worries, your license is valid in Germany. Are you Canadian? Hey, you can drive here, too! Now some American states are fortunate enough that the German government may grant total exemption from the testing portion of the process. That means without taking a written theoretical exam or a practical road test, some American expats, 26 states in total, can get a German license with just a little paperwork (plus a vision test and first aid course, yes all German drivers are first aid certified!). Some states, 10 in total, are partially exempt from the process, where only a theoretical written exam is required.

After reliving what I went through to get a license, it’s no wonder that California is one of fourteen states that enjoys zero license reciprocity from the German government, which is to say, I have to start from scratch. I have to pass both the theoretical and road test, plus complete a first aid course, as well as complete (I think) at least 25 hours of certified (and we're talking German certified here, they mean business!) behind the wheel practice. What is the theoretical road test exactly? Well, simply put it’s a set of 30 questions, varying in point value from two to five points per question. Some questions are multiple choice, some you have to complete with a specific number, for example: a distance in meters, a speed in kilometers per hour, a weight in kilograms, lots of fun facts to be memorized. In order to pass you cannot have more than minus ten points from the total score. Did I mention that each question has two or three answer choices and also can have more than one correct answer? Just to make it extra bitter, if on a question with two correct answers you only get one, you don’t get partial points, you just get minus the number of points that question is worth. So when you do a quick and dirty calculation, you come to the conclusion that you probably shouldn’t miss more than two questions if you want to be within a shot of the passing score.

Now with respect to the content of the test, as a California driver I am extremely daunted. In California, you're tested on general road safety and conduct, and traffic laws. Here you are expected to anticipate the movements of pedestrians, particularly children, the elderly, and those who are physically impaired. You also have to consider any number of hypothetical situations involving other users of public roads, which includes other motorists, cyclists, horseback riders, drivers of animal carts, farm vehicles, buses and trams, large trucks and sometimes deer. These hypothetical situations may also involve any number of variable factors such as extreme weather conditions (wind, rain, snow, ice, fog), reduced visibility, towing a trailer, driving within or outside a built-up area or even the time of day. In addition to being able to anticipate the correct road conduct for unbelievably specific road scenarios, a person who wants to drive in Germany must also know a thing or two about their car. What does a catalytic converter do? What is the minimum profile (in millimeters) your tires must have? What can cause a car to pull to the right? How does tire pressure affect handling (on ice?)? What can cause a diesel engine to emit smoke? How do you reduce fuel consumption and pollutant emissions? Also there are the road signs to get used to, completely different than road signs in the states. There are even formulas to memorize to calculate braking distance in meters from speed in kilometers per hour, or how far you travel per second in meters based on speed in kilometers per hour. It really is a lot to take in.

Just to give you an idea of where I’m coming from I’d like to compare some questions from a California license exam and a German theoretical exam (X indicates a correct answer):

You are approaching a railroad crossing with no warning devices and are unable to see 400 feet down the tracks in one direction. The speed limit is:
X 15 mph
    20 mph
    25 mph

You are approaching a level crossing (railroad crossing) with half barriers and flashing lights. The red light is flashing but the barrier is still open. What do you do?:
    Proceed as long as the half barrier is still open
X Wait in front of St. Andrew’s Cross (the road sign that indicates a level crossing)
    If no rail vehicle is in sight, cross the level crossing

When parking your vehicle parallel to the curb on a level street.
    Your front wheels must be turned toward the street.
X Your wheels must be within 18 inches of the curb.
    One of your rear wheels must touch the curb.

Where are you allowed to park a trailer with a permissible total mass exceeding 2 tons in built-up areas regularly on Sundays and public holidays between 10p and 6a?
X In industrial areas
X In wholly residential areas, on specially designated parking spaces
    In special areas reserved for recreation purposes, on sufficiently wide roads

You are about to make a left turn. You must signal continuously during the last ____ feet before the turn. 
X 100

What must you be prepared for when a truck in front of you wishes to turn right into a narrow street? The truck will:
X  Swing out to the left before turning
Reduce speed drastically
     Move well over to the right

When driving in fog, you should use your:
    Fog lights only.
    High beams.
X Low beams.

When are you allowed to use fog headlamps during the day? When the visibility is reduced:
 X By fog or falling snow
     By ice on the windscreen
 X By rain

If you plan to pass another vehicle, you should:
X  Not assume the other driver will make space for you to return to your lane.
     Assume the other driver will let you pass if you use your turn signal. 
     Assume the other driver will maintain a constant speed.

What must you remember about distance when overtaking?
     To maintain a greater lateral distance from multiple-track vehicles than from single-track vehicles
 X To maintain an adequate lateral distance primarily from pedestrians and cyclists
 X Not to inconvenience the vehicle you have overtaken when you pull into the right again

I guess it will still be a while before you see me cruising on the Autobahn. Until then, I’ll just take the bus.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Loan words

Over the years I've studied a number of languages. It started in high school with Spanish, then in college I studied Italian. I must admit once you've studied a foreign language (not necessarily mastered it), adding a new one into the mix can become problematic. Once I started studying Italian I would sometimes use a Spanish word instead of an Italian one (aeropuerto instead of aeroporto, for example). When I studied abroad I had the luxury of asking Italian friends to check (or control as they say) my homework. For a while I would get my essays and letters back filled with circled words all of which I was told were Spanish, not Italian. Or there was the awkward moment when I was in Spain (also after I had started studying Italian) when I realized I'd forgotten how to count past 10 in Spanish as when I was asked by a Spaniard on which day I was leaving could only give the number 12 in Italian, not Spanish. These kinds of lexical similarities are explained in that both Spanish and Italian are romance languages (including French, Portugese, Catalan among others).

When I got back from studying abroad and still had a quarter left at UCSB, I decided to try an introductory German class just for fun and to impress the friends I'd made in Germany. It was only German 1 and I will admit with 10 weeks left to go in my 4+ year academic career I wasn't exactly putting my all into learning at that point, but once I moved here I thought at least I have some knowledge of it. A month after moving here I began five day a week three hour language courses. This had two functions: first I wanted to be able to say things to people, second, I wasn't allowed to work the first four months I was here so I had to do something.

You can pick any number of reasons why learning German is difficult, the case system, the articles, how long and convoluted some words seem, the list goes on and on. But for all of its difficulties German does have some user-friendly aspects. For one thing, it is phonetically very straight forward. Which is to say, spelling and pronunciation correspond at a pretty 1 to 1 ratio. Once you know the alphabet and the sounds each letter makes (keeping in mind the dipthongs [vowel combinations] and umlauts [ä, ö, ü]) you can pretty much read any word as the sounds stay the same. Anyone who has tried learning English as a foreign language does not have this same benefit. As an example of the spelling chaos of English, I submit the word ghoti, which based on English spelling could be pronounced fish (gh as in tough, o as in women, ti as in ignition). So then, suddenly words like Hoechsgeschwindigkeitsbegrenzung (maximum speed limit) or Herzkreislaufwiederbelebung (C.P.R) may take a second to sound out in your head, but aren't as intimidating as before.

Excuse the digression, the reason I began this was to discuss the benefits of being a native English speaker learning German, namely loan words. A loan word is a word borrowed from one language and incorporated into another. English is full of them, and German is, too! I can't count the number of times I have been in class and asked my students if they knew the word for something, and it was the same in English just with German pronunciation.

I'd like to conclude with a list of just some of the English words or phrases German has acquired-whether for business, media, technology, or some are words that just aren't found in German but people (Germans) know what they mean:

action, baby, bloggen (to blog-German verbs end in -en), annual report, boss, chatten (to chat), business, camping, catering, checken (to check)/check in/check out, city, couch, design, display, download, duty-free (aside: when Germans say duty free, they aren't necessarily referring to the lack of taxes placed on goods purchased in an airport or cruise ship, but rather, any area within an aiport or cruise ship which sells goods), DVD player, email, (un)fair, fan, flirten (to flirt), gamer, gangster, gentleman, googlen (to google), happy hour, hardcore, highlight, hippie, hobby, homepage, icon, image, info, interview, investment, jetlag, joggen (to jog), K.O, last-minute, laptop, logo, lounge, make-up, management, marketing, meeting, mindset, non-stop, outsourcing, pace, party, piercing (face or body), pop-up, power, reality TV, rock, rush hour, scanner, service, sexy, shampoo, small talk, spam, tattoo, team, terminal, ticket, toaster, training, T shirt, upgrade, VIP, website, and zombie...just to name a few!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The first post is the hardest.

It has been more than a year since I made the decision to leave the perpetual sunshine of my hometown in southern California. A college graduate in 2008, what is now known as one the worst times to enter America's workforce, I decided to pursue a job which isn’t renowned for its competitive salaries and health benefits, namely, teaching English as a second language. I started as a tutor at an ESL school in San Diego eventually working my way into a teaching position and made ends meet with my server job on the side. But since my job as an ESL teacher was dependent on an influx of international students (who in the eyes of my employer were customers) studying English in the states, at a time when more than most were foregoing such expensive endeavors, in 2010 I became a product of, “the economy,” and was laid off.

At the same time, I had just begun a long distance relationship with my boyfriend Benjamin in Germany. We had met several years before in Ireland where we both studied abroad. In fact that was where I realized I wanted to teach English. I decided that with a year of teaching experience under my belt, I could give it a go in another country. I had little to no clue about the process of obtaining permission to work in the EU, much less as an American citizen, nor was I aware of the onslaught of German bureaucracy that awaited me. I parlayed my ninety-day tourist visa into a three-month permission to reside, at which time I took intensive language courses and scoured the market for teaching jobs. Eventually, I got my visa and have been working here since.

Naturally when you move to a new country, you spend the first few months making some concessions and lifestyle adjustments. It takes some time before you feel at home in a foreign country. The first task at hand was learning the language, and with a language like German, it’s an ongoing task. Next was getting used to the German way of life. I chose to immigrate to a country that champions such values as: Sicherheit, Stabilität und Ordnung (security, stability, and order), which pervade many aspects of German culture. Inserting a coin to take a shopping cart, returning plastic bottles to the supermarket for recycling, waiting until the light at the crosswalk turns green to proceed, having written documentation of most everything you do (preferably stamped, dated and signed), counting Sunday as a weekly holiday and oh yeah, the metric system! All of this (and more) were part of the aforementioned adjustment period and eventually became the norm for me. In fact, I can remember a skype conversation with my parents wherein I explained that obtaining a savings account here entails paying money to the bank as something that kind of makes sense my mother asked “Have you been drinking the German Kool-Aid?” 

I'd like to share some of the things I notice as I continue to integrate.