Have you ever wondered how communication can sometimes go awry, especially when one does not understand the other’s language and goes off on a tangent? Many of us have had misunderstandings while talking to each other because of different ideas, different ways of wording ourselves, and in many cases, the way we communicate with our accents. A while back, I wrote an article on this particular topic but from an American’s point of view for many cultures have a problem with the various dialects we have in our country (click here to read it). Yet we sometimes have a big issue understanding the dialects of other English-speaking people- in particular, the British and the Scottish. This genre of the week, entitled Skwerl is one of those rather extreme examples, where American and British English and even urban slang from both come together. Produced by Brian Fairbairn and Karl Eccelston and released in 2011, the five-minute film features a couple at the dinner table in an apartment, eating and talking nonsense, while at the same time, tensions start boiling until the girl clears the table and brings the desert. The film features slang and other forms of miscommunication which makes it difficult for even the native speaker to understand. To better grasp the scene, here is a tip worth considering when playing this short film:
- Pre-viewing exercise: Try silent viewing, where the film is played without the sound, and the viewers guess at what the couple is doing and talking about. Then list some common themes that can cause an argument.
- While-viewing exercise: Play the film and try to grasp what they are talking about. This may have to be done 2-3 times. Then look at the script provided by Brian and Karl here and look up the words you don’t know.
- Post-viewing exercise: What happens next after presenting the cake? Do they kiss and make up? Continue the script but keep the language use simple.
To sum up, when watching this short film the title of the clip was “This is how English sounds to non-English people.” The author begs to differ for reasons to be read in the Strange American Accent article whose link is above. If the urban slang was not used, then we would have a better understanding of how this conversation was going. However, the purpose of using the slang is to provide the reader with a whiff of how English is communicated in different- rather urban- settings. We cannot expect to be perfect with slang (and we should not even try either. We should however keep in mind that the way of communicating differs between regions and even towns. This applies not only to English, but also German and other foreign languages. As a hot tip when encountering a person whose word usage and dialect is different from what you’ve learned: ask what they meant by their sayings. It’s free and you can add to your vocabulary.
Enjoy the film!
It’s a day like no other: a simple walk in the woods on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the spring time. The leaves on the trees are budding, the moss and the pine needles are getting greener, and the skies are blue with a few clouds in the air. Mushrooms are growing on the trees and the lake is as blue as the reflections in the sky. One used to go swimmimg there in the past, but not anymore. Why? Too much run-off has produced algae that is occupying most of the lake, suffocating the life out of the fish and marine life that once thrived there.
Then there is a walk along the beach in the US. Going barefoot, one person steps on a ripped tin can and cuts herself deep. The can was buried 3/4 of the way in the sand. Plus there were bags and other non-perishables nearby. Not far from there, we see a river that has not seen a drop of rain for months since its one-time torrential downpour with the consequences being as dire as in this picture below:
These are just the classic examples of how unaware society has been with regards to the environment around us. With the recent events unfolding in front of our eyes: the illegal killing of the lion in Zimbabwe, governments signing leases to oil companies to explore for oil in very sensitive natural preserves, rain forests being decimated in square kilometers per day, to even the German and Danish governments pushing to have a megatron-style expressway and high speed rail line run through a small but vulnerable island, one has to ask himself: are we aware of what we are doing to our flora and fauna? Some people think it is the work of God and even one person mentioned recently that we are already facing Armageddon. But even God is the one who is displeased with how His world, which He created in seven days, according to the book of Genesis. Yet do we want to face Armaggedon by continuing to be greedy and ignorant?
There is a saying that is worth noting: The best time to educate is when the baby is in his diapers. If there was one class in school that should be introduced at all costs, it is environmental sciences. And when? As soon as the kid enters school. And how long? If kept as a core requirement, like reading, writing and math, all the way through high school.
But how do we introduce this to the class? And what should we teach them that is relevant to this topic?
Children should be gradually introduced to this topic by showing them the importance of our environment: the trees, flora and fauna, water and especially, food. They should be taught the importance of reusing and recycling goods rendered useless, planting trees and taking care of the vegetation, eating healthy organic foods, not buying goods coming from sensitive environmental areas, like the rain forest, or derived from endangered animals and lastly, learning how important the Earth is to them and the next generation. As they later become an adolescent, themes, such as pollution, climate change and destruction of habitat, can be introduced so that they can implement their knowledge and talk about these topics- even more so when they are current events. Very important is taking a look at the measures already in place to help our environment, whether it is the use of renewable resources, like bio-gas, wind, water and sun, saving energy or even using alternative forms of transportation instead of the car, like the train. Some factors, like anthropology, sociology and natural sciences could be mixed in there to ensure that when graduating from school, they would have a sufficient amount of knowledge and common sense to take action to stop the global warming process, which is progressing faster than expected.
At the moment, no laws exist regarding the requirements of this class, let alone incorporating it into the core curriculum. Reasons are pretty standard: not enough funding and support, too much focus on the testing requirements, too much opposition from the lobbyists and even politicians, and lastly, falsified information from the media, claiming that global warming is a natural process. (and if you are one of those believers, you better quit reading this right now and start praying!)
Yet there are some factors that a recent article published (click here) that should provide enough incentive for lawmakers and educators to at least consider bringing this matter to the table:
2015 is the hottest year on record with record-setting forest fires and destructive flooding causing trillions of dollars in damages to property. Every year means a new record for temperatures and the like. The number of species has dwindled by up to 80% over the last 30 years. Migration has put a strain on social resources in developed countries. Germany alone expects to receive a record 800,000 immigrants by year’s end, and the country is already having problems finding homes for them, let alone people willing to accept them. And lastly, our natural resources are dwindling, despite claims of them being around forever. If we look at fracking in the United States and the poisoning, earthquakes and destruction of the flora and fauna for the sake of oil, none of the facts are in dispute. Yet if one still believes that global warming is a natural process and a class on environmental sciences is needed, then perhaps watching Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and in particular, the destabilizing and eventual destruction of Genesis (esp. after the Enterprise is imploded through self-destruction) might convince you otherwise.
In either case, the facts remain clear in our society: mankind does not know what to do to stop global warming and we need to educate ourselves in order to find ways to stop the process and ensure that our planet is livable for generations to come. The best solution is to educate ourselves and our children to ensure that in the end, instead of having a planet that is dried up and not livable that we have a planet like this:
If you want that, then please, write to your politicians, lobby your teachers and principals (or headmasters), start a demonstration, and advocate the need to learn about Mother Nature as a full class and core requirement. Think about your future and that of the next generations. Only then, when we educate ourselves properly will we have a future like this and not what we’re seeing in the western two thirds of the US right now, which really resembles the destruction of Genesis in the Star Trek film.
Thank you for your support.
In the past 2-3 weeks, we’ve seen scenes similar to this one at a German elementary school: children, parents and grandparents dressing up for a big event, marking the end of life in Kindergarten and the start of life in elementary school (in German: Grundschule). The children are introduced by the principal, have their books and other goodies loaded up in their back packs by their homeroom teacher, and finally, receive their Zuckertüte, as seen below:
As mentioned previously in an earlier article, the Zuckertüte is a very big thing for children leaving Kindergarten and entering school. They receive one during both occasions, even though the creme de la creme they receive on the day of the Schuleinführung. Known in English as Orientation Day, Schuleinführung is on par with graduation from college, high school and even Kindergarten in the United States: speeches and dancing during the festivities in school, followed by receiving the Zuckertüte, which is the same as receiving the diploma for the hard work leading to graduating to the next level. Receiving the Zuckertüte closes the ceremony, but the celebrations continue through the evening, with family and close friends. It is not surprising if a child received not only one Zuckertüte from the parents and one from the grandparents, but as many as a couple dozen! 😀
As we do not have something as formal and festive as the Schuleinführung for kids entering American elementary schools- we just have informational meetings and open houses- it does lead to a question for the forum as graduation from a school in Germany (especially from high school (or Gymnasium)) is not as dressed up and sassy as in the US.
Which of the celebrations would you prefer for your child: orientation (Schuleinführung) or graduation (Abschluss) and why?
Share your thoughts here or on the Files’ facebook pages.
To end this article, I would like to close with a comment mentioned by the principal of my daughter’s elementary school, which she is attending in the coming days. She had a wonderful Schuleinführung celebration, and as for me as a parent, it was a once in a lifetime event to watch her enter the next stage in life. But this quote definitely serves as a reminder of what is yet to come: “You kids are no longer playing, but you will be learning; learning to read and write, learning to do math, learning to be independent. Parents, don’t be afraid if they say I can do this myself. They’re growing up.” So true it is, so true it is (sniff, sniff!)
Home: It’s where your heart is. It’s where your soul belongs to. It’s where your life begins- and ends, hopefully in peace. For many of us, home is where we were born, where we grew up and where we belong. Others consider home as one away from the nest. Some discover a place called home during a trip, and find ways of getting back there for good. If you are an expatriate, like this author, home is where you settle down and turn your back on the place of birth and childhood, only to visit it when needed. Others seek a real home to find peace and start a life, even though the question is where home is to them.
This German proverb (Sprichtwort), photographed as a mural at the Bavarian State Theater (Bayerische Staatsschauspiel) in Munich, serves as a reminder of where home really is and how we should get there. In English, it’s translated as follows: “Where are you going, when you say you are going home?” Think about this when you read this and ask yourself what home is for you and where home is. Sometimes a bit of soul-searching can serve as the best remedy. Yet on some occasions, one needs to look no further but back. Eventually home will be reached, after a lot of effort, and it will feel really good having gotten there.
Author’s note: Many thanks to Corrina Schaffer for the photo and for allowing its use for this article. Whoever thought of this proverb was very creative and he/she deserves a special thanks as well.
While living in Germany, you may encounter a phenomenon that is normally seen on a local farm in America: people dressed in Latzhosen– color coordinated in many cases: the blue workers are the carpenters and mechanics, the red workers are the repairmen and montage (installation) crew, and the white workers being the painters and interior designers. They are numerous but skilled; crafty men but also helpful. But these blue-collar workers have one item in common: they all wear these pieces of clothing where they slip them on like snowmobile suits and fasten them at the shoulders- much like in this picture.
When we see the Latzhose, we think of one character in a TV series, who wore them for the entire series, and whose actor still continues to wear them. This would be Peter Lustig from the series Löwenzahn (Dandelion, if translated crudely into English). The series was launched in 1981 and even though Lustig left the series in 2005, it is still running today with Fritz Fuchs at the helm (played by Guido Hammesfahr since 2006). An episode about the Latzhose from the Peter Lustig series was produced in connection with the show’s 20th season episode in 2000, looking at how it is assembled and the many purposes this piece of clothing is used.
Latzhosen exist in the US, under the name Overalls, and like in Germany, they have their purposes, although blue is the most commonly used color for overalls. While travelling through the US, in particular in the central part of the country, one will most likely see them worn by farmers. However, they are sometimes used for casual wear, and for women expecting, they are good for both them and the baby as they are comfortable, and they protect them from the unexpected.
Despite its popularity in both cultures, there is little or no information on when they were introduced, let alone who was behind the invention. There is a possibility that Levi Strauss, a German-born immigrant from Buttenheim (in northern Bavaria) who settled in San Francisco may have something to do with it. Strauss invented the denim blue jeans in 1871 and later established his jeans company with the goal of producing denim jeans mainly for workers. It is unknown whether he invented the overalls, which was common for farmers and railroad workers near the end of the 19th Century. It is known that overalls became common beginning in the 1960s and 70s in the US and in Germany in the 1980s, but only for the purpose of fashion and casual wear. Today, one will see overalls or Latzhosen worn mainly by women as casualwear, whereas the traditional purpose of wearing them for the purpose of work is strong in Germany, while one can find overalls on farm places, on construction sites and along railroads in the US.
Still, the mystery still remains open as to who invented the Latzhose (or overalls). Did Strauss invent them or did someone else patent it? When were they first introduced and what were their primary purpose at that time? And lastly, why did they lose their popularity but make its comeback in the 1970s?
Any ideas? The discussion forum awaits your theories and facts…..
Note: The birthplace of Levi Strauss was preserved and is now a museum, located in Buttenheim, located north of Bamberg in Bavaria. More information can be found here.
German Football Federation rules in favor of RB Leipzig after Lighter Incident. VfL Osnabrück disqualified from German Cup- Further Sanctions Pending
FRANKFURT(MAIN)/LEIPZIG/OSNABRÜCK- Four days after the infamous lighter incident during the first round of the German Cup (DFB Pokal) and three days after both teams requested that the game be replayed, the German Football Federation made its decision on Friday. Despite the growing demand for the game to be repeated after a fan from Osnabrück threw a lighter at the referee in the 71st minute of the game, effectively taking him to the hospital and cancelling the rest of the game, played in Leipzig with Osnabrück in the lead 1-0, the Federation ruled against the notion and awarded the game to Leipzig. Reason for the decision was according to the handbook, the teams are responsible for controlling the fans and their actions, which the Federation claimed that Osnabrück did not do. The end result was Osnabrück being disqualified from the Cup with further sanctions pending. The team already has a 5000 Euro reward available for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who instigated the crime. Leipzig, which won 2-0 via ruling, advances to the second round, where they face Regionalliga team Unterhaching in October. A list of other teams advancing to the second round and their opponents can be found here. Among the opponents include a galactic battle between FC Bayern Munich (2015 Bundesliga champion) and VFL Wolfsburg (2015 German Cup champions), but also another David-vs-Goliath match-up between Regionalliga team FC Carl Zeiss Jena and Premere League team VFB Stuttgart. Jena, which knocked Hamburg SV out of the first round 3-2, last played Stuttgart in the 2008 German Cup, which the team won 5-4 in overtime, advancing to the Final Four Round, where they lost to Borussa Dortmund 3-0. Stuttgart has struggled to avoid being demoted to the Second League, finishing between 14th and 15th place the past 4 seasons. Also included in the match-ups are (L denotes league): Bayer Leverkusen (1L) vs Viktoria Cologne (4L), SSV Reutlingen (5L) vs. Brunswick (2L), and another Premere League match-up between FC Cologne and SV Werder Bremen.
The 2015/16 soccer season in Germany is not more than a couple weeks in its infancy, yet there has been a lot of action going on off the field, which has kept the German Soccer Federation really busy, and the fans slapping their hands across their foreheads in disbelief. Despite some tougher sanctions put in place to control the rowdiness after four soccer matches in the German Bundesliga resulted in the use of brute force by the police, even tougher measures are being considered after some cheap shots from fans that are making soccer a not so fun game to watch. It also leads to some questions of what measures that exist, had such unsportsmanship by fans existed in other sports, such as American football, basketball, baseball, etc. Naturally, it is clear that thou shall not forget the infamous NBA basketball brawl from 2004 and the consequences that happened to both players and fans in the form of fines, lifetime bans and other sanctions.
So I came up with some highlights from three soccer events with some questions for you to discuss, in hopes that some solutions are found in these cases. As for one of the cases, the idea of earning an important necessity through a victory went to extremes but as one person pointed in a discussion recently, the women’s professional soccer team could do better than the men’s team. So here are the highlights:
RB Leipzig vs. VFL Osnabrück: Game called because of official getting hit by a lighter.
The first controversial event in this Newsflyer article comes from Leipzig during the first round of the German Cup (D: DFB Pokal). Second League team and host RB Leipzig was trailing third League visiting team VfL Osnabrück (in Lower Saxony) 1-0 in the second half of the game. In the 71st minute, the game had to be called off because of this incident (note the main official or referee of the game is dressed in red):
After getting hit with a lighter from one of the fans, the game had to be called off, and the official had to leave to be treated for head injuries. While sanctions and fines in the tens of thousands of Euros are pending, both teams are filing a petition to the German Soccer Federation, calling for the score to be nullified and the game to be repeated, this despite a possible consideration of having the game be forfeited in favor of Leipzig. They both have apologized for this unfortunate incident that was beyond their control.
Here’s the question for discussion: Should the game be repeated and if not, what other alternatives would you consider to show that this incident is not to be tolerated? If caught, should the fan be banned from attending soccer games for life?
Latest reports revealed that a fan from Osnabrück, living in Bielefeld is being investigated for the incident. But as of now, unless there is a full confession, it is unknown who stopped the game, let alone ruined it for the other fans and players…..
Local Soccer Team to be Expelled from League for being a Nazi-group?
Here’s a question for you soccer fans: Imagine you coach a local soccer team and you face a team like the one in the film clip below, that is notorious for cheap brutal hits on the soccer field, Hitler greetings (which are banned by German law), racial slurs and having right-wing extremists as soccer players. Would you take the field against this team, or would you forfeit the game out of protest, risking a fine for the incident?
In the Jerichow Land district, located in northern Saxony-Anhalt near Stendal, the FC Ostelbien Dornburg is the target of a possible expulsion from the state soccer league for the above-mentioned reasons. A notion has been filed to the league office in Magdeburg with the decision to be made before the start of the season on 31 August. Already the opponent teams are protesting against taking the field against this team, and 59 out of 65 referees are refusing the officiate any games that deal with this troubled club. Furthermore, civil action and other legal measures for violating civil rights laws are pending. If in favor, the team will be shut down and not be allowed to participate in the league during the season. The team plans to appeal if it comes to that.
Lights for Stadium are earned, not given? How FC Carl Zeiss Jena earned its lights after a lights-out party against Hamburg SV
What does it take to have a new stadium with a new set of lighting? How about a David versus Goliath victory, as seen in this game between the Regionalliga (fourth league) host FC Carl Zeiss Jena and Premere League visitor Hamburg SV, when the host lit up the Ernst Abbe Football Stadium and Sports Complex by upending the dinosaur, 3-2 in overtime. Hamburg, which saved itself from being demoted to the Second League for three seasons in the row, appeared to be no match against a young, feisty team that is hungry to return to the national level after a three season absence, as seen on the highlights below:
Jena, which has been fighting for a new stadium for eight years, lost its beloved stadium lights to flooding in 2013 and almost had to build a new stadium in the souther suburb of Lobeda near the motorway. Yet support for a centrally-located stadium is extremely high, which has kept the city busy. More so, the city has been hemming and hawing about the stadium lights as they should be integrated into the new stadium itself. But with a low number of fans in the last three seasons, there was no rush, with even some people commenting about its team becoming a memory, like FC Saxony Leipzig (which folded in 2012). This victory, the first in the history of the German Cup, not only takes Jena to the second round, where they will play at the end of October, but it has prompted the city to scramble for new lighting and a new stadium. This has led to the question of the difference between a necessity and a luxury and some exercises for the readers below:
1. What constitutes a necessity for a football stadium and which ones are a luxury? Choose the words below and put them into the two categories:
bleachers scoreboard hotel conference center stadium lighting heating for soccer field food court beer stand ticket building VIP box press box
2. Should the city of Jena have pursued the stadium lighting right away or was it justified to wait until either the money was available or the Regionalliga threatened to demote the team to the Oberliga (fifth league) and why?
3. Jena advanced to the Final Four of the German Cup during the 2007/08 season, when it was in the Second League. Do you think they will advance that far again?
4. Is the embarassing knock-out of Hamburg SV from the German Cup the beginning of the end of its tenure in the Premere League in this season, or will it rebound once the regular season begins?
Think about these questions and place your comments for one, two or all of the themes in the Comment section below. You can also post your comments on the Files’ facebook page and/or group page. The Files will keep you posted on the latest regarding these stories and perhaps some more interesting items coming out of this seasons soccer season in the Bundesliga.
Here’s a question for you readers, as well as those who would like to use this as a warm-up for a conversation class:
- Have you ever lost something that you held dearly to your life- something very valuable and inseparable until one day you discovered it gone? Did you ever find it again?
- Have you ever found something valuable in an empty place, like an abandoned house or railcar, like the one above? If so, what did you do with it?
Many of us have lost a very valuable item that we could never get by without. Sometimes it could be someone that you admired dearly or even loved for one time, only to ghost you in the end for unknown reasons. There are just as many of us who happen to find something very valuable in abandoned places, with a third of us having claimed it, another third returning it to its rightful owner (via police) and the rest having left it is is. I remember a time where we were at an abandoned house and I discovered a large black and white picture of a small train station, dating back to the late 1800s. My first impression was to claim it and keep it somewhere. But being raised in a region where Lutheranism is predominant, and having been raised to be honest and not a thief, I decided to leave it as is, in hopes that the person will reclaim it someday. A couple years later, the house was reoccupied, and the picture eventually made it in the hands of another owner.
The reason behind these two questions is in connection with the most recent event involving a dead man and his violin. The most interesting behind this was the fact that the violin was stolen, disappeared for 35 years, rediscovered one day while cleaning house and was subsequentially returned to its rightful owner. The violin: a 1734 Stradivarius owned by world renowned violinist, Roman Totenberg. The incident: a student named Philip Johnsson stole his violin in 1980, hid it in a place unknown, and maintained a straight face of innocence of saying “I didn’t do anything,” right up until his death of cancer in 2011, at the age of 58. Roman died a year later without ever seeing his violin again. He was 101. How was it found: The ex-wife of Johnsson and his boyfriend found the violin while cleaning house. What happened afterwards, click on the link to follow the story.
While the violin has now been returned to the daughters of Roman, Amy, Nina, Jill and Melanie, it shows how civil courage can play a role in bringing home something that is deeply valuable to someone who missed it like he missing an important member of the family. We see this rarely these days because we always have this mentality “What’s mine is mine!” This especially applies to items like this one. Sometimes if an object of that value is found, one has to decide what is the best course of action. Many times it just makes sense to report the lost item to the authorities in hopes what is lost is eventually found.
So when finding an item like a violin, think about who it belongs to instead of having that greedy mentality of “Finders keepers, losers weepers.” After all, that object might belong to the person who has been missing it for quite some time. Would you claim something as valuable as this violin below, made in 1734 by Antonio Stradavarius? Think about it….
Author’s Note: This Genre of the Week has been pushed up a couple days due to important commitments. This is the first review that has been done by a guest columnist. And for a good reason…..
When we look at Germans, we look at high quality and how they strive to achieve perfection, priding on the likes of BMW, Nutella, soccer, universities and a good beer. However, when asking a German whether they are proud of their culture or how they perceive us Americans and our way of looking at things, we see and hear another story. In this book review, Planet Germany: An Expedition into the country that is home to Hawaiian toasts (this is the English equivalent to the original title), Eric T. Hansen takes a look at the old question of German identity and how the Germans look at their own culture, from a humorous point of view. This review was done by Ann Marie Ackermann, an American expatriate living in Germany and working as a lawyer, translator and a writer. Here’s a look at the reason why a person should think about reading this book:
A case of a lost cultural identity
Can it be that the Germans really don’t know themselves? And that they need an American to hold up a mirror and show them why the rest of the world holds its arms open to the German culture?
One American who’s been living in Germany since 1983 seems to think so. Eric T. Hansen’s book, Planet Germany, dissects the German psyche. His scalpel is his rare sense of humor, and he cuts through layers of poor national self-esteem to find the ingenuity that created Hawaii toast. I say “rare” because Hansen manages to elicit laughs from both Americans and Germans. Any American expat in Germany will appreciate the book, not only for the insights into the collective mind of the German folk, but for Hansen’s satire.
The world admires the Germans, but the Germans don’t know it
It was in a shopping mall in Magdeburg, Germany that Hansen discovered Germans don’t know who they are. The author, a journalist, was writing an article about exports, and asked shoppers what German products and personalities they thought would be popular in America.
“Nothing,” said the shoppers. One German man said he couldn’t imagine Americans would be interested in anything from Germany.
Frustrated, Hansen spouted a number of possibilities. “What about Mercedes? Volkswagen? BMW? Are there any German cars that aren’t famous in America?” His list went on: Braun, Bosch, and Siemens? Gummi bears and “Nutella”? Lowenbräu? Blaupunkt and Grundig? Claudia Schiffer and Heidi Klum? Das Boot, Lola rennt, and the Brother Grimm fairy tales? Wolfgang Petersen and Roland Emmerich? Kraftwerk, Nena, Rammstein, and the Scorpions?
But it’s not easy to impress a German. “That might be,” said the man. “But nothing else.”
Americanization of Germany or Germanization of America?
We – the American expat community in Germany – have all heard it before. At some point a German has sat down with us in a café and started complaining about how the Americans are taking over the German culture.
The first time I heard it, I was incensed. Every individual German votes with his or her wallet by selecting products. Collectively, the country has chosen the culture it has now. Why blame the Americans? But on a deeper level, does a country really lose its culture by purchasing foreign merchandise like Coca-cola, jeans, and pop music? In the United States, we eat tacos and sushi, sing French and German Christmas carols, and listen to Jamaican rhythms. But we call that enriching our culture.
Oh no, says Hansen. That’s not what the Germans really mean. “Americanization” for them really means “modernization.” Alas, the Germans are just mourning the loss of the culture they knew as children.
Hansen puts the complaint under a microscope and finds a better case for the Germanization of America. At the time he wrote his book (2007), the value of German exports to the United States was almost one third more than the other way around. That’s not bad for a country half the size of Texas.
But the Germans better watch out. There is another country that’s done a lot more to infiltrate their country: Sweden. Germans read Astrid Lindgren as children and buy clothing at H&M. They listen to Abba and buy their first furniture from Ikea. They read mysteries by Henning Mankell and watch movies with Ingrid Bergman. And if that’s enough, says Hansen, the Swedes have to go out and flood Germany with Knäckebrot. But nobody in Germany talks about “Swedenization.”
Germans as World Champion Complainers
Hansen’s satire shines most brightly in his chapter on why Germans believe complaining is a sign of higher intelligence. It’s sort of an unofficial German IQ test. Whoever does the best job of spontaneous criticism is the smartest. A comparison of the headlines in Spiegel and Time Magazine proves this, says Hansen: The American magazine offers information, and the German one critique. Even my German grandfather noticed this tendency. “When a German and an American both buy a new house,” he used to say, “the American guests come over and talk about everything they like about the house, and the Germans come over and find everything wrong with it.”
And here Germans are the Weltmeister. Just as Arabic has more words for “camel” than any other language in the world, Hansen points out, German has more words for criticism. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, because public, grassroots criticism plays an important role in democracy. Heck, Germans even have a holiday for political criticism. Have you ever watched German television during Fasching?
To anchor the importance of complaining in the German culture, Hansen applied for a job as professor at twenty German universities. He asked the universities to establish a chair for the esthetics of complaining (Nörgeleiästhetik) and offered a curriculum. Hansen includes his application in the book, and you can find the answers of three of the universities in the appendix. And don’t tell me the Germans have no sense of humor. When I read the appendix, I always have to pull out my Taschentücher because I start crying so hard.
About the book:
Eric T. Hansen, Planet Germany (Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer Verlag, 2007); 289 pages, in German. Eric T. Hansen is a journalist living in Berlin.
The book did provide the author with an idea for an activity that students in both Germany and elsewhere can try at home. Click onto this interview about Germany and what to expect. Make a list and ask yourselves whether there is more to Germany than what is mentioned here, and share it with your classmates and teacher. You’ll be amazed at the various answers brought up, especially if you as the teacher is a non-native German. Good luck with that!
Note: The video was produced by Jason Smith, Marc Schueler and Dan Wogawa in 2013 and powered by GoAnimate.
About the writer and critic:
Ann Marie Ackermann was a prosecutor in the United States before relocating to Germany, where she worked for 15 years as a legal and medical translator. Ann Marie now researches and writes historical true crime. Her first book, Death of an Assassin, will appear with Kent State University Press in 2017. It tells the true story of a German assassin who fled to the United States and became the first soldier to die under the American Civil War hero Robert E. Lee. You can visit Ann Marie’s website at http://www.annmarieackermann.com.
Before we go into another topic on the environment in the classroom, I decided to throw out a question for you to answer. In every German city, including Ulm, where I photographed this picture, we have signs like these popping up on the streets before entering the city center: the “Umweltzone” signs with a color-coded symbol indicating what is “frei” (allowed) and what is not. Sometimes these signs are accompanied with a bike and pedestrian trail sign, indicating a trail running alongside the streets. The Flensburg Files Frage für das Forum is: What does the Umwelt sign stand for, including the color-coded signs? What other signs have you seen that are similar/ in connection with this topic?
Place your comments, photos and suggestions here or in the comment section in the Files’ facebook page. The answer will come very soon. Happy Guessing!