Thursday, February 8, 2018

15 years in...

With the turn of the new year, a crazy realization set in: I've been working in my field as a professional for fifteen years. Whoa! I feel old. Or should I say experienced?

People usually assume that my profession is staid and boring. It's not, and can be full of surprisingly bizarre situations.

For example, no one in grad school told me that I would have to write an email to a vendor as such:

"We received a box of [products you sent us] in very damaged condition; the post office had taped it back together and some [products] inside were damaged. We also believe that some are missing but unfortunately can't tell because the packing slip is gone too.

Strangely enough, there were cans of blood sausage, black licorice, and Hello Kitty pencils in the box! That is totally bizarre and I don't imagine that you sent us them; our guess is that someone else's box fell apart and they didn't know where to put the food items so they included them in the wrapped-up box of our items. So, I am sending you the mailing label on the box. Could you please provide us the packing slip for this box so we can tell you what was missing?"

Thursday, January 25, 2018

More disconcerting language learning exercises

It sometimes appears that publishers of language learning materials can't think of some useful example sentences for students to practice. Sometimes the examples they come up with can be downright disturbing, such as talking about a man who follows women, as I wrote about here.

I haven't used language learning materials geared toward the basic consumer market in some time (think Berlitz, Pimsleur, etc.); I much more prefer the more academic approach. However, I recently needed to test the software from one of the big guys in the world of language learning.

Cue the insane example of a sentence to learn, and the corresponding picture:

"The man is reading a burning newspaper."

I had so, so many questions after seeing this, including:

1. Why the h-e-double-hockey-sticks is this man reading a burning newspaper?!
2. Is this some sort of social commentary on the dangers of censorship in the media?
3. Why is he not perturbed that his newspaper is burning?
4. Why does he appear to be standing in the middle of a lane of traffic?!
5. Is his hand not getting burned by the fire?
6. When am I going to say, in German, that a person is reading a burning newspaper?
(From my cultural observations from living here, it doesn't seem that people read burning newspapers.)
7. Why would the course designers think this is a useful phrase to learn?
8. (From my experience in marketing/stock photos): Did they actually do a photoshoot where the man had to hold a burning newspaper? How'd they get him to agree? What kind of liability insurance did they need for this? Or was the fire photoshopped in?

The entire diatribe above is why I'm not a major fan of the "quick and easy" (not) learning without a teacher. A lot of time the CDs or software teach utter nonsense.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Mail and the machines of the roadside

On today's episode of Roadside Candy Machines, may I take you to Sippersfeld, for no other reason than randomness?

You can mail a letter in the yellow box, buy a weird bead bracelet or mini soccer ball, or purchase some disgusting looking Bubble King with some sort of weird...growth on the machine containing it.

Num num.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Is it drawn on or cut off?

I'm fascinated by weird mannequins after a trip to Strasbourg.

During a vacation in Copenhagen this fall, I came across this guy:

At first I thought that his facial hair was drawn on. The more I looked at it, I thought that maybe it had been actually "hair" (okay, something synthetic) but for some reason someone had cut it off.

He also seemed a bit familiar. I wonder if he has an German Aussie cousin?

Friday, October 27, 2017

Germany: considering the environment

After a recent, long vacation (well, by American standards, anyway!) in which I generated a lot of waste and feel guilty about it, I've been reading about zero waste lifestyle habits. While I wouldn't necessarily dive into that lifestyle completely, I'm always interested in environmentalism and am taking steps to further reduce the resources I use (and to try to atone for the vacation's use of food in containers).

What I love about Germany is that as a whole people here do tend to show concern for the environment. The European Environmental Agency reports that Germany comes in second place for the highest amount of recycling in Europe at a rate of 62% (1). The country is moving away from using nuclear-produced power and is investing in wind and solar power.

As I've talked with some locals, we've had conversations about the environment and they've said how of course it's the right thing to do to recycle and to use less energy. It's not difficult to put this concern into action; groups like Foodsharing, help keep still-edible food from the garbage bin. Volunteers visit bakeries, grocery stores, etc. and pick up food that is still very usable but might be a day old or near its sell-by date and is still safe to eat, and then they give it away for free, especially concentrating on the needy (though often anyone can pick some of it up).

Some communities, including Kaiserslautern, offer Repair Cafes. Instead of throwing away a pair of jeans with a hole in them, or that appliance that just doesn't run right any more, attendees can bring their items by to see if volunteers (including electricians, folks who are handy with a sewing machine, etc.) can fix them. Items can find some added years of usefulness after a repair; the Cafe suggests a small donation for the work, which is much less expensive than taking the item to a shop or replacing it.

On the commercial front, stores do not automatically give customers free bags and shoppers are encouraged to bring their own bags. If a customer requires a bag, the store charges for it.

Some stores have gone a step further; for example, the Unverpackt ("unpackaged") stores sell products unpackaged, or with minimal packaging. How does this work? One can either bring her own containers, or can buy reusable containers in the store, and can then select the amount of food from a bin. Usually one would weigh the container, record that weight, fill it, and weigh it again, paying for the merchandise but not for the weight of the container. I'm happy to see that there are Unverpackt stores within an hour or so of Kaiserslautern, in Mainz, Saarbrücken, and a future store in Mannheim.

All of these examples are just scratching the surface of what is done both locally and nationally in Germany to support a healthier environment. It's refreshing to see that there are options to help protect the environment, and that Germans see it as their responsibility to take part.

Work Cited:

1. Highest recycling rates in Austria and Germany – but UK and Ireland show fastest increase. (2016, June 03). Retrieved October 26, 2017, from

Thursday, September 14, 2017

It's not stunning

I am stunned when advertisers etc. use the term "stunning" to describe things that are actually quite mundane, or at best, are interesting or attractive, but certainly do not warrant such a superlative. Or perhaps I exaggerate with the explanation of my response as I am more likely annoyed than just stunned.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

German efficiency myth

Germany has a reputation for running just like its kitschy clockwork, in an efficient manner. However,I find this to be quite inaccurate. German bureaucracy and business practices typically can be quite inefficient. Even the BBC thinks so; read their article here.

Take, for example, the A6 highway highway and bridge building project that spans above Kaiserslautern. When I arrived in the area at the beginning of 2013, the signs along the highway promised that the highway would be finished in 2016. At the end of 2016, the signs were changed to say 2018. I rarely see anyone working on the highway, and when they do, it's one or two lonely workers. This construction is very disruptive for people in the area and I doubt that it will be finished by 2018 as so much of it remains undone.

I think that many people think of German efficiency because of the automotive producers. Having visited the Mercedes plant, I did see much efficiency in use there. However, I don't see this as a German invention; I see it as coming from the Japanese auto producers, or at least resulting from their competition. Had the German and other international producers not adopted these methods and developed others, they wouldn't have been able to remain competitive.

In civil life, there seems to be no penalty for inefficiency so citizens and expats must resign themselves to long wait times and the possibility of slow, ineffective service both at government offices and in the business sphere.


Does this mean that I [metaphorically] shake my fist at Germany, or that I think that my country of birth is perfect? The answer to both questions is a very strong "no." However, I was surprised to experience the inefficiency for myself, as I too had heard that this is a very efficient place.