Multi-culture is dead, isn’t it?

Here’s another throwback article written in November 2010 on the question of whether multiculture should be allowed in Germany. This topic is still relevant today especially because of the need to integrate the refugees flowing into Europe from the south and east. 

As I walk through the streets of a typical European town, the first impressions I have are the way people speak their native languages. Almost immediately, I can tell that the way they construct their sentences, use their words differently, and speak with a heavy dialect that they are speaking the language of the country they are living in, albeit not in the way it is spoken officially. In this case, we’ll use German as a case study. Either they come from different regions of the country, like Hesse, northern regions of Schleswig-Holstein, or the Vogtland region of Saxony, or they come from different countries, like China, the Middle East, or Scandanavia but are here to make a living. If they are not trying to speak the language, they are speaking with their own native tongue, which is easily picked up just by listening to them.  Outside a rum shop, there is a Russian family gatheirng outside to decide whether to take a boat ride or walk to the theater for a musical. At a market square bearing a Danish name, an American tour guide shows a party of 13 the flea market and what is typically being sold there. Outside a barbershop bearing an English name, a French family is making fun among themselves because of their hairstyles they just received.  Then one takes a look at their apparel and the way they behave and run their lives on a regular basis, whether it is a Muslim wearing a turban and carrying the Koran, a Jewish family celebrating Hanukkah, or the Japanese eating sushi while celebrating New Year’s, and one will find that these are not just foreigners who visit the country because of its attractiveness to tourists. They are foreigners who immigrate to the country to make a living there, just like everybody else. These are people who want to have as much of a lifestyle as we do. They want to learn the language and the culture while in turn, want to  make friends with us and share their experiences and their way of life.  The problem is that countries, like Germany, are at the crossroads regarding what to do with the huge influx of foreigners wanting to live here, and the actions that have been taken by many recently have indicated a rise of nationalism and the clash of cultures, which the late Samuel P. Huntington would enjoy watching with utter interest had he been around today; especially when he listens to the comments made against foreigners by imfamous celebrities today. Already, Juan Williams of National Public Radio in the USA was sacked for his comment on his fear of Muslims on an airplane while being interviewed on the show “The O’reilly Factor.” Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh declared the USA as a “White and English Only” state, claiming that if Hispanics want to live there, they have to speak and do business in English only. And the latest comment that has irked many like yours truly to a point where a campaign to unseat him has started was Bavarian minister’s Horst Seehofer’s strive to force integration of many migrants through learning German fluently and with no dialect through his comment that “Multi-culture is dead.” Looking at this from an expatriate’s point of view, the first two comments to use in response to such comments starts with “Oh spare me!” and is followed by “What is going on here?!!” With all the Italian ice cream parlors, Mosques, Chinese clothing shops, Danish specialty shops, and British tea stores that exist here, why are  people getting so worked up with this trend of a country being inhabited by foreigners?

There are four theories that are worth looking at:

1. The country’s attractiveness- especially with regards to the social welfare system and the job prospects. It was not long ago that countries like Germany and Canada announced measures to attract highly-skilled  foreigners to these countries because of jobs that fit their qualifications, like those in the IT branch, for example. Some of these sectors had been shied away by the countries’ own inhabitants because of the too high degree of difficulty and the preference for other subjects that are more to their liking. And with these offers to bring in foreigners come the incentives, like the possibility of receiving a permanent visa and taking advantage of the social welfare system.

2. The language of the country- While learning English is a piece of cake to many foreigners, other languages, like German where I’m living, can be a challenge if you have to figure in the logic of it, how it is spoken and written, and the many dialects that exist. From my own personal experience,  it can take 2-3 years with lots of work to master a difficult language, like German. For other Latin-based languages, like French, it might take longer than that. And for non-Latin based languages, like Chinese and Japanese, it is definitely much longer- say 5-7 years but when living in those areas only.

3. The dominance of English and the Anglo-Saxonization of other languages- English has become the lingua franca of business, commerce, travel, academia, science, and in some degree everyday life. In Germany and other European countries, it is expected that all pupils learn the language beginning in the fifth grade in order to learn the basis before building off from there on the university level. The problem with that is many words in other languages are being absorbed by English, thus creating words and phrases that are cool to the younger generation but irritating to the older generation. Two German language words come to mind when I claim this statement: Download means Herunterladen, but in the new German, it means downloaden. Mobile or cell phones means Handy in German.

4. The compromise between keeping one’s cultural identity and adopting one of another country. There are four ways of looking at this based on a theory I learned during my Master’s studies at the University of Jena. One can keep both cultures and become more open and tolerant; however one can chuck his own culture away and adopt the culture of the other country but risk losing his knowledge of his own origin. A person can also keep his own culture and not adopt the one of the other and risk being ignorant. However, one can neither keep his own culture of origin nor adopt the culture of the other country and risk being apathetic. While there is a small portion of people like me who prefer the first option, many people elect the third option for reasons that they are only living in the country for a short period of time and it does not make any sense to embrace the language and the culture. However, the plan that many countries on both sides of the big pond (any yes both Germany and the US are toying around with this option) would be to use option two, to force the language and the culture on the foreigners living there. This has sparked outrage from both sides of the spectrum as on the one hand, it would mean adopting a way of living that does not coincide with what the foreigners were used to but on the other hand it would avoid any encroachment on the tradition and value of life of a country threatened by the foreigners.

So looking at the situation from a politician’s point of view, the next question is what to do with the situation when there is a big influx of foreigners, a high rate of unemployment, scarce job possibilities, and a language that is eroding through the dominance of other language. There are no real answers to the problem except seeing the fact that each country has been a melting pot, where foreigners come in to fill in the shoes in industries and sectors left behind by the older generation because their sons and daughters are interested in other sectors, and therefore provide the country with economic support. Basically, they come in to work for the country while in return they expect recognition of their existence and want to befriend others. And it is understandable if many of them have problems getting adapted into the culture and they find other people who speak the same language as they do, instead of learning the language of the country they’re living in. I can testify to that with the German language as it was easier to pick up people who spoke English than those who spoke the native tongue. But this was at the beginning when I was an exchange student for three semesters before starting my career as an English teacher and had to use the German language to help the students with their English.

Attempts at trying to enforce integration while at the same time put a cap on immigration, as it is being practiced right now is futile, as it has been experimented in the past but have failed miserably. For instance, deporting immigrants to their home countries without looking at the situation over there was practiced as far back as 200 years ago, when the US tried sending Africans to Liberia to have them settle there, only to find that the experiment failed because many of them wanted to return to be with their families who were either enslaved or free.  The attempt at forcing culture and language onto a culture was practiced in the Austro-Hungarian empire, where the minorities were forced to adopt the Magyar language and culture in the areas occupied by the Habsburg dynasty. This was met with resistance and eventually failure although it was later practiced with the Native Americans by the white settlers through the Carlisle School in Pennsylvania. The problem of putting caps on immigrant numbers is that it will never solve the problem of filling in the missing gaps left behind in the industries and sectors, as many inhabitants of a country emigrate to other countries to make a better living. Canadians emigrate to the US and parts of Europe. Chinese and Japanese emigrate to Anglo-Saxon countries. Germans fancy New Zealand, the UK, and Australia, in addition to their liking to the USA.  The problem we have with foreigners is our unwillingness to acknowledge the fact that we have a deficiency in terms of foreign language as well as cultural awareness of others that exist. It does not mean that we are ignorant, but it does mean that we are too passive and too influenced by the outside who want to gather our attention just to garner popularity, even though what is said is nothing but rubbish. What we need to do is acknowledge the fact that multi-culture is NOT  dead but is blossoming not only externally but also internally. Externally means that we will always have people immigrating to our countries to make a living for themselves and help our economies. They will present us with their cultures where we will embrace them and share them with others who are interested. That means we’ll always have Hispanics and Asians living in the US and the Eastern Europeans and Chinese in Germany and other regions.  Internally means that each region in the country will remain strong and proud of their heritage and will share them with others who are interested. We’ll always have Native Americans in the Americas. We’ll always have the local traditions in places like Thuringia, Saxony, and Bavaria. Cities like Görlitz, Saarbrücken, and Flensburg will have small pockets of minorities who have resided there for many generations. Migration is part of the whole Globalization process that is ongoing and will continue to be that way.

While dealing with illegal immigration is a whole different story, we need to acknowledge that Multi-culture is give and take. Therefore, I have some suggestions which might make the process a bit easier for everyone that is involved. We can:

1. Encourage the foreigners to have a sufficient knowledge of the language of the country they are residing in- in my case, German- so that we can have a conversation with them. Regional dialects and minority languages are a plus if they want to stay for a longer period of time. In the German case, this includes but it is not limited to Danish in the northern part of the country, French and Dutch in the west, and the eastern European langages in the east.

2. Encourage them to learn another foreign language that is important in the way we do business- like English, Spanish, or other langauges so that we can communicate with them in the neutral language should it be necessary

3. Help them get accomodated and used to the way of living in the country they wish to reside in, which includes the cultural aspects, but at the same time, not force them to give up their own culture.

What we can take from them is:

1. Their language and culture. I believe we can be proactive and know more about the way of life of the foreigners living in the country and let alone their language. While it is easier to pick up Spanish and Asian languages in the US, it is a big but doable challenge to grapple with various languages the foreigners in Germany bring with them, and especially if it is the English language, since most of the foreigners coming to Germany can speak that language.

2. Their friendship. We should be more open to them and learn about them so that we can understand them and where they come from.

This can all be done through education, whether it is in the classroom of a high school or university, or through a social gathering where there are many foreigners present. It can be done on the street when people help them regarding directions, but it can also be done at places where they purchase products, like train tickets at a railway station. In either case education makes us more open regardless of age and background. It is more the question of whether we are willing to do that, or if we are inclined to accept Seehofer’s comment that “Multi-culture is dead” and be stuck in our passive ways. In today’s society, we cannot afford to be ignorant, let alone blind to the events that are going on that affect us all. Education is cheap but reaps rewards in the end, including our willingness to be open.

Keeping that in mind, let’s finish the files by asking ourselves about Multi-culture. Is it blossoming like it should? Is it really dead, like Seehofer mentioned? Or is it really at the crossroads?

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Genre of the Week: Skwerl

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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! 🙂

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In School in Germany: Teaching Environmental Sciences

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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:

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One should also not forget the infestation of grasshoppers and locusts thanks to the drought that also resulted in nearby forest fires that destroyed a once-popular tourist attraction….envir2

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.

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Example of a renewable energy source: converting compost and manuer into energy: bio-gas, as seen on a farm in central Thuringia

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:

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or this:

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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.

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Look, Listen, and Learn

Author’s Note: As the Files turns five in a couple months, some throwbacks will be featured for readers to enjoy and think about. This is one of the first articles published in 2010, dealing with friendship over feindschaft, interculture over ignorance, peace and love over hate and war. This also ties in with my very first visit to Flensburg and the region that year. Enjoy! 🙂 

Biking on a trail going along the Baltic Sea Coast, I had to put away my thoughts and fears that were affecting my everyday life and embrace the unknown. I had never been up to the Baltic Sea for a long time, and the area I was visiting- Flensburg, Sondernburg, northern Germany, and southern Denmark- was untouched until I got off the train at the station and explored the region that I hadn’t seen before. The first thing I did was get to know the people up there, the culture, and the surroundings. I looked, I listened, and I learned. It started with a trip down the beaten and rutted trail that snaked its way through the forest, after crossing the wooden bridge into Denmark north of Wassersleben. The various jumps up and down the hill, the sound the wind breezing in from the sea, and the multiple shades of green and brown are all that occupies me opens up new doors to the things I’ve never heard and seen before. However, the dangers have to be figured into the equation: The trail was rutted, rocky, and really run down. It had pine trees placed in and along the road, and the down hill ride was filled with the unknown. I looked, I listened, and I learned.  By the time I ended up in Sondernhafen (Danish is Sondernhav) enjoying Europe’s finest hotdog and Danish ice cream at Anne’s Hot Dog stand, I had mastered 15 km of rugged terrain and gathered some images that were worth taking with me. I tried some Danish delicatessen, listened to the good humor of the Danes and learned about the long-standing relationship that they had with the Germans, that consisting of love and hate, trials and tribulations, toil and tears, and division and unity. Both sides had their differences that had to be settled through military conflict- among other things the war of 1864 between the then Prussians and the Danish kingdom which included a lop-sided Prussian victory at Dubel (near Sondernburg). There was of course the battle over Flensburg and who possesses it as both sides laid claim to it until 1951 when it was considered a border town for both the Danes and the Germans. This was in addition to World War II and Hitler’s quest for breathing room. But today- they live in peaceful co-existence for one reason and one reason only: because they looked, they listened, and they learned. They looked at the benefits of coexistence, they listened to each other, and they listened to each other.

Leaving that as is for another time, I took this experience with me and re-entered reality- a reality that is filled with multicultural diversity but it is the target of xenophobia, cleansing, and pure hatred. This multicultural diversity does not necessarily have to do with the place of origin or ethnical, religious, or cultural backgrounds. It can also focus on family tradition, socio-economical backgrounds, and even the preference of a certain group disregarding politics, themes worth talking about, or even sexuality.  Each of us has its own set of values, thinking, and ideal world that we feel comfortable with. The problem with that is we are being sounded out, played down, browned off by factors that don’t want us to be who we are, let alone share our views with others. Through the actions of these factors, consisting of harassment, intimidation, and even verbal or physical assaults on our identities,  we are vulnerable to a change that is against our nature mainly because the factors don’t look at us, listen to us, and learn from us. It is no wonder why so many people take their own lives and those with them- because they feel that they don’t belong to society and need to express their frustration to the rest of society.

When I read about an 18 year old taking his own life because he was gay and therefore was cyber-bullied, or a 17 year old storming a school to pelt others with bullets before providing his own head with one, it makes me ask myself, why are these people doing this. Like us, they had a right to live and share their experiences with others without being ashamed of it. But the people who bullied them to a point of suicide did this because they were afraid of seeing them in their world. These are the people who are careless because they don’t look at the people for who they are, listen to them and how their lives developed the way they were, and learn from that experience and perhaps can relate to them. By being wreckless, ignorant and fearful, what happens to the victim actually comes back to haunt them. It’s like travelling along that rutted path through the forest, that I mentioned earlier- the careless and faster you bike, the more likely that you will create a very nasty fall that will cause injuries (some serious pending on the degree).  If you look at the incidents that has happened over the past decade: Littleton in 1999, Erfurt in 2002, Cold Springs in 2005, Red Lake Falls in 2007, Virginia Tech in 2008, Ansbach and Winnenden in 2009, and now a slew of suicides that has been happening over the last six months, including the aforementioned cyberbullying that resulted in a suicide in Massachusetts, they all follow the same pattern.

So why don’t we all be careful with what we say or do with other people? Is it necessary to be wreckless and take action without thinking of the consequences? And what is wrong with embracing other people and cultures? It’s free and priceless. You learn more about them and make yourself a better person at the same time. You become more popular to the community because of your openess, tolerance, and acceptance of other people and their views on life. And the most valuable experience from all this is you may end up befriending the person whom you wanted to bully to begin with.  It’s very easy to do. One just has to look, listen, and learn.

I would like to close with some food for thought, looking at this topic from a historian’s point of view. If you look at the picture at the end of this entry, you’ll see a fort that was built at Dubel in 1864 as a fortress to fend off the advancing Prussians and protect neighboring Sondernburg. While the defense was not successful and the Danes lost the war, both sides 87 years later realized that there was no point in wasting lives and resources not only in fighting each other but also erecting memorials comemorating the battles, so they took the cheapest and easiest way out and built a bridge connecting the two cultures and embraced each other. They didn’t care about their backgrounds or their differences, and it’s understandable why. We spend more money, resources, and nerves on conflicts and the memorials commemorating them than we do when we spend the few precious free minutes of our lives to say hi to another person and get to know him/her. And the benefits of just a few minutes to learn from the person far outweigh that of ignoring or even bullyiing them. So instead of spending that money on defending ourselves against people who don’t fit in society why not build a bridge for them and do what we should be doing in the first place- look, listen, and learn.

And the file closes with the pics worth taking with you. Until next time, happy trails until we meet again.

Photo taken by Jason Smith in May, 2010

Fort Dubel near Sondernburg- the source of the conflict between the Danes and the Germans in 1864 and the symbol of division and the fear.

SOLUTION: BUILD A BRIDGE AND OPEN UP!

Photo taken by Jason Smith in May, 2010

FAQ: This bridge, built in 1926 did serve as a symbol of unity between Germany and Denmark. Up until the Schengen Agreement in 1995, the bridge was guarded by the patrolmen on both sides, who maintained peace free of conflict, and people had to present their passports before crossing. Since then people can bike across freely and the patrolmen’s house on the Danish side is all that remains.

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Schuleinführung: Entering Elementary School in Germany

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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:

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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.

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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!) 🙂

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Genre of the Week: Home

Photo courtesy of Corrina Schaffer.
Photo courtesy of Corrina Schaffer.

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.

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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. 🙂 

Overalls or Latzhose?

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frage für das forum

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.

five years flfi