The Little Book of Transcreation – excerpt #10

1 Comment » Written on December 21st, 2011 by
Categories: Germany, Russia
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It’s important to research your product name in the market you want to break into. Even if a certain word doesn’t “look” offensive, sometimes the way it is pronounced can give it a whole new meaning.

When Vicks first introduced its cough drops to the German market, they were embarrassed to learn that the Germans pronounce “v” as “f” – and “ficken” is a crude term for “have sex” in German.

In the 90s, a mineral water called “Blue Water” was launched in Russia. But when Russians said the English name aloud, it sounded very like “блевота” (pronounced “blevOta”) – slang for “vomit”.

So they changed the name to “Water Blue” – a simple solution, but one that sounds much more appealing.

Nobody’s perfect

No Comments » Written on September 26th, 2011 by
Categories: Germany, UK
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I was at Munich’s main railway station last week and urgently needed to use the toilet.

Too much information? Really? My experience of more than 20 years in Munich is that most Germans are perfectly happy talking about bodily functions, although it’s better not to do this with your English-speaking business partners. We really don’t want to know about your problems with your mucous membranes (Schleimhäute).

Anyway, when I got to the “pay loo”, I noticed that its name had changed. It used to be “McClean”; now it’s “rail & fresh”.

I had two reactions. First, I was relieved, so to speak, that it was still there. Second, I thought that the self-appointed protectors of the German language, the Verein Deutsche Sprache (VDS) would have a heart attack if they saw this. Maybe they have.

The VDS spends its time fighting the use of English in German – fighting against Anglicisms or what is often called “Denglisch“. Its newspaper, “Sprachnachrichten”, is more or less a non-stop attack on English. Sometimes informative, sometimes entertaining. Almost always negative about the world’s lingua franca.

One article in 2009 even suggested that English was responsible for the financial crisis. It said that German bankers often couldn’t understand “hidden clauses” in American investment contracts. And these clauses would have alerted them to the risks of these investments. According to the article, it wasn’t the fault of the bankers for not using English-speaking lawyers or top-class translators. The fault lay with the English language itself. Sadly, I am not joking.

People should use whatever words they want

I’ve debated with representatives of the VDS in the past and we fundamentally disagree. They think, in general, that Anglicisms, such as Sale or Location, should not be used in German. Instead, German alternatives should be preferred (or invented). I think, in general, that people should use whatever words they want.

I say “in general” because my language tolerance ends at the point where people can’t understand each other. But I don’t believe in trying to ban or replace words.

The inability to understand is only one of the three arguments against Denglisch put forward by VDS supporter and writing guru Wolf Schneider in his ironically titled book, “Speak German!”.

Schneider says English words should be used in German only if:

  • there isn’t a German alternative;
  • they are aesthetically pleasing;
  • they can be understood.

I regard only the third point as valid. Who, after all, is to judge whether a word is aesthetically pleasing or not? Personally, I also think that many Anglicisms – such as Learnings, Catering, downgeloaded, and the Facebook-inspired liken and geliked - sound and look ugly in German sentences. But beauty, as we know, is in the eye of the beholder.

I left my rucksack in the kinder

And to say that English words shouldn’t be used if there is (or could be) a German one available is to argue against synonyms, which all languages have. English, for example, lives quite happily with both the Latinate postpone and the Anglo-Saxonput off. You can do both to a business meeting in English – and no one cares about the linguistic origins.

New words constantly fight with old ones, sometimes replacing them, sometimes happily cohabiting with them. English itself has sucked up thousands of words from all around the world, including Germanic ones such as rucksackzeitgeist and kindergarten (often shortened to just kinder).

I’m not arguing against the creation of German equivalents to new English words, whether by the VDS or anyone else. If they think Klapprechner is better than Laptop, fine. In the end, it is the language market – that is, common usage – that decides whether a word lives or dies. So let’s see which people prefer. (Answer: in the long run, probably neither, as laptops will be replaced by tablets and other mobile devices.)

The glorious yet short-lived term of Wesiness

Of course, some of the silliest Denglisch creations have no chance of surviving. My personal (un)favourite was in an advertisement for a business seminar that said, “Business+Wellness=Wesiness”. Wesiness? Oh dear.

Ironically, native English speakers often get most upset by the use of English in German. “I wouldn’t mind as long as the Germans used our words correctly”, they complain. Sorry, but they are using them correctly. Examples such as Gin Tonic (standard English: gin and tonic), Last not least (last but not least) and Standing Ovations (standing ovation) are not incorrect English, they are correct German.

They are also creative examples of how languages change over time. Purists may not like it, but that’s their problem. And I still wish that standard English would take over the German creation Handy to mean mobile/cell phone.

Another common argument against Denglisch is that the current wave of English terms is so much greater than in the past. Maybe. So what? All innovation goes in waves. Deal with it. But if it is any comfort, remember that words such as Bombastor Nonsens entered German from English in the 18th century, while Gentleman, Snobboykottieren and Cocktail came in the 19th century. This really is nothing new.

No, the only valid reason for not using a word – English, German or whatever – is that it prevents clear communication. And there is an important message here for German-speakers who need English at work: don’t try to impress people by using English terms such as return on investmentstakeholders or one-off in your German if others won’t understand. Particularly if you’re not really sure yourself what they mean. Otherwise, you are simply talking High-level Bullshit, as I once heard a senior manager say in German. And, yes, everyone understood that.

What the heck does Call & Surf Mobile Friends mean?

Each year, the VDS awards its “language adulterer” prize to a person or company that it feels is unnecessarily using English terms. This year’s winner was Deutsche Telekom boss René Obermann for his company’s products such as Complete Call Friends, Extreme Playgrounds, Combi-Card TeensCall & Surf Mobile Friends, Business Complete and Company-Connect (although I would argue that most of these terms are actually perfectly clear to the target groups).

Maybe “rail & fresh” will be next year’s winner. What does it mean? Not much, you say. Well, it’s at a railway station and you make yourself fresh, I guess. And I doubt if anyone is confused by what it is – particularly as the letters “WC” are also there. By the way, that’s English for water closet.

And anyway, since when do product names or slogans need to be clear? The Brits live happily with – and love – the Audi slogan Vorsprung durch Technik, even though they don’t have a clue what it means. They simply translate it as: “It’s German, so it must be bloody good!”

And what exactly does “Starbucks” mean? Well, Starbuck was the name of a sailor in Herman Melville’s classic American novel Moby Dick from 1851. Did you know that? No, I didn’t either until I just gegoogelt it. And the point is that most people don’t care either – it’s a coffee shop, that’s obvious. Although, no doubt the VDS thinks it should be called Sternrammler or something equally absurd.

Denglisch? Relax. There are more important things in life to get worked up about. And anyway, just like King Canute sitting on his throne on the beach, you can’t stop the tide.

By Ian McMaster (Karriere Spiegel)

What Paddington tells us about German v British manners

Are Germans ruder than the British? Are Britons more dishonest than Germans? Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on blind prejudice for answers. Serious academic research has been done on both sides of the North Sea.

There are Britons in Berlin who get taken aback by the directness of Germans. And there are Germans who get really annoyed when Britons (and Americans), in an effort to appear friendly, say things they don’t really mean. Some Germans call this “lying”.

So, what do the experts say on the matter?

Professor Juliane House, of the University of Hamburg, has studied groups of people interacting in controlled situations, watching with academic rigour how they behave as human guinea-pigs.

She found (or verified) that Germans really don’t do small talk, those little phrases so familiar to the British about the weather or a person’s general well-being, but which she describes as “empty verbiage”.

In academic language, this is “phatic” conversation – it’s not meant to convey hard information but to perform some social function, such as making people feel good.

The German language doesn’t even have an expression for “small talk”, she says. It is so alien that in the German translation of A Bear called Paddington – Paddington unser kleiner Baer – it was omitted.

So this exchange of small talk occurs in the English original: “‘Hallo Mrs Bird,’ said Judy. ‘It’s nice to see you again. How’s the rheumatism?’ ‘Worse than it’s ever been’ began Mrs. Bird.”

In the German edition, this passage is simply cut.

Paddington stories reveal a lot about this cultural difference

Might a German talk about the weather, then?

“In a lift or a doctor’s waiting room, talk about the weather in German? I don’t think so,” she says.

So does that mean the British are more polite? No, just different.

For their part, the British have what House calls the “etiquette of simulation”. The British feign an interest in someone. They pretend to want to meet again when they don’t really. They simulate concern.

Saying things like “It’s nice to meet you” are rarely meant the way they are said, she says. “It’s just words. It’s simulating interest in the other person.”

From a German perspective, this is uncomfortably close to deceit.

“Some people say that the British and Americans lie when they say things like that. It’s not a lie. It’s lubricating social life. It’s always nice to say things like that even if you don’t mean them,” says House.

Blunt or direct?

For Britons it’s German directness that most often gives rise to bafflement or even fury. House, who married a Scouser – a native of Liverpool – gives an example from her own experience.

She would tell her husband to bring something from another part of the house – without the British lardings of “would you mind…?” or “could you do me a favour…?”

He would hear this as an abrupt – and rude – command.

This gap between German directness and British indirectness is the source of much miscommunication, says Professor Derek Bousfield, the head of linguistics at the University of Central Lancashire, and one of the editors of the Journal of Politeness Research.

There are many documented cases where the British understate a very serious problem with phrases like “there seem to be one or two problems here” or “there seems to be a little bit of an issue with this,” he says.

A British listener knows there is a gap between what is said and what is meant – and this can be a source of humour, as when the Grim Reaper’s arrival at a dinner party in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life “casts rather a gloom” over the evening.

Sometimes it’s endearing, or at least the British think it is, as when this announcement was made by British Airways pilot Eric Moody in 1982, after flying through a cloud of volcanic ash over Indonesia: ”Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress.”

But it can also be confusing if you’re not used to it.

When BMW bought the British car manufacturer, Rover, it took a while for the seriousness of some of the problems at Rover to sink in. All too often, British managers spoke in euphemisms that their German counterparts took at face value.

Beach towels at dawn

Both professors reject the idea that one nation’s manners are better than the other’s. Each has its own rules of communication, or patterns of behaviour, and neither can be blamed, they say, when clashes occur.

What about those sun-loungers – the seats by the pool, which German holidaymakers allegedly grab at the crack of dawn?

“I think what you’ve got there is a clash of prototypical German efficiency with the prototypical British sense of fair play,” says Bousfield.

House reckons the British do get the sun-loungers in the end, by one means or another.

“The British want the sun-lounger, but they do it differently,” she says.

“Are the British devious? Yes, but why should you directly go for something if it doesn’t work? Devious is not a bad thing.”

Article written by Stephen Evens, BBC website



Germany’s “Young People’s Word of the Year” Award

For the third year running, the German “Jugendwort des Jahres” (Young People’s Word of the Year) has been chosen by a jury of magazine editors, linguists and teenagers. The winning term will be included in Langenscheidt, a popular standard German language dictionary.

This year’s entries were whittled down to 30 from an initial 300 possible terms. 38,000 members of the public then voted online to reduce the number even further, with the jury having the final say – finally announcing the winning term in November.

This year’s winner was the noun Niveaulimbo (literally “limbo of standards”, a word invented to complain about the ever worsening quality of TV programmes, the atmosphere at a party that thins out before midnight, or a conversation that goes downhill fast when alcohol is involved). The noun Arschfax (literally “arse fax” – when somebody’s underwear label is sticking out from the back of their trousers) was awarded second place, while the verb egosurfen (to Google your own name) claimed third. Another entry among the top 30 was Schnitzelhusten (literally “schnitzel cough”), a humorous take on the official term Schweinegrippe, German for swine flu.

Winning words from previous years include the noun Bildschirmbräune (literally “screen tan”, used to describe the pale appearance of computer nerds) which took second place in 2008. Hartzen (to be unemployed/hang around idly, inspired by the benefit initiative for jobseekers called Hartz IV) which won first place in 2009. And Bankster (combination of banker and gangster, a credit crunch-related term) which was given second place in 2009.

To me, the results of this year’s “Jugendwort des Jahres” competition have made two things very clear: firstly, that German is still one of the most flexible languages around. Its functional and modular nature means different words can be taken and stuck together to form new expressions with a totally new meaning. And secondly, that English is influencing the German language more and more. In fact, 10 of the last 30 terms in the competition were of English origin, to some degree or other. Surfen, for example is the German word for “to surf”, and just carries the standard German verb ending -en, its pronunciation emulating the English. Others include haten (to nag or badmouth sth), flamen (to annoy), copypasten (to copy and paste/to plagiarise), and resetten (to reset).

The strong influence of technology on modern life is also reflected in many German words used today: a Konsolero, for example, is an excessive user of the various video consoles on the market; and n1 or nice one is one of plenty expressions taken from English and used by Germans in text messages and online on a regular basis.

Critics and many young people themselves say that the words are less frequently used than the jury would like to believe, and that many have an unfamiliar ring.

Be that as it may, what this proves is that German is certainly not standing still. Its flexible and modular nature, and its ability to adapt to cultural phenomena and to take up terminology from other languages, are proof that it’s a constantly evolving and beautifully diverse language.

For the top five words from the “Jugendwort des Jahres”, click here.

Christian from London, UK

Grammar experts needed for pope comment on condoms

No Comments » Written on November 22nd, 2010 by
Categories: France, Germany, Italy
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Male prostitutes? Did Pope Benedict actually say that only male prostitutes can use condoms to avoid transmitting the HIV virus? Why did he limit this unsuspected flexibility only to men?

Well, it’s not actually clear from the new book Light of the World, where this statement appears, that he is only talking about male prostitutes. In fact, the Vatican’s own daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, has him granting this conditional dispensation to female prostitutes. And his spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi has made a statement that supposedly clarified the pope’s comments but skirted around the gender issue altogether.

The problem is that the pope gave the interview in his native German, which is not 100% clear on this issue. The key phrase about condom use reads in the English translation: “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be the first step in the direction of a moralisation.”

In German, Benedict says “ein Prostituierter,” which signifies a prostitute of the masculine gender. This could refer literally to a man. But he could also be using the grammatical masculine gender, the default when speaking about any human individual in general. A phrase like “Every citizen has the right …” would be expressed in the grammatical masculine gender — “Jeder Bürger hat das Recht…” — but it would not disqualify half the population. Benedict could have made himself clearer by expressly saying “male prostitute” — “ein männlicher Prostituierter” — but he didn’t.

English can get way with simply saying “a prostitute” because we don’t signal genders with specific word endings. German forces the speaker to indicate a grammatical gender, often regardless of the sex or sexlessness of the object involved. So tables, trains, dreams and dishes are grammatically masculine in German without any hint of secondary sex characteristics. By contrast, a German could call a sultry 16-year-old actress “das Mädchen” — neuter gender for “the girl” — and refer to her as “it” with perfect grammatical accuracy.

The English translator got around this by adding the adjective “male.” The French translator was able to follow the German example and write “un prostitué” in the masculine gender rather than “une prostituée.” But Italian grammar apparently doesn’t allow such an easy switch, so the Vatican daily referred to “una prostituta” in the feminine gender.

The difference isn’t just grammatical. If Pope Benedict means only male prostitutes, he is speaking about gay sex, which cannot lead to procreation. The Church rejects artificial methods that block procreation, such as condoms and contraceptive pills. Since that doesn’t apply between two men, a condom could be condoned even though the Church thinks homosexual sex is wrong anyway.

But if he means male or female prostitutes, then he is allowing condom use for a sex act that could possibly led to pregnancy, i.e. when a male visits a female prostitute. From there, it’s only a short step to condoning it in a marriage where the man is HIV-positive. And then the question will arise, why not allow condoms for heterosexuals who aren’t infected?

Since he rules out artificial birth control in another chapter, a good grammarian would have to conclude from the context that Benedict does indeed mean masculine gender here in the sexual sense. I’m curious to see how the Vatican explains that its own newspaper used the feminine. Maybe a long essay about Italian grammar?

L’Osservatore Romano of 21 November 2010 with front-page mention of pope’s book — Luce del Mondo in Italian — at lower left. Interview excerpts were on the back page


Achtung! Less “Denglish”, more German, please

The word “Ruckizuckifutti” is not only a mouthful — it doesn’t evoke a sense of American lifestyle like its English equivalent “fast food,” either.

But when the German Language Foundation called on Germans to find an alternative for the English term, “Ruckizuckifutti” was one uniquely German suggestion.

The campaign is one of several by advocacy groups who are intensifying their fight against the massive use of English and “Denglish” — a hybrid of the two languages — in Germany’s advertising, television and everyday parlance.

“We don’t want to be language purists, but we want people to be aware of how they speak and that certain linguistic imports just don’t fit into German,” said Cornelius Sommer, a former German ambassador and one of the leaders of the campaign.

Another advocacy group, the German Language Club, has called on telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom to stop using terms like “Blackberry Webmail” and criticized national rail operator Deutsche Bahn for similar misnomers.

They face an uphill battle in Germany, where English is widely spoken and English expressions and Anglicisms are common.

For the past four years, Sommer asked the public each month to come up with one German equivalent for a borrowed English expression, with special focus on Anglicisms which use the original English incorrectly.

Sommer cites the word “handy,” which in Germany refers to a mobile phone, as a prime example of how the false Anglicisms not only harmed the German, but the English language, too.

“I’m not only trying to protect German, but English too,” Sommer said. “The English language is not just a pile of rubble from which we can pick and choose what we want.”

The wide use of English has social consequences, as large sections of the population — especially older generations who are less proficient in English — may feel excluded.

Sommer also criticised businesses and academia for adopting English as their lingua franca.

“University courses taught by professors with poor English to students with poor English — that can’t be good!”


The campaigns to name and shame linguistic miscreants have had some recent success.

Deutsche Bahn announced in February that it would refrain from using English at train stations, replacing the terms “Kiss & Ride” and “counter” with their German equivalents.

This came after German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer banished Anglicisms from his ministry in January.

But academic linguists are still sceptical about the long-term success of campaigns to limit the use of “Denglish,” saying imports are part of the organic evolution of languages.

“No one cares about what groups like the German Language Club suggest,” said linguist Rudi Keller. “No one uses the German word “Klapprechner” instead of laptop — the suggestions are just silly.”

Keller points out that movements to protect German are nothing new, starting with attempts to minimize French influence in the 17th and 18th centuries. Certain French terms were adopted but the majority soon disappeared from the vocabulary.

Perhaps surprisingly, despite the drive to accentuate all things Germanic, language purification was not a part of Nazi rule, as Hitler encouraged the use of foreign words to give National Socialism international flair.

Keller sees subtle nationalism lurking somewhere in the language purity debate but said he was certain the people running the main lobby groups had no such motives.

English is a popular import because it is pronounced similarly to German and because it is associated with a cultural sense of coolness no other language possesses, Keller says.

“We try to impress with our use of language. Some people buy themselves a Mercedes, others use English words. That might be annoying, but it can’t be changed.”

Cornelius Sommer, who as an ambassador spent time in 40 different countries across the world, supports the adoption of certain English words, but says that the process is happening too fast for many people to catch up.

“Some English words like ‘film’ or ‘sex’ have become German citizens, and that’s fine,” he said.

“They have to be incorporated in a process which was slow and democratic, though, not one dictated by an advertising industry whose only innovative idea is to use English on a massive scale,” said Sommer.

But linguist Keller says these campaigns are bound to fail, pointing to Germany’s neighbour France as a failed example of language dirigisme.

“The French have all these strict rules about the use of French over English imports,” Keller argued. “But if a French youth likes something, he’ll say “c’est cool!”

(Editing by Stephen Brown)

Article taken from Reuters

Signs of the Zeitgeist

The vain battle to promote German.

IN THE fight against English, France is famously out in front. Now Germany is joining in. Guido Westerwelle, its foreign minister, has begun a campaign to promote German as the “language of ideas.” The European Union’s diplomatic service should hire German-speakers, he told its chief, Catherine Ashton. Peter Ramsauer, the transport minister, plans to expel anglicisms from his domain. Ideensammlung will replace brainstorming; meeting-points will become Treffpunkte. Mr Ramsauer knows of “no country in the world where people treat their own language so disrespectfully.”

Germans have been resisting foreign words ever since they began writing, says Falco Pfalzgraf of the University of London. German is “watered-down and oversalted” with foreign words, said the founders of the Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft (“fruit-bearing society”) in 1617. Such groups taught Germans to prefer Abstand to the French Distanzand Augenblick to Moment. (Some coinages failed: Meuchelpuffer was shot down byPistole.) The Napoleonic wars and, later, the German empire brought more linguistic cleansing. Second-class status was a spur. Unlike Latin and French, German was never the language of diplomacy and culture. Frederick the Great mainly spoke and wrote in French.

The second world war stripped Germany of its cultural defences, allowing English to infiltrate unopposed. Sat.1, a broadcaster, is “powered by emotion”; Audi, a carmaker, “driven by instinct.” Even scholarship succumbed. Archaeology, a bastion of German-language research, is buckling, lament scholars at the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. So have teenagers, who now chillen and smsen. When Germany’s Lena Meyer-Landrut takes to the Eurovision stage on May 29th to sing “Satellite” in English, purists will cringe. Walter Krämer of the Verein Deutsche Sprache (German Language Association) blames Hollywood.

Since reunification in 1990, Germany has pushed back. A Neue Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft was founded in 2007. Mr Krämer’s Verein, with 31,000 members, publishes an index of 7,200 anglicisms, four-fifths of which, it claims, crowd out good German words. A pet hate is “blockbuster”, originally a 1942 coinage for city-destroying bombs. Mr Krämer, who lost six relatives to Allied bombing, prefers Kassenschlager (“box-office hit”).

A famous 19th-century postmaster fended off Adresse with Anschrift and Kuvert(envelope) with Umschlag. But Germans hesitate to follow France in making laws in favour of their language. The government considered but discarded the idea of making German the official language. It may let courts hear international cases in English. Perhaps Germans realise that English poses little threat to the mother tongue of 100m people. If alien words could kill, English might not have survived the Norman conquest.

From The Economist print edition

Germany’s got talent (at last!)

1 Comment » Written on May 6th, 2010 by
Categories: Germany
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Remember how a young lady from Hagen who refused to shave her armpits entered the charts singing some weird stuff about red balloons? Well, that was in 1984 and Nena has just turned 50. Time for a new German Fräuleinwunder to emerge … and here she is: Ladies and gentlemen, here comes Lena Meyer-Landrut. Lena who? Okay, forget about her last name, she will probably drop that after having shot to international fame. And this will happen, as we all firmly believe in this country, on May 29th when the Eurovision Song Contest will air.

For the last couple of years, this event that most Germans strangely still call by its French Name “Grand Prix d’Eurovision de la Chanson” (as if anyone ever cared about the French!), has only been interesting to two groups of people.

Firstly, those who have been dead for at least 27 years and secondly those who fancy half-naked Ukranian folk singers dancing clumsily amidst Russian fire-breathers on roller-skates.

Who is interested in watching Latvian presenters dressed to the nines (“Hello Stockholm, I must says that you guys are do a great chob!”) distributing their points to Estonia and Bulgaria? And who wants to watch sad German contestants bound to end up with a total of 3 points (that is, if things are going well). I am convinced that last year’s entry “Alex swings Oscar Sings” was the birth of the new German trend verb “fremdschämen” which means to feel extremely embarrassed about other peoples’ behaviour …

But this year, our nation is holding its breath. The reason is an 18-year-old dark-haired school girl from Hannover, a charming mixture of Björk and Audrey Tautou. She’s so sweet, so natural, so down-to-earth, but without the cheesy bits that being natural, funny and down-to-earth usually entail.

What made her special in the first place was the way she was chosen to represent Germany in the TV show “Unser Star für Oslo”. For the very first time, the audience was able not only to vote for their favourite candidate, but also for the song which the winner would be performing in Oslo. Organized by German comedian and producer Stefan Raab (who took part in the Eurovision Song Contest himself 10 years ago and made it to No 5.), the nation witnessed a kind of alternative TV audition show featuring real people far from the “That is so you!” and “You own the song!” bla bla of numerous other highly polished programmes (just to let you know what is going on in a so-called civilized country: you have Dieter Bohlen, a former member of Modern Talking, heading the jury of the German adaption of “Britain’s got talent” which is bit like Sir Cliff Richard being on the judge panel of a stage diving contest).

With a highly unusual voice and rather understated looks and moves, Lena took the sophisticated pop audience by storm. Her song “Satellite” not only went straight in at No. 1 in the German charts, it was also followed by her other singles “Bee” and “Love me” which were in the Top Ten single charts, a triple success never reached before.

So we are all feeling a bit like we did in the summer of 1998 when the world agreed that Germany would be a great host for the European football cup and when we suddenly had the courage to believe that, hey, we are great people!

So do believe the hype and forget about Nena. Thanks to Lena we can take great pride in our pop culture again. She simply is the most promising cultural representative of our country we have had for decades. Not sure about her armpits, though …

Lena Meyer-Landrut: a charming mixture of Björk and Audrey Tautou |

Sabine from Bochum, Germany

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

No Comments » Written on March 29th, 2010 by
Categories: Germany
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How linguistic variations affect where Germans choose to live

Few Germans now say Appel rather than Apfel (apple) or maken instead of machen (to make). The north German dialects that use such variants are mostly dead or dying. But the cultural differences that they reflect still govern behaviour today, says a paper from the Institute for the Study of Labour, in Bonn.

Acting on imperial orders in the 1880s, a linguist called Georg Wenker asked pupils from 45,000 schools across the new Reich to translate standard German sentences into local dialect. The results were used to compile an atlas of linguistic diversity. The new paper shows that Wenker’s dialect regions still define the comfort zones in which Germans prefer to live. When people migrate within Germany, they tend to go to places where dialects resemble those spoken in their home region 120 years ago.

German dialects, formed by geography and political and religious fragmentation, express deep-seated cultural differences. These persist even though borders between petty princedoms are invisible (and often no longer audible). Even small differences count. Swabians share Baden-Württemberg with Badeners. Both spoke Alemannic dialects. But Swabians, who say Haus (house), have a bias against living in the neighbouring old grand duchy, where they say Huus.

That trade is livelier among regions that share a language is well known. The paper’s authors think they are the first to find a similar effect within a single language in one country. They measure migration not trade, because the data are better and cultural factors matter more. The best predictors are still Wenker’s maps. “Even when we don’t speak dialect, the cultural territory is still there,” says Alfred Lameli, one of the authors.

Does this confuse cause and effect? Regions may have similar dialects because earlier generations migrated and their descendants follow suit. To rule this out, the authors looked at the way communist East Germany weakened social links that encourage migration. After unification, they found, the old migration patterns came back, suggesting that migrants respond to cultural factors more than to social ties. It seems that neither television, nor the autobahn, nor even the Kaiser, has created a single country in Germany.

Mar 18th 2010 | BERLIN | From The Economist

Big boss is watching you

No Comments » Written on March 12th, 2010 by
Categories: Germany
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According to a survey by the German government, over 25 per cent of German employers admit to spying on job applicants on the Internet. Young people in particular are all too careless when revealing too much information about themselves on social networks such as Facebook and MySpace. Apparently, applicants are not invited for an interview if inappropriate remarks or photos are found online.

Okay, no employer wants their staff to be racist or to have a criminal record. But it’s unlikely they’d ever discover this information by looking on the net. It’s frightening that recruiters no longer seem to trust their own social skills by not inviting someone for an interview just because they polished off a bucket of sangria with a couple of mates on a holiday in Mallorca 17 years ago. Trying to find this one snapshot could take hours, whereas any trained interviewer should be able to find out after five minutes of one-to-one if someone is a complete idiot or not.

Could it be that the current disastrous situation for the German job market is partly down to human resources wanting to know before inviting web designer Marlene, 28, well-trained and open-minded (as she puts it), for an interview, how she did in the Mariah Carey look-alike contest in 1997?

Do you honestly believe that companies are doing the best they can to overcome the ongoing economic crisis if managers find the time to check if Martin, 31 from Essen, an experienced and enthusiastic engineer, recommends the book “Chat-up lines in 300 languages” in his Amazon list of favourite books?

Dear would-be detectives and amateur spies in German offices, remember what David Brent aka Ricky Gervais said in the brilliant mockumentary “The Office”: “Those of you who think they know everything are annoying to those of us who do.”

The good thing about the new inquisitiveness in German offices is that frustrated job-seekers should relax: if you are wondering why you are never invited for a job interview, don’t worry, this has nothing to do with your qualifications. Just blame it on the fact that you were chairman of a David Hasselhoff fan club in 1985.

Sabine from Bochum, Germany