"A different language is a different vision of life" (Federico Fellini))



Yes, No, Jein, Yesno, for sure – even though we are all speaking English, we are not talking the same language sometimes.

Found something? Don’t keep it!

(mfe) This article on Spiegel Online reminded me of a discussion we recently had. I was told that in the USA there is no such (legal) concept of “Finderlohn” (finder’s reward) the way we have it here in Germany. I wonder if this is true – please comment. People told me “finder’s keeper” is a common US phrase, meaning: Whoever finds stuff, may keep it. Under the term of “homesteading” this even applies to empty houses – look up “squatters”. And if you plan to buy a house in the states be sure to not leave it alone for too long.

German paragraphs regulate Finder’s Rewards

In Germany there is – as so often even a legal paragraph (and a whole legal concept “Fundrecht”) that tells us how to handle lost and found items: §§971 BGB defines who has to and how much finder’s reward has to be paid. So if you happen to find a wallet e.g. on a street in Germany, better be careful: you might commit an offence by simply keeping it. You are supposed to return it to a local “Fundamt or Fundbüro” (They even offer online search for lost and returned items!) or any similar office of the authority where you found it – on trains that might be the conductor or on a bus or tram the driver (The Deutsche Bahn even runs its own service ). Simply keeping precious things you found might bring you in trouble, it’s considered fraud. However, if nobody comes to pick up the lost item from the Fundamt, you may be allowed to keep it after some months of waiting. In the meantime, you could think of visiting one of the regular auctions that happen at the Fundamt. Yes, there you can buy lost items that nobody (owner nor finder) claimed within the legal period.

Fighting for Rewards – or not

In the story from Munich, a woman did not even want the hundreds of Euro reward that she would be supposed to get. I guess in the US this seems to be handled differently: In 2010 US rapper Ryan Leslie lost his laptop. His video announcing one million reward for the lost device went viral, because first he tried to find his laptop bag via Youtube, then he refused to pay finder’s reward he had promised, and in the end a court had to sentence him to pay the reward he promised – which he responded to in a Youtube video as well.

Die Nachrichten

Most people have their own favourite websites or newspapers to find out what’s going on in the world. As a foreigner (Auslander) living in Germany, it’s easy to find out what’s going on internationally, but not so easy to find out what’s happening locally without asking someone else and this can sometimes make one feel isolated. Of course, the problem here is usually to do with language.

If you are learning German, I would strongly recommend you to try reading the Nürnberger Nachrichten newspaper online. You might not understand everything in it, but it is a good exercise and it does help to improve your language skills.

For those of us who find the news difficult to follow, there is in fact German news available in English language. Der Spiegel magazine translates most of its articles into English, allowing non-natives the opportunity to find out what’s topical in Germany and locally.

The Local is another news website in English which is operated from Sweden:

You might also want to take a look at the website for The AGBC (Association of American-German Business Clubs). There is also a lot of useful news and information available there too.

Need to learn German?

Then take a look at the Bildungszentrum in Nürnberg.

The Bildungszentrum provides a number of German courses for foreigners which are titled “Deutsch als Fremdsprache”. These courses last usually 2-3 months, but there is also the option for intensive courses, which can be completed in a matter of weeks. All are subsidized by the city which means that a typical 60-hour course would cost ~180 € . The class sizes are normally restricted to a maximum of 18 people.

No courses involve a lot of coursework, but fortunately no exams. On completion of the course the student is presented with a certificate as a proof of their attendance. This is particularly useful to hang on to, particularly if you ever decide to apply for jobs, residency or citizenship in Germany.

Most of the courses take place in the early evening, so as to make it possible for people in full-time employment to attend them. Courses are usually held in various classrooms at various schools in different locations within the city. All of these locations are normally easily accessible with public transport.

Check out the courses here:

If you have difficulty understanding German on the website, then ask a German colleague nicely to look at it with you and to help you book a place on a course.

How are you? Wait, why are you telling me this?

In the U.S., “Hi! How are you?” and “Hey! How’s it going?” are commonly used as greetings and pleasantries (for example, when passing by someone in a hallway) so it can be a surprise when the person you are asking in Germany responds with anything besides “fine” or “okay” and start telling you how they are (because of course you just asked them). And it can be awkward (and even rude) if you don’t stop to talk and keep walking past them, because you expected the chat to end there. This habit I still fall into sometimes (even after some months here), but now most times when I ask, I am planning on having a real conversation. (dl)

99 in four languages

(mfe) Numbers are a tricky thing, and they also define how we see and think Mathematics. Did you know there’s Big and Little Endian – well, and French and Finnish.

Cultural Misunderstandings… knocking up and stuff…

Psychology Today had an short but interesting article about aspects of Cultural Misunderstandings that may mislead into tricky situations:
Knocking somebody up, race or latin lover may mean different things depending on your or your communication partner’s background.

Cultural Misunderstandings – Psychology Today (May 2010)

Freie Nutzung des Adjektivs “frei” (the free usage of the adjective “free”)

“Free”, like many other words, can mean a lot of things, but in Germany the word “frei” can be confusing in the context that it’s used. In English, we use the word “free” liberally also, but more in the sense of freedom or exempt of charge.

Let’s look at several usages of the word “frei” in Germany:

Vorurteilsfrei means open-minded.

“Eintritt frei”, which is quite often seen on posters for concerts or other such events, means free-entry and therefore you do not need to pay to enter. So one might ask “is it free to get in?” And the answer might be “ja. Es ist Eintritt frei.”

Likewise, the word “kostenfrei” is used to imply that there is no charge.

“Freiwillig” means voluntary, another usage of the word “frei” in a non-compensatory sense.

However, words such as “alkoholfrei” don’t mean that that the alcohol inside the bottle is free, but of course that there is no alcohol content. Same goes for words, like “Fett frei” or “Laktose frei”, there is no fat or lactose respectively.

So when I was 25 years old, I booked myself into the cheapest camping site that I could find while on holiday in Croatia. Nothing could be cheaper than a “frei” campsite, I had thought. In those days, we didn’t have smart phones to quickly check translations, we had to use a small pocket dictionary and a bit of guess work, so as you can imagine I was a little alarmed that I did have to pay money after all. Very soon afterwards the realization struck me, like a baseball bat to the back of the head, as I realized what the words “Freikörperkultur” really meant. Boy! Was I in for a surprise!!!

Now up until this point, everything sounds like common sense, but when I began cycling to work in the mornings, I became confused with some of the road signs, particularly one that was on the pavement. It had a picture of a bicycle and had the word “frei” underneath. Of course I interpreted this in the same way as “alkoholfrei”. No bicycling or bicycle free zone. So naturally I dismounted my bicycle and walked with it until I came to a well-defined cycle path and then I remounted it and carried on to work.

In the town, I was astounded by the number of taxis that violated parking restrictions and defiantly parked under “Taxi frei” signs. This made me annoyed that taxi drivers could get away with this and even a little curious, that I even knocked on one taxi driver’s window and had the audacity to ask him sarcastically if he was offering “kostenfrei” trips. Of course, the unfortunate taxi driver, who wasn’t German, didn’t have a clue what I was talking about.

This misunderstanding was soon cleared up when a friendly neighbour kindly explained what “Fahrrad frei” meant. Of course, it means “free for bicycles to use”, although “Taxi frei” has a slightly different meaning, which is “parking only for taxis” (very confusing).

And on that note, I will end by saying “Freitag” is definitely not a free day. You have to go to work on this day too.

Jein! About yes, no, yesno and Mu

(mfe) Buddhism, they say, has a third standard answer in basic philosophy or logic: Mu.Yes, No, and Mu. Sometimes Germans also have this third state.

Douglas Hofstadter, former Regensburg university professor, and author of the epic book “Goedel Escher Bach”, explains that the “Mu” in eastern philosophy more or less reduces to “It does not make sense to ask this question!”, just like: “Is the moon still there when no one’s watching her?”

Somehow, its German variant has a larger scope. When asking a German, you sometimes end up with recieving a “Jein” when you’d expect a clear “Ja!” or “Nein!”. “Jein” is a delicate way of saying Yes and No at the same time. Not only can it mean both, no, it will. Germans use it when they express their doubts about either one of the standard answers. Whenever a german doesn’t see strong advantages on either Yes or No, he’ll go for a “Jein.”

And there’s even a  – not really funny – song about it:


No compliment is in fact a compliment

Particularly in the work place, most Europeans expect to be complimented for their good work effort. In Britain, if we didn’t get a compliment when we expected one, we might ask if everything was okay. Some people look at this negatively as “fishing for compliments”, but it’s quite a healthy practice to ensure that you get some peace-of-mind from some on-the-spot feedback about your work performance, so as not to go home on the weekend feeling unloved and unappreciated.

In Germany, don’t expect to get many compliments at work. If you do get a compliment, then it’s likely that your manager was astounded by what you were working on or – maybe – he had spent some time on an inter-cultural training course and learnt how to communicate with you better. In the case of the latter, you should praise him on his commitment in striving to be a better manager.

Just for the record, no comment from your German manager normally implies that everything’s all right and he’s happy with your work. If, however, he’s critical about what you have been working on, then you should perhaps pay attention to what he’s saying. A criticism does not necessarily imply that he’s unhappy with you, but he might expect to see some improvement in certain areas when you embark on your next project.

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