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

Diving Into Chinese Culture

(TR) Being part of an open source community and working at SUSE offers a wealth of opportunities for cross-cultural encounters. Collaborating with people from different backgrounds that may be located anywhere in the world is part of our daily activities – as is working in virtual teams that stretch across multiple time zones.

First Cross-cultural Challenge
Many years ago, I established my first contact to the Chinese colleagues in one of the teams that I’m part of via the project’s mailing list. As trivial as this might seem, it held the first (cross-cultural) challenge for me as I was unsure how to correctly address the colleagues. How to tell which part of a Chinese name represents the first name and which part belongs to the family name? Traditionally, the sequence of names in China is family name, followed by the generation name (if any) and the given name(s). But in our company address book, the sequence of the names follows the English tradition: the given name first, followed by the family name.

SUSE Summer Events
One of the possibilities to get to know colleagues from other locations in person in an informal setting are the SUSE Summer Events. They usually take place in the Czech Republic or in Germany and involve a lot of team-building activities, usually  outdoors. This was also how I happened to meet some of the Chinese colleagues that I was already working with – in the woods somewhere in the Czech Republic. 🙂

The R&D Exchange Program
To foster even more cross-team and cross-site networking between multiple SUSE locations, the SUSE Research & Development (R&D) department offers an exchange program: Each quarter several R&D employees can be nominated for the exchange program. Originally, the exchange program was a possibility for the Chinese colleagues to visit and meet their colleagues from other SUSE locations in person. Fortunately, the program has been extended meanwhile. After a specified process, the nominees can visit a SUSE location of their choice for 2-3 weeks. To my surprise, I was among the lucky ones last year. I was really looking forward to visiting the Beijing office and to working from there for two weeks!

The Beijing Office
In late August last year, I left Nuremberg in the afternoon. About 12 hours later I arrived at Beijing Capital International Airport around 11:20 AM local time the next day. From the airport it was only a short trip to the Central Business District (CBD) of Beijing. The office is located next to the East 3rd Ring Road  (one of the seven ring roads in this city that holds a total population of more than 21,700,000 inhabitants). The surroundings where very impressive – as was the view from the office on the 36th floor, next to the CCTV Headquarters (China Central Radio and Television Tower).

view_from_office       cctv_tower

The office in Beijing currently consists of 11 teams, among them Research & Development, Sales, and Customer Care. Some of the Chinese colleagues use English names as first name (in addition to their Chinese given name), which makes it easier for foreign visitors to remember and pronounce the names. Chinese is a tonal language, which means that many words are differentiated solely by tone (pitch). Thus, trying to pronounce Chinese words and names can be a challenge as the difficulty is to use the right tone for each syllable. 😉

With me being a member of the SUSE documentation team, the main topic during my stay in China was to share knowledge about writing skills in general and technical writing in particular. In the first week, I gave a general introduction to the SUSE documentation team during a Lunch and Learn session. During the second week, I gave writing trainings for individual teams, each including a hands-on session with an example text. The task was to analyze the text for typical issues, and to restructure and rewrite it according to the principles covered in the first part of the training. All teams came up with good proposals on how to improve the text.

Major Learnings Along the Way
When I left the office on the first evening, a colleague showed me some restaurants in the vicinity and recommended some local dishes. With her help, I managed to order my first dinner in China – and it was delicious!

By the way, food is an important part of Chinese culture. In China, you traditionally have three warm meals a day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So during the two weeks in Beijing, I had plenty of opportunities to try the local cuisine, which substantially differs from the “Chinese food” you get in Europe. The habit of sharing dishes and the huge variety of flavors that will be selected and combined for each meal is a wonderful experience! One of the highlights was a traditional Hot Pot dinner with hand-crafted rice noodles – similar to what you can observe in this video:

Another thing that never ceased to amaze me was the hospitality and friendliness of the people I encountered (even outside of the “SUSE family”). The colleagues in the office were really kind and helped me with a lot of things, for example, with buying a Beijing Transportation Smart Card, which you can use on the subway and city buses. The subway in Beijing is the fastest means of transportation and a good way to avoid frequent traffic jams. It is also an excellent example of how to organize public transportation in a way which makes it easy to use for foreign visitors who might not be able to read or understand the local language!

On the week-ends, I went to see some major historic sites in and around Beijing like the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Olympic park or the National Museum of China. I also enjoyed going to the parks or to public places where you can listen to music performances, see (or join) people doing Taijiquan (tai chi) or ballroom dancing. As some parts of the Great Wall of China can be reached within a 60-70 minutes drive from Beijing, the colleagues were so kind to also organize a trip to this famous building on the week-end. I could not have imagined how steep some parts of the wall are. Therefore the term “climbing the Great Wall” is more than justified – breathtaking and unforgettable!

great_wall

Back Again
The two weeks spun way much too fast, but I still treasure my stay in China. It was a fascinating experience in many respects! Even after being back, I kept some habits that I adopted during my time there, like drinking hot water throughout the day. (Hot water supplies are available in many public places in China like the airports or the train stations, for example).

From my point of view, the exchange program is a great opportunity to establish personal relationships and trust, which helps to create mutual understanding and better collaboration. I can only recommend to use the multiple chances to get to know your colleagues from other locations in person – it is always a win-win situation! Probably your experiences will be similar when you visit other SUSE locations via the Exchange Program (or happen to relocate from a different country to Germany to work from the Nuremberg office).

This article was first published on the SUSE Blog in a slightly different version.

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San Francisco Coffee Company, Vinzenz Murr and other brands..  

Whenever you’re on the road in Germany, you’ll find lots of American brands all over the place. McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks and more for example when it’s about fast food. 

However there are a lot “brands” that don’t exist in the USA, though they pretend to be American and they play on the Germans’ belief that they are.

I am terribly sorry if that takes away any dreams and illusions, but the San Francisco Coffee Company cafe chain does not exist in California. If there is a company of that name, it’s not a well known chain. In fact people from California may giggle on seeing  shops and brands like that, especially once they have read their website, claiming turquiose, pink and yellow as “Californian life style colours” while being headquartered and founded in Munich, Bavaria. 

Same thing happens with a lot of clothes or similar brands, and you can see lots of cultural misconceptions, preaeassumptions and memes on both sides, the facepalm is your friend. Cross-cultural shopping is fun, just take your friends to town and chat…. 🙂 

Btw: The “Vinzenz Murr” butchery shop on the photo is one of a medium size Bavarian (Munich) chain, as is “Der Beck” (Erlangen) or the pan-german”Ditsch” franchise bakery shop.

Some of these chains may pretend to be traditional,  but in fact they are producing huge amounts of food every day and they are present in almost every mall and train station. Vinzenz Murr butcheries for example call themselves traditional Bavarian, and at the same time they boast with hiring 147 apprentices per year. If you are looking for traditional local food and shops, ask the locals! 

Question of the Day: Are Germans Always Complaining – or Are They Just Veeery Honest?

DeeAnn in her article “How are you? Wait, why are you telling me this?” already discussed the general topic from the US point of view – this article highlights the German counterpart 😉.

Shortly after SUSE had been acquired by Novell, quite a few of us SUSEans traveled to Salt Lake City to attend BrainShare (the Novell customer and partner conference). With us we had a young German colleague who never before visited the US, and probably had not much interaction so far with colleagues from other countries. He was a bit stressed out by the travel, and did not feel that well.

howareyou

The same day we arrived, in the evening the Welcome Reception took place. Of course we all showed up there, and our new boss from the US approached that young colleague with a “Great you are here, how are you”. Instead of just answering “Thanks” or even “Doing well”, the young man started to give a speech about his state of mind and of health, saying something like “Oh well, I am not really feeling good, I am missing Germany, and I am tired as I could not sleep during the flight” and so on and so forth. With every word he added, our new boss got more and more pale – you could really feel how his state of mind did change – and he did not know how to react.

Fortunately we ‘succeeded’ in stopping our colleague’s flood of words, and we explained to him that next time, he should keep his answer to something like “Thanks, how are you”. He was quite confused, and replied: “I didn’t want to be rude at all. But I was asked a question, and  I answered honestly. Should I have been lying?”

anja-191410

The next day, our new boss asked me “Is there something wrong with this guy because he was complaining so much?” “Well – not in his perception – he just wanted to be honest. It could easily be that next time when you ask him ‘how are you’ he showers you with a flush of positive emotions instead.”

Sometimes “truth” and “truth” are two different things. So the question is: are Germans complaining 😭– or are they too honest 😲? (mc)

Flash Mob Marching Band

Here’s something from a few years ago that made me chuckle.

If you’re wondering, yes, it’s in Nürnberg over by the Weißerturm in front of C&A.

Enjoy!

https://youtu.be/WlG2xN4ef3Y

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.

http://www.nordbayern.de/

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.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/

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

https://www.thelocal.de/

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.

http://agbc.de/knowledge-base_german-news-in-english.html

Frühschoppen

What’s the difference between Frühstuck and Frühschoppen?

When asked this question last week, my teenage daughter replied “well, that’s easy! Frühstuck is breakfast and Frühschoppen is when you go into town early to buy clothes.”

Of course, this is not the right answer.

When someone invites you to their house for Frühschoppen, this is usually the same as breakfast, although a bit later and with alcohol involved…

In Bavaria (and also Franconia), Frühschoppen usually consists of Breze (pretzels), Weißwurst (boiled white sausage), Weißenbier (wheat beer) and süßer Senf (sweet mustard – you’ve really got to try this – it’s an absolute must!)

suser-senfAlthough this is not always the case and can come as a variety of cold meats and cheeses with freshly baked bread and jams.

fruhschoppen

This can be a fun experience with friends and a nice alternative to partying into the night.

The term “brunch” is also commonly used. Personally I found this rather amusing that the Germans would use an English word. Once I was even asked to explain the meaning of brunch to my German class. Breakfast and lunch rolled into one. Hence, br(eakfast)+(l)unch=brunch.

I find it rather strange that the Germans should use the English term for this, especially when they have the wonderful words as “Fr(ühstuck)” and “(Mittag)essen”, from which they could make the word “Fressen”, right?

Markus, Doc Team

Hi, I’m Markus from Regensburg, which is only 100 km from Nuremberg, but there is a lot of traditions that are completely different from Franconia. I am team lead of the documentation team, and we are located in the first floor of the East wing. I love traveling, writing and talking to people all over the world about our cultures. Languages (though I don’t really speak that many) are a nice hobby of mine, too, and since lots of my really close friends are from a variety of countries and cultures I have been collecting funny, sometimes mind-blowing stories of other countries that I’d like to share.

“You are so multicultural”, said the Californian – wait, what?

My strangest moment was when an American friend from California visited me for the first time. After her first three hours in Nuremberg which we mostly spent in the beautiful old town I asked her about her first impressions of this country. She thought a few seconds, looking around and said:  “Germany is so much more integrated, multicultural and peacefully mixed ethnicities than many environments in the US.”

At first I thought I had misheard, since German media tended to be full of other stories and opinion about us, with right-wing parties rallying in the summer of 2016. “Look”, the lady from Sacramento pointed to a group behind me. “Look at these kids.” I turned around and saw a group of students of college age, six guys and three girls, passing by.

Skateboards, Icecream, Chai and the world

Two of the boys carried huge skateboards, some ate colourful icecream, a mini skirt girl held up a bright brown chai latte kind of coffee, while another one wore a blueish head scarf. They happily chatted in the kind of language that our youngsters think is German, they laughed and had fun, just as we did ages ago. I hadn’t noticed what my guest saw: The little flock seemed so diverse to her, with probably African, Arab, Turkish, Russian, German and Italan dinner waiting for them at home. To me it was just another group of teenagers on their way home from afternoon fun in the city on a hot summer day.

That was the moment when I realized that in the US concepts like race, ethnicity, heritage and lots of other group membership are so much more present and important in daily life than they are in Germany. And I found interesting proofs for that ever since.

Ethnicities and discrimination

For example, anti-discrimination laws require citizens in the US to fill in their ethnicity in many standard forms, while the same laws explicitly forbid that question in Germany. If I hadn’t been to the USA, I wouldn’t know what to write in this field (Am I Caucasian?). On the same ground, applications for a job in the US should never ever contain a photo – this might be considered an attempt from you to discriminate other applicants by showing your ethnicity. Oh, and please don’t ever ask a stranger about his ethnical background. On the other hand, African Americans often are warned when visiting Germany about that, and told to not take such questions by Germans as an offence. “They will ask you if they may touch your hair… don’t worry, that’s just friendly.”. Yes, this is true, as strange as it may sound.

Since that day I’m pretty proud of the mutlicultural nature of this country that most people here don’t even realize anymore. Yes, we’re friendlier and more helpful than we tend to think. And yes, we can be really good hosts.

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:

https://bz.nuernberg.de/sprachen/fachgruppe/deutsch.html

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.

Cultural things to do in Nürnberg for non-native German speakers

Coming to a new city can always be a little daunting. Wondering whether you will fit in, meet people outside of work and make friends. So here are a couple of ideas that you might like to explore:

Firstly, there is a popular magazine in Nürnberg for everyone titled “Doppelpunkt” (which translates as colon as in the punctuation and not the last section of the intestine of course). This has a very up-to-date listing of all the main events that are occurring in and around Nürnberg, Fürth and Erlangen. These events vary from music, theatre, cinema, dance, parties, literature, television & radio programs, children activities and much more. There is also a gastronomy guide and an introduction to the local scene. Admittedly it’s all in German, but it doesn’t take much to decipher what’s going on.

Here’s a link to their website: http://www.doppelpunkt.de/

If you happen to be on Facebook, you might consider joining these public groups:

1) English Stammtisch – Nürnberg | Join the Party

This is an English-speaking group with more than 5000 members that focus on meetings and events where people can meet and get together to talk in English.

It describes itself as:

English Stammtisch is a voluntary effort to support the expat community of Nuremberg. English is the common language for guests, but you will meet a variety of native speakers at our event.

This group is not an organization or a business venture. We do not analyse or sell any of your data.

WE MEET TWICE A MONTH
The last Thursday of the month is ALWAYS in Bäckerhof and there’s an ‘EXTRA’ Stammtisch TWO weeks prior, which is always somewhere different.

2) Nürnberg Rocks…

This is an english and german-speaking group with more than 1,200 members, so the language is often a little mixed. However it offers a number of useful cultural tips to most people living in Nürnberg.

It describes itself as:

Grüss Gott!

This is a group created to share gastronomical, cultural and interesting events and exhibitions in Nürnberg. Please feel free to add or share it with friends.

If you want to watch a new blockbuster movie in English, without German dubbing, you may want to visit the Roxy Renaissance Cinema.  This cinema mainly plays films with the original soundtrack.

Alternatively you can visit Cinecitta, the largest cinema in Nürnberg, where they show a number of their films in original version. Take a look at these: https://www.cinecitta.de/de/English-and-original-Movie-Programming-CINECITTA-Nuernberg-867,181900.html

If you or anyone else have any further suggestions, please mention them in the comments below.

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