Politeness the Cologne way

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The past few days I had the opportunity to teach a group of 13 assistants for Management Circle in Cologne. After a long trip there – floods turned the 4 hour train ride into an 8 hour odyssee – it was lovely to see the majestic Dom. It was late in the evening, and I had never been to that particular hotel, and didn’t know how to best get around the massive cathedral to reach it. So I approached a friendly-looking woman of about my age who had also just got off and was walking in my direction, to ask her how to get there. But she didn’t know the hotel. She had what the Germans call ‘verschmitzten Humor’, a completely untranslatable kind of friendliness that I’ve really only found in certain parts of Europe. With nobody from Deutsche Bahn on site and some drunken noises and encroaching beggars and police sirens coming in off the street she grinned at me, acknowledging the situation, and gave me the friendly advice (which of course I actually knew, but didn’t mind hearing the way she presented it) that asking a taxi driver would be my best bet, pointing me in the right direction, and even winking at me just to make sure I felt comfortable and empowered in the situation, maintaining eye-contact for that extra split second it took me to smile back. She was clearly polite in a very Cologne and Rhineland way, making sure I felt comfortable and was in a good mood when we parted. It was almost as if she was being a bit of a friendly diplomat welcoming a slightly disoriented foreigner, building on the communality she recognized in me, a woman in business clothes maneuvering her way through a night-time scenario.

We were talking about politeness later in the seminar when I felt reminded that the politeness we are able to share with foreigners reflects on how they experience our environment and surroundings when they come to visit. There’s this afterglow when things go well, or a sickening feeling when they go badly. We’re always not just ourselves with foreigners, but automatically also representatives of the city or country or company or whatever we are a part of. So it really is important how we act. Some of the assistants yesterday had quite a tough time getting over certain types of behavior by clients and partners whom they considered unfriendly and impolite. They quite naturally take it personally when callers don’t say their names when they call, as saying your name is the norm here. We talked about seeing the behavior from the perspective of the other person (including their different standard procedures and expectations) and figuring out what their actual (positive) intention is. A big step is recognizing that how we react emotionally to others needs to be tempered by what we know, learn and continue to find out about them.

Still, when you meet someone whose politeness matches yours in a foreign place, as I did, I must say, it is an unexpected pleasure.

Describing Germany’s SMEs

This report by Margaret Warner for PBS News Hour about the Eurozone crisis (February 2012) is nice introduction into the world of German small and mid-sized industry, the companies that make “the thing that goes inside the thing that goes inside the thing.” The first 2 videos are about Germany, the third is about Italy.



And Italy:

Mind Your Language

I’m revising for the phonology orals now, trying to focus on typical areas that learners with different mother tongues need to work on. Had some fun with this. I was wondering whether it was offensive, but have come down on the side of funny. As one reviewer puts it “Yes, they were stereotypes, and it was deliberate. Put believable foreigners in there and you do not have a funny show.” Anna’s trouble with /v/ and /w/ is in part 2 at 9:25.


Mr. Jeremy Brown teaches an English class to a diverse group of ten foreign adult students in London, hailing from nine different countries. From Europe come two au pairs, the flirtatious and beautiful Danielle (France) and prim and proper Anna (Germany), two young single men, Giovanni (Italy) and Max (Greece) and a laid-back middle-aged bartender, Juan (Spain), who speaks no English at all. From Asia, come a revolutionary-minded secretary from the Chinese Embassy (Su-Li), a Japanese businessman (Taro) as well as three students from the Subcontinent, a devout Sikh (Ranjeet) and an unemployed Pakistani (Ali), who are constantly at each other’s throats, and finally a Hindi-speaking housewife (Jamila) who can’t speak a word of English. The school principal, Miss Delores Courtney, nearly dismisses Mr. Brown immediately as she had requested a female teacher, but he is allowed to stay on a trial basis. Mind Your Language, TV Series 1977-1986

Marlene Dietrich: Falling in Love again – Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss

Marlene in English and German and then again in English, great German accent; followed by Caroline Nin singing franco-anglo-tinged German.

ICH BIN VON KOPF BIS FUSS AUF LIEBE EINGESTELLT
(Friedrich Holländer)
Marlene Dietrich

Ein rätselhafter Schimmer,
Ein “je ne sais-pas-quoi”
Liegt in den Augen immer
Bei einer schönen Frau.
Doch wenn sich meine Augen
Bei einem vis-à-vis
Ganz tief in seine saugen
Was sprechen dann sie?:

Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß
Auf Liebe eingestellt,
Denn das ist meine Welt.
Und sonst gar nichts.
Das ist, was soll ich machen,
Meine Natur,
Ich kann halt lieben nur
Und sonst gar nichts.

Männer umschwirr’n mich,
Wie Motten um das Licht.
Und wenn sie verbrennen,
Ja dafür kann ich nicht.
Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß
Auf Liebe eingestellt,
Ich kann halt lieben nur
Und sonst gar nichts.

Was bebt in meinen Händen,
In ihrem heißen Druck?
Sie möchten sich verschwenden
Sie haben nie genug.
Ihr werdet mir verzeihen,
Ihr müßt’ es halt versteh’n,
Es lockt mich stets von neuem.
Ich find’ es so schön!

Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß
Auf Liebe eingestellt,
Denn das ist meine Welt,
Und sonst gar nichts.
Das ist, was soll ich machen,
Meine Natur,
Ich kann halt lieben nur
Und sonst gar nichts.

Männer umschwirr’n mich,
Wie Motten um das Licht.
Und wenn sie verbrennen,
Ja dafür kann ich nichts.
Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß
Auf Liebe eingestellt,
Ich kann halt lieben nur
Und sonst gar nichts.

FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN
(Frederick Hollander / Sammy Lerner)

Falling in love again
Never wanted to
What am I to do?
Can’t help it

Love’s always been my game
Play it as I may
I was born that way
Can’t help it

Men flock around me
Like moths around a flame
And if their wings burn
I know I’m not to blame

Falling in love again
Never wanted to
What am I to do?
Can’t help it

Love’s always been my game
Play it as I may
I was born that way
Can’t help it

Men flock around me
Like moths around a flame
And if their wings burn
I know I’m not to blame



Also recorded by:
The Beatles; Diahann Carrol; Chas & Dave; Petula Clark;
Rosemary Clooney; Sammy Davis Jr.; Doris Day; Roy Eldridge;
Marianne Faithful; Brian Ferry; Crystal Gayle;
Benny Goodman; Billie Holiday; Nana Mouskouri;
André Prévin; Alan Price; Linda Ronstadt; Nina Simone;
Jo Stafford; The Three Degrees; Don Williams; … and others.

Question: When does remixing become second-hand living?

Germany has been rocked by scandal this past week, as Helene Hegemann, the 17-year old writer of an astonishing novel called Axolotl Roadkill, has been shown up by Munich blogger Deef Pirmasens (Gefühlskonserve) to have lifted whole passages of her book from the writings of one Airen, a blogger in Berlin. Her publisher had asked her whether she’d quoted anything, and she’d said “no”. So she made a stupid mistake, and she’s being called a liar and a thief and all sorts of other nice things. The book is hot, sold out, second printing in the works. I only read the first 20 pages at my sister-in-law’s. It’s fast and savvy, a head trip full of adult experiences you’d sleep better knowing a 16 or 17 year old hasn’t had yet. So you really can’t help but be relieved that she actually did copy some of the episodes from an urbane blogger. Anyhow, she’s saying that her whole book is a remix anyway, and a totally legitimate new literary art form at that. Of course she’s right about remixing being a movement and an art form, and she can talk the talk, so she’ll be in the literary supplements for a while to come. Once the copyright issue  is settled in the second edition, a minor issue, and she shares the limelight with Airen, she’ll survive just fine as a writer.

But let’s just go back one step. So her book is pieced together almost completely from second-hand experiences. In music, remixing can create something sophisticated that reflects the artist’s skill and vision. But words are by their very nature unoriginal. Putting them together in a way that makes them your own is a helluva job. Remixing writing to make a novel? Why write one at all if you’re producing a product that just reproduces what other people have written? What’s the point?

This also makes me think of my own work as a teacher. In essay writing I preach: Put yourself into your writing. Make it real. Live, and live to talk about it. That’s especially hard to do in “English as a foreign language”, which is basically a large collection of the handiest, most frequently used phrases, so it’s full of linguistic clichés. It can drive a language lover to drink. So it’s hard enough to help language learners find their own voice. Do they plagiarize? All the time. And I give them hell for it.

Here’s what I think: Plagiarizing is not the same thing as remixing. Plagiarizing isn’t “borrowing” from others.  All it is, is stealing from yourself.

Englischlernen mit Anne! islandweeklycover300 Subscribe to the Island Weekly podcast by RSS or in iTunes.

Swabian English

What’s with the politicians in Germany? Yesterday was the first day of Merkel’s new government, and it includes Guido Westerwelle, who can’t manage diplomacy even at a press conference, as foreign minister, and Wolfgang Schäuble, who forgot he had some of Schreiber’s slush money in his drawer and thinks torture is ok to extract information, as minister of finance.

At least Swabia is kicking its politicians out. Günther Oettinger, the former Swabian premier, a man who denied Hans Filbinger was a Nazi, has now been sent to Brussels, joining that other German premier the Germans wanted out of the country, Edmund Stoiber. You might enjoy this reminder of the Oettinger-Filbinger embarassment:

Now, I hear Oettinger is taking English lessons. Better late than never? What are his chances of actually reaching a level that will suffice for international diplomacy? My husband (who is Swabian) is skeptical. “Swabians can’t speak English,” he says. As an English teacher I tend towards professional optimism, and I know: where there’s a will, there’s a way! (It helps to know Swabians who speak great English.) But the problem is really more fundamental, as Hermann Scheer says, because like most Swabians, Oettinger doesn’t speak German, so interpreters won’t be able to translate what he says! (“Wie alle Schwaben kann er bekanntlich kein Deutsch und kein Dolmetscher kann ihn daher in andere Sprachen übersetzen.”)