Thursday, December 22, 2005

Sprechen sie what?

I think i get asked 10 times per day how my German is coming along. My answer is usually the same. “ It's not”. I start German Lessons next year but until then, i can say only the few sayings that I've picked up over the last few years. And thats not much. I can order a beer...”Ein bier Bitter”...Where's the bathroom...”wo die Toilette” ...hello...”Gutentag.”...Goodbye....”Ciao”...not much else. It's actually surprising how far this will get you.

One of the most useful sayings I've learned is Alles Klar. Let's say, hypothetically of course, that you are stuck in a meeting for 4 hrs where everyone is speaking German. Occasionally someone may ask you “do you understand”. You may be tempted to say “no, please repeat in english”. But you would be wrong. If you said that, you would get a rehash of the last hour of utterly useless conversation. I hate to say it, but most people talk allot, but say very little. So rather than ask for a translation, simply say “Alles Klar”, all is clear. Later ask a coworker if there are any important points to discuss. This is a much more efficient way to proceed. Hypothetically speaking of course.

Although speaking essentially zero German may seem like a problem, it is actually kind of interesting and presents some unique opportunities to contrast different languages. I've caught a number of words or phrases that, although containing identical letters and pronounced in the same manner, mean completely different things.

For example, the N word. That word is so taboo in the US that i feel strange even writing it, let alone saying it out loud. Here though, it would not be uncommon to be at a bar and hear someone walk up to the bartender and ask for a...well the N word. It took a few times of hearing this for it to register that people were saying what i thought they were. The opportunities for jokes here are endless, although every single one would be in extremely poor taste. But what are these people really asking for? Well, it turns out that a mixture of Coke and Red wine is referred to as, well, the N word. I can just imagine Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton or Louis Farrakhan sitting at a bar in Austria when some unknowing Austrian wanders up to the bar and orders a round of...the N word.

Priceless.

Another example? Sure.

Last year there was a very popular movie in the states called Team America. It was a movie that starred a team of US special forces, aptly named Team America, saving the world. There were no people in the movie, rather the producers chose puppets to star as all the characters. The same crew that writes and produces South Park also produced this movie, so you can probably imagine the kind of humor and storyline. It was pretty damn funny. About half way through the movie there is a a break during which they show a montage to fill time....it goes a little something like this.

(sung to a rock track)

The hours approaching, just give it your best
You got to reach your prime.That’s when you need to put yourself to the test,
And show us a passage of time,Were going to need a montage (montage)
Oh it takes a montage (montage)Sure a lot of things happing at once,
With mind, everyone what’s going on (what’s going on?)
And when every shot you show a little improvement
Just Show it or it will take to longthat’s called a montage (montage)
Oh we want montage (montage)
And anything that we want to know, from just a beginner to a pro,
You want a montage (montage) even rocky had a montage (montage)
(Montage…montage)Anything that we want to know, from just a beginner to a pro,
You need a montage (montage)Oh it takes a montage (montage)
Always fade out in a montage,
If you fade out, it seem like more timeHas passed in a montage,Montage

It's amazing what you can find on the net.

If you haven't seen the movie, it may not be as funny. If you have, you know that between the way it's sung and the visuals, it's pretty damn funny. But why do i bring it up here? Well, my company specializes in assemblies for the automotive industry. In German, the word for assembly is montage. It must be at least three times per day that someone at work starts taking about the “montage”of our parts. It never fails..every time my mind flashes to 2 ft tall puppets screaming that song. I can't help but smile. It makes the language barrier a little more bearable.

I've been drinking Swiss wine for the last 4 hrs. i hope this is coherent.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Happy Ramahanakwanzmas

That's right folks, it's that most celebrated time of year, Christmas. Of course it's not PC to outwardly celebrate such a blatantly Christian holiday, so i will therefore wish everyone i see this year a Happy Ramahanakwanzmas. This delicate mouthful of letters ensures that you don't piss anyone off nor “disenfranchise” or otherwise offend anyone by forcing your catholic views on them. Afterall, the holiday season's have nothing to do with Christianity or the bible. No, the time between thanksgiving and new years is simply an opportunity to buy things on sale, drink eggnog, and slack off at work while the new year approaches.

So Happy Ramahanakwanzmas.

I didn't make this word up, I'm not that creative. Rather i was emailed this festive greeting a few times last year and it just seemed to stick in my mind. It has such a festive ring. I think it is particularly applicable here in Europe where the US, including our (apparently) over commercialization of Christmas, is largely frowned upon.

But what does wishing someone a Happy Ramahanakwanzmas mean? Glad you asked. This festive greeting ensures that whoever you meet in your travels this season is properly recognized in your holiday greeting, be they Muslim, Jewish, African or Christian. As you breakdown the word, you will find Ramadan, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas all cleverly included. Genius..i know. I only wish i could take credit for this.

So let's all be a little more sensitive this year during this Ramahanakwanzmas season. While you're out shopping for Ramahanakwanzmas gifts, or decorating your Ramahanakwanzmas tree, or even enjoying some Ramahanakwansmas Caroles, please remember that the Ramahanakwanzmas season is a time for inclusion of all the worlds races and religions and not the birth of Jesus. If an old guy with a white beard and a red suit happens to show up to your house on the night of the 24th, remind him (or her) that Ramahanakwanzmas is a holiday for everyone, and if he doesn't visit all the little children of the world, you'll file a class action lawsuit. Now that's the American way.

As for me, i'll be hanging around Europe this year for Christmas. I've got a few ski trips planned, and I'm heading into Feldkirk or possibly Z├╝rich for New years. I'm looking forward to a week off with no schedule and nothing to do. Over the past few weeks I've received a bunch of boxes from the states. Even though i was getting my own stuff, it was kind of like Christmas. My apartment feels much more homey.

I ventured to Brandnerthal this past Saturday and it was perfect skiing. It was snowing so hard that the groomers couldn't keep up. In fact, they all but gave up trying to groom a few of the trails. After an hour or so they were covered with 1 meter, sorry, 3 feet of virgin powder. It was great. Although my buddy from work, who's only skied for 1 yr, didn't share my enthusiasm. It's funny hearing the German's swear in English.

The sun tried to peak through...but the snow wouldn't let it. This was the best the visibility got all day.

The enormous ski lodge of Brandnerthal. It's customary to drink hot wine in the morning....who am i to break tradition.

Great powder skiing!

Thanks Ma, Thanks dad! Now i can overpower the noise from the kids upstairs.