Thoughts on Denmark: The Danish Language

Having spent long periods of time in Denmark, I couldn’t help but notice the many idiosyncrasies of Danish people. Therefore, I have decided to write a series of blogs recording my assessments.

Before I proceed, though, I need to make a disclaimer that I truly like Denmark and the people living there so nothing that is written should be taken offensively, but only in a funny, friendly manner.

* * *

The first thing that I noticed after crossing the border into Denmark, and probably most other foreigners would say the same, is the way Danish people pronounce their words. If there was a Danish person sitting behind me and he started speaking, I would immediately assume this person was about to throw up. And that’s honestly the best way that the Danish language can be described. Danish people annunciate their words with the air in their stomach, as if they were getting ready to hold their breath. This is why you will sometimes even notice a Danish person gasp for breath before they can mutter one more word after a long sentence.

* * *

 Danish is a very difficult language to learn, not because of challenging grammar, but because many of the most common words prove impossible to pronounce by non-Danish people. Danish phonetics are completely opposite of how the words are written. Many letters are silent and many sound exactly the same, while others make different sounds depending on where they are placed in the word. Then, you have the 3 extra letters that were added to the Danish language, ø, æ, å, which are very difficult to distinguish from o, a, and e. On top of that, some syllables are spoken not through the mouth, but with the nose. Or there is the letter, r, that when it is the first letter of a word it is rolled with your throat, instead of with your tongue.

 Examples:  Hedder: pronounced as hether*

                     Hvad: pronounced as vel

                     Meget: pronounced as mall

*All Danes will tell you that the “d” is pronounced as a “th,” but whenever you hear them speak it actually sounds like an “l” and if you pronounce it that way, they will generally tell you it sounds right.

* * *

There is something even stranger than Danish pronunciation and that is hearing English words and American phrases thrown into the middle of Danish conversation. It has recently become trendy for young Danes to mix more English words and phrases into conversation so now it’s even more prevalent.

Danes don’t only know a few English words, though, but are actually more than fluent. This could be because Denmark is such a tiny country and they have realized that is it essential for them to know English so that they can communicate with other countries. American influence is also strong in Denmark. All American television programs and films are kept in the original format and have Danish subtitles. This certainly helps the Danes learn English from a young age.

So, there is of course no reason to worry if you are traveling to Denmark and haven’t quite perfected the Danish tongue twister, rød, grøn og flød, because you will be able to communicate in English!

The Couch Surfing Revolution

I think that if there was one thing in this world that could prove the true goodness of humanity and that could put trust back in one another it would have to be Couch Surfing.

Couch Surfing is an internet website in which a person can create a profile with the option to post pictures, describe their interests and even join some groups. Then, through this profile, a person can post if they have a couch to offer in their house to travelers that are stopping through their city.  For people searching for couches there is a search engine to easily find hosts that are offering couches in the city that the person will be visiting. It is completely free to join and free to stay at a person’s house.

The mission of the organization is this: “At Couch Surfing International, we envision a world where everyone can explore and create meaningful connections with the people and places they encounter. Building meaningful connections across cultures enables us to respond to diversity with curiosity, appreciation and respect. The appreciation of diversity spreads tolerance and creates a global community.”

People on the website are wholeheartedly opening up their house to complete strangers for a free stay. The people you stay with will oftentimes offer to show you around the city, offer to cook for you, and take you out at night. It’s more than just spending the night. It’s also getting to know a new person from a different part of the world and getting to know a city through that person’s eyes.

I joined the Couch Surfing nation when I was a junior in college because I was about to take a short trip to Chicago to see a concert and I wanted a place to stay for free since I was a very poor college student. My friends and I found a guy to stay with after sending out about 10 different messages. Generally you need to send out quite a few messages asking for a couch before you will receive a positive response, especially if it’s a popular city like Chicago. The guy we stayed with ended up being a really nice person and was happy to show us around Chicago a little bit and also cook dinner with us one night. And ever since my first couch-surfing experience I knew I wanted to keep doing it. I’ve been lucky enough to have even better experiences surfing in Germany and Norway.

Couch Surfing benefits both the surfer and the host. It benefits the surfer in obvious ways: saving money that would have been spent on a hotel/hostel room (possibly even on food), gaining insight into a new city through a true native, easier access to finding things in the city, the ability to see the more “underground” scene of a city and of course making a new friend. The host can also benefit by meeting a new person, making a new friend and learning about a new culture while also networking through the surfer to have a place to stay when he or she visits the surfer’s city.

The best part about Couch Surfing, though, and the reason why everyone should try it at least once is that it takes peoples’ stereotypes and present notion that we should not trust strangers and should not welcome in someone that’s different away.  Couch Surfing opens up the doors to a world that is more intercultural, more trusting and more open to change.

It is not only about sharing an open couch, but it is also about supporting a community that wants change in this not always friendly world. With over millions of surfers in over 230 countries and thousands more joining each week, Couch Surfing is a revolution.

Source: Couch Surfing

The Truth Behind Au Pairs in Denmark

I spent one year as an Au Pair in Germany and had an incredible experience to say the least. Of course my hatred for children grew even stronger, but besides that trivial fact I met the nicest people in the world and felt a part of a loving family while experiencing true German culture. During this time I took on the tasks of a typical Au Pair, including light housekeeping, laundry and cooking, as well as childcare.

As I explained in my first blog ever, the definition of an Au Pair is to be “on par” with the family and to take part in a regular family regimen. I look at an Au Pair as an older sister. One that takes on house chores as any other family member would and looks after the younger siblings when the mother and father are too busy.

So as my Au Pair year in Germany was coming to a close, I decided that I might as well try to be an Au Pair in a new country where I could learn a new language and experience life in a different culture. Denmark would be the next destination.

***

I didn’t know this at the time, but the Au Pair situation in Denmark is actually extremely controversial and politically involved. I would come to find out why within only two weeks of work in my new Au Pair family.*

*I want to explain the situation in my two Au Pair families before I expand upon the Au Pair controversy.

Upon first impression of meeting my new host family in Denmark, I thought that the dad was incredibly nice, the children were very cute and the mother had a great sense of humor. The location was great (just 10km from the city center of Copenhagen) and the opportunities for my coming year there seemed so promising.

When I moved into my host family’s house I had not yet received my Au Pair visa from the Danish government and was under the impression that I wouldn’t start officially working until the visa arrived, which was supposed to be just a couple of weeks. Well, it only took one day before I was asked to help with the laundry. Then, they asked me to get up early in the morning to help with breakfast. I quickly realized that the idea was for me to start working while still waiting on my visa. Of course, the illegal aspect of it didn’t bother me at all. I thought that these are nice people and they’re still going to pay me for my work even though our contract is not valid yet.

 A few weeks went by and I still didn’t have my visa. I kept questioning my family about why it was taking so long and also about when I would finally get paid. They vaguely explained to me that the Danish government was behind on issuing visas and that they would pay me at the end of the month. My first host family was very good at avoiding direct conversations like that.

During those few weeks that I was waiting for my visa I was working almost 10-hour days. I was waking up at 6:15 every morning to ensure that the children’s breakfast was ready for them on time. Then, I would have to clean up the kitchen, but in no way was I allowed to start cleaning until everyone in the family had already left the house. I found that very strange that they didn’t want to see me do the cleaning. While the parents were at work and the children were at school I was asked to vacuum and mop all floors, do the laundry, clean the bathrooms and children’s rooms, iron, make school lunches and afternoon snacks, and not to forget to clean my own room each day. This took me until about 5:00 in the afternoon when everyone would come home and I would start to prepare the dinner. Afterwards I would clean up the kitchen and my day was over around 7:00 in the evening. I spent no time interacting with the children and instead spent my days as an in-house maid. For all of this work I was to be paid $600 a month. That equals out to about $3 an hour. The minimum wage in Denmark, for even a maid, is $20 an hour.

I finally left that house five weeks later after the parents gave me a 10-page packet of specific directions on how to do my chores. That’s when I realized this family was out of their minds. I was still without a visa and had never received a full payment. I thought that I had terrible luck with this family and that I could surely find a better family in Copenhagen to work for. I desperately wanted to stay in Copenhagen because I had made great friends there and had fallen in love with the city.

***

 I found a new family within only one week of searching. I truly believed that things were going to be different with this family. But after just one month, a month full of intense cleaning, they told me that I wasn’t doing the job well enough and that I should leave. During that month I was asked to do the oddest chores, such as scrubbing their kitchen floor with bleach. And each week I was told that I hadn’t cleaned thoroughly enough and that I had forgotten to vacuum underneath the parent’s bed. These people were crazy.

 I was left, yet again, with no work and worst of all, without a working visa. I searched again for more Au Pair opportunities, but found that all Danish families in Copenhagen were just like the other two I had previously been with.

 I had begun to realize why the families were all the same.

 I’m not sure exactly when it first began, but somewhere along the way Danish families became accustomed to having Philippine girls as their Au Pairs.  These girls came to Denmark solely to earn money and to send it back to their families in the Philippines. The money they earned in Denmark was worth a lot in their home country. Most of these girls were leaving children and families behind just so that they could have food to eat and a place to live. Some of the girls were even going to extreme limits to marry a Danish man while there so that they could live in luxury in Denmark.

 The Philippine girls are extremely hard and humble workers because of where they have come from. There is no problem for them to work 10-12 hour days, doing the dirties and grimiest work that the Danish families make them. Unfortunately for me and some of the other non-Philippine girls, I was not okay with doing that amount of work.

 What makes the Au Pair situation worse with the Philippine girls is the way that most of the Danish families treat them. During my time in Denmark I learned many things about the relationship between Danish families and their Au Pairs. Many families would not allow the Au Pair girl to eat with the family or even be seen around them. They would be forced to hide if company was coming over. Some families even went to the extreme of paying for the Au Pair to take a vacation on a weekend so that she wouldn’t be around the house. Basically, the families would avoid any confrontation with the girls and almost pretend that they were not there. Maybe this made it easier for the families to avoid thinking about the immoral ways they were treating human beings.

 The actual controversy surrounding this situation is that the Philippine Au Pair girls are using the money they earn and sending it back to the Philippines. This means that the money is not being circulated back into the Danish economy. Not to mention, these girls do not need to pay taxes because of the little amount that they are making. And we all know how important taxes are to the Danish socialist society.

 The other part is the inhumane way that the girls are being treated. Denmark does not want to be responsible for the breaking of the Au Pair contract that most families are doing. The Au Pair contract specifically says that an Au Pair cannot work more than 30 hours a week and that the Au Pair is supposed to become a part of the Danish family in order to experience the Danish culture. Since this is not the case at all, Au Pairs may no longer be allowed in the country of Denmark.

 I find this situation very unfortunate because before I knew any of this I found the Danish people to be very friendly and accepting people. I thought Denmark was a great country and were not affected as much by greed and money. Now, I see that some systems there are corrupt and that some people are in fact racist and can act in inhumane ways.

Of course, I cannot judge a whole country on one problem that’s occurring in one small portion of their society. Most Danish people are truly wonderful people that would never treat other people in the fore-mentioned manner. And since I see that the Danish government is thinking about removing the Au Pair system from their country, I can see that some people have seen the problem and want to end it. It’s a shame for the few families that are using their Au Pairs in the correct way, but it may be more beneficial for the country as a whole to remove it completely.

I still think that being an Au Pair is a great experience and that if someone is thinking about doing it, they should definitely still try it. Just don’t go to Denmark to be an Au Pair!

Velkommen til Danmark

I have done the unthinkable. I have signed a contract to be an Au Pair for yet another year. What is even crazier is that I will be an Au Pair for four children that I am unable to verbally communicate with.

I packed up my bags, said “Auf Wiedersehen” to Deutschland and moved further North to Copenhagen, Denmark. I am technically living in a city called Søllerød (something like Su-la-rul + some sort of throwing-up noise), but it is literally impossible (and I mean literally) for a native English speaker to pronouce correctly, so I have settled upon saying that I live in Holte. Søllerød is a part of Holte and it’s much easier to pronouce so that’s that. Holte is on the metro line in the greater Copenhagen area and it only takes me about 20 minutes to get to the city center.

The family I am staying with have 4 children; 3 girls and 1 boy. Their ages are 9,7,5, and 2 ½. It really sounds like a handful, but all of the children leave promptly at 7:30 every weekday morning and don’t come home until anywhere between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. This means I have all of that time by myself in the house because the parents also work all day out of the house. During the day I must also perform a wide variety of housekeeping chores, which somehow keeps me busy almost all day. Soon, I will also begin to take Danish lessons during my free time.

The surrounding area here is absolutely amazing. There are 3 large forests within a 5km radius and very easily accessible for running. I’ve been running in the forests for the last couple of weeks and I’m still finding new paths and even prettier nature each time. It’s really a runner’s dream to be running here, especially a runner that loves hills. I’ve even come across 3 deer during one of my runs.

***

Copenhagen is a truly great city to be living in as I can see so far. It’s a very international city so English is spoken practically everywhere and there are always lots of different ethnicities around. They are very environmentally friendly here so there are always lots of people biking and lots of public transportation possibilities. The downside is, of course, that public transportation is ridiculously expensive. I think I will spend most of my monthly stipend on just that. There are always things going on, though and lots of people to meet so it should be worth it to pay for the trains to get there.

***

Throughout my past year as an Au Pair in Germany I was able to really get to know the German people and the German way of life. It was so interesting to really notice some key cultural characteristics and I can’t wait to find out the same things for the Danish culture. I have already noticed that Danish people, although environmentally friendly in most aspects, don’t care too much for recycling or composting as much as the Germans do. They also are much more careless about throwing out food, which really angers me. It’s things like that when I start to miss the German ways.

I will start to post more blogs about my adventures and also about the Danish culture and my family experiences. I hope to learn and take part in more activities soon.

Holiday in Oslo

As many people dream to travel the world, I do as well. Unlike most people, though, I make a point to actually do it. My most recent escape from the normalcy of staying in one place for a long time was Oslo, Norway.

I was taking a direct flight from Copenhagen, Denmark and had arrived at the airport far too early. At least that’s what I had thought at first. It turns out the Copenhagen airport is filled with way too many things to do in the amount of time a person has before boarding their plane. First of all, this is the only place in the whole country of Denmark that has a Starbucks. Secondly, there is another brilliant coffee shop, Joe and the Juice, which is just as good, if not better than Starbucks. This already presented a problem as I then had to choose where I would get my delicious cup of coffee. For anyone that cares I chose Joe and the Juice.

After finishing my perfectly crafted soy latte, I decided to explore the airport as I had another hour before my boarding time. I found out that I was actually in a very large shopping mall. Not just any shopping mall, though. One with a two-story H&M. I foolishly spent the remainder of my time trying on clothes and realized I had no more time to peruse the rest of the shops. I hurried through a bookstore, searching for a very specific English book (Catching Fire) I am dying to get my hands on, but had to settle for a Sudoku book instead. I got on my plane 15 minutes before it took off and was on my way to Oslo!

* * *

 Oslo was almost just as I had imagined. The “city center” was a long cobblestone street lined with cafes, shops, a tall cathedral, a few government buildings and also parts of the university. Enclosed in the middle of the street are beautifully filled gardens, fountains and outdoor seating areas. I was able to just simply sit and admire the beauty and tranquility outside for quite a while one day.

Placed at the bottom of this long street was the main train station and the opera house, which was completely built of white marble, aside from the wooden staircase. Then, sitting at the top on a small hill overlooking the city is the King’s castle and gardens. The long shopping street is basically a driveway for the castle.

Right to the side of the city center is the Oslo Fjord and harbor. You can see large cruise ships that mostly travel between Sweden, Denmark and Germany. There are also other various ships that are used for tours around the harbor or other various things.

Outside of the city center you will find many other gardens, castles and of course, museums. In particular, there is a famous art museum that houses the work of Edward Munch. Munch was a famous Norwegian Symbolist painter whose most infamous work was, The Scream. Although most people would not know these paintings, I can assure you that you are familiar with the Scream movie trilogy, in which they used his work to inspire the masks. Unfortunately this museum was closed while I was there, so I was unable to admire the paintings.

Instead of visiting museums, I decided to devote my time to visiting Oslo’s most famous attraction, the Vigeland sculpture park. It is actually filled with 212 sculptures! This large green park is also filled with towering trees, dirt paths for walking or running, and benches to sit on and contemplate life (or just relax). The main part of the park begins with two small lakes separated by a bridge that is lined with green, granite sculptures of various human poses. Some of the poses are quite funny, while others are even romantic.  Following the bridge is a large fountain that is encircled by sculptures of children climbing and playing in trees. Then, even further along, after walking up a few large staircases, you will find the most well known sculpture of the park, the Monolith. This incredible display of talent and true artistic thought is a 14 meter high tower composed of 121 human figures. Not to mention, this was carved out of only one piece of stone. Looks like Michelangelo had some competition.

The one downside of visiting Norway is the outrageous prices.  I chose to use couch surfing instead of looking for hostels so I was able to save some money there. And that was a smart decision considering how much I spent on my meals. I had mistakenly thought that the conversion between the  Euro and the Norwegian Krone was almost exactly the same as that between the Euro and the Swedish Krone. This was actually quite a devastation once I found out that it was more than twice the amount I had thought. So instead of paying 3 Euro for a cup of coffee (which is also outrageous), I was actually paying 6 Euro for a cup of coffee!

Public transportation is also way too pricey (6 Euro for one way), but luckily it’s one of those things where you just simply don’t need to pay for it. I’ll never understand the public transportation system in some places. I cannot even begin to comprehend why the environmentally friendly societies make such high prices for the people that are helping to reduce carbon emissions.  And of course I also don’t understand the concept of paying for a ticket and then not showing anyone your ticket. It’s just madness!

Despite the high prices and public transportation problem, Oslo is a beautiful place. The Norwegian people are very quiet and keep to themselves, but are also friendly and very accommodating when you need help. I hope to get back up to Norway later on so I can visit some more mountainous cities!

Running with the Germans and a Cold

My worst nightmare had come true. The night before my Half Marathon in Kiel I came down with a nasty cold, including a sore throat and possibly even a fever.

Ever since having to miss out on two important races due to injury only a few short weeks before the actual race, I have been more than a little nervous to train for any other big races. I will always fear that same feeling of disappointment and anger. Nevertheless, I still do it.

***

First, I will rewind a little bit.

The training season for my Half Marathon proved to be a very difficult one. It was a dark, cold, windy, icy, and snowy German winter. The hardest part came only two weeks before the race that would take place on the 26th of February. The weather had dropped back down below zero, we had another sheet of ice and snow on the roads, and worst of all I had developed a cold. This was really no surprise as it is a normal bodily reaction to develop a cold after running outside persistently in the winter.

I didn’t let myself rest, though. I knew that I had a strong immune system and that I had to simply fight through the sickness. I only had two more weeks to go. For me, I think those are the most important weeks. Yes, I am tapering at that point so the mileage is not so important, but for me the consistency is vital.

It was a short-lived sickness and I was able to carry on with my final week of training before the race. I was really excited. A little bit because I was interested to see how well I could run after my hard training, but maybe a little more because I just wanted it to be over. This was the hardest race I have ever had to train for. Of course mileage wise, it is much more difficult for me to train for a whole marathon, but mentally, this was exhausting. Towards the end of my training I would stand, staring out my window with my running clothes on, dreading my run in the gray, freezing weather.

***

Now, back to the night before the race.

I could feel a tickle in my throat and a wave of heat overcome my face. These symptoms always signal an oncoming sickness for me. I was pissed. I knew that I had to sleep, to try to forget about what was happening.

When I woke up the following morning, my throat was sorer, my nose was stuffed so much that I could not breathe through it, and I felt the dizziness of sickness that I know all too well.

I knew what I had to do. I made myself a hot cup of tea and ate a good breakfast. My host mother attempted to help me by giving me three separate kinds of homeopathic medicines. None of those worked, but either way I somehow felt well enough to run after my breakfast. There was never a question, though. I was going to run. I had worked way too hard the past three months to let this go just because of a cold.

***

Up until I made it to the packet pickup at the race and saw other runners, I had not felt one little bit like I was about to run a Half Marathon. This was a very strange race for me.* I have never run a big, important race before without my Dad or brothers there with me. And I have also never in my life run a race without eating lots of pasta the night before. This time, I had none of that. I ate brown rice with wok vegetables the night before and my Dad and brothers were on another continent. I felt really uncomfortable and even a little sad.

*Another aspect to the race that felt so strange was that I saw not one person boasting around a large German flag while running. I’ve never run a race before without some old, shirtless man carrying an American flag throughout the entire race. There was one man dressed as Santa Claus for the race, but that just made no sense. I wanted to see someone dressed as Forrest Gump, or someone wearing a Hitler mustache as a good joke.

Luckily, the nerves in my stomach and the large crowd of fellow runners brought my energy up more. I had my race number pinned on my shirt, I had my legs warmed up, and I had my usual starting spot at the very front of the pack already claimed.

Right as the race was about to begin, a man in charge began to count down in German: “Zehn, neun, acht, sieben….” I chuckled to myself a little because there are still times when I find the German accent to be quite funny, especially when I think a situation should be serious and a man with a thick German accent is speaking.

I ran the first of 21 kilometers ahead of pace and felt pretty good. I came in at 4:09, and according to my calculations beforehand I needed to run 4:17 per kilometer to reach my goal of a 1:30:00 Half Marathon. Although I was ahead of pace, I would not let myself slow down because I knew that would only lead to a pace slower than what I needed.

Unfortunately, it only took two kilometers for me to feel my sickness and tiredness. I already felt like shit. That’s a bad sign when you have so much more to run. I would absolutely not give up, though. I could feel my pace slowing and I could see many runners passing me, but I did not give up hope. I kept reminding myself over and over how much I had trained for this race and what types of extreme scenarios I had run through. The thoughts of slipping on ice, climbing over barbed wire fences, and having my face slapped by the freezing wind came to mind. I could not let all of that be for no reason.

I was counting down the kilometers as I ran back and forth on the out and back racecourse. It felt never-ending. In fact, the last two kilometers felt more like five. I was attempting a sprint with the final kilometer. I will remember always that my high school cross-country coach used to tell us every week that at the end of a cross-country race, we all became sprinters. And so I always put that into action.

I crossed the finish line at 1:37:25. After I crossed the line, many German volunteers congratulated me. I could not respond, though. I was focused too much on trying to hold myself up. Someone placed a finisher’s medal around my neck and another person attempted to offer me a package of Haribo Lakritz (Black Licorice).*

*Lakritz is a very popular German candy, but the sight and the smell of it make me want to vomit. This was not something I wanted to see after running!

My time was a lot slower than what I had hoped for, but in that moment it was not important. I had finished. I finished the Half Marathon feeling as though an elephant were sitting on my chest. More importantly, though, I had finished as the third woman runner total.

I felt very happy and accomplished. I had to move on, though. I had two days to get over the sickness before I would begin my training for the Hamburg Marathon on May 22nd.

So, here I am now. I have 12 weeks to train for the Hamburg Marathon and I am more than ready to beat my personal record and to show those Germans one more time how great American girls are at running!

German and American Cultural Differences 101

While living here in Germany for the past 6 months I have been asked several times by my guest family, new German friends, and also some acquaintances what the cultural differences are between America and Germany. Basically these people want to know how it is different for me to be living in Germany than it would be if I were back at home in America.

Sometimes I actually have a hard time coming up with good, concrete answers because in some ways living in Germany is pretty typical to living in America. Of course there are many cultural differences and I thought it would be kind of fun to describe them here.

***

One of the first things that I noticed that was different here in Germany was the way that families eat, the types of food they eat and also how all other Germans eat out in public. A typical Germany family will all sit down to eat breakfast together and then once again come together at the American lunch time to eat a warm cooked meal. The lunch is the biggest meal of the day for German families and a lot of the time the mother and father are both present with the children. For dinnertime it is very simple and involves only bread and things to put on top of your bread, such as cheese or meat. My family calls our evening meal “abendbrot,” which literal means “evening bread.”

Germans do not eat as much fast food as Americans do and that’s a fact. If a German is in a hurry to eat their lunch, then they will probably go to a bakery and pick up a “broetchen” (roll) or grab something that resembles a hot dog from a stand on the street.

Speaking of broetchen, Germans LOVE bread. You can find a bread bakery on every single street corner here (kind of like a McDonalds on every street corner in America!). Bread falls into one of the 4 major food groups in Germany: Bread, Cheese, Potatoes, Meat.

Within a German restaurant it is completely opposite of how you would find in America. First of all, you generally can seat yourself at whichever table is open instead of waiting on a host to seat you. Then, your waiter will come by once to take your order, a second time to bring your food, and a third time to pick up your empty plate. They are not coming by every two minutes to check on how the food tastes or to see if you need a refill (refills are unheard of in Germany). At the end of your meal you can choose to leave a very small tip (maybe one Euro at the most), but it is not necessary like the normal 15-20% tip in America.

***

The second cultural difference I have noticed is the obvious concern for global warming and being environmentally friendly in Germany. It is noticeable through many things, but mostly through the widespread use of windmills, solar panels, recycling, public transportation, walking, and bike riding. My German family in particular is very concerned for the well being of the planet. We use 100% renewable energy to heat our house during the winter, we sort all recyclables, we walk throughout our city instead of driving the car, we purchase organic foods, and we do not waste a thing!

I just read an article that Hamburg, Germany (the second biggest city in Germany, behind Berlin) was named the greenest European city in 2011. This comes as no surprise to me because Germans have been trying extremely hard the past years to live up to the Scandinavians when it comes to becoming reliant on only renewable energy sources from within their own country. I am very proud to live only an hour away from the greenest European city of 2011!

***

A cultural difference that I find very humorous is the extreme concern of a German person in becoming sick. I had read about this in a German culture book before moving here, but I have seen it in real life while living here. I think it is much more exaggerated for me because I am completely unafraid of germs and if I become a little sick, I just disregard it and go on with my day as usual.

Well, here in Germany if a child has a fever that is 0.1 degrees above the average, then the child will stay home from school. If other children at school are sick, then there’s a chance that a healthy child will stay home to ensure that he or she does not become sick.

Many Germans are also firm believers in homeopathic medicines and other home remedies. If one of my host parents hears me make a sniffing noise, then they will put on a pot of tea and grab the honey before I can even manage to tell them that I’m fine. If I tell them that I’m having a slight headache or feel sick to my stomach then they’ll go to the homeopathic medicine cabinet and drop some strange little medicine balls in my hand to place under my tongue.

***

The way that Germans speak to each other is also very different to me than how Americans speak to each other. I think that the German language in itself is very strict and has many rules that must be followed, but when it comes to speaking one on one it is very simple. All Germans that I know say the exact same phrases over and over and over ad nauseam.

A few examples:

-The word “genau” is generally used at least two times by each person within one conversation. The best way to translate this word is by saying “exactly” in English, but I feel that Germans use it way too often for it to only mean that one thing.

-The saying “Na” is used at the beginning of a conversation between two people that are just meeting up with each other or at the start of a phone conversation. It means absolutely nothing. It’s just a noise. And it’s very funny to hear German people simultaneously saying, “Naaaaa” while first making contact with each other.

-The phrase “Alles Klar” is almost always used at the end of a phone conversation or any other important conversation to make sure that everything was understood in the conversation. It is also used frequently to make sure that everything is okay.

-Another phrase “Pass Auf” literally means “Pay Attention” and it is used before something important is said or if an adult wants a child to shut up and listen to them.

-One more phrase “Hoer Auf” can be translated to mean something like “Stop it!” My two little boys use this constantly when they are getting annoyed with each other. It can be used for any situation in which someone is annoyed.

-One last word that I must comment on because I find it extremely funny is “doch.” This word literally means “but” in English, but when I hear it used in a German conversation I think the best way to translate it into English is by saying the childish and immature phrase, “yeah huh.” It’s like saying, I’m right and you’re wrong. Children will banter back and forth by saying “Nein, doch, nein, doch, nein, doch!” What I find so comical is that all German adults also use this phrase. Can you imagine an American middle aged man saying “yeah huh!?”

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Well this blog has already turned into a long one so I’ll stop with the cultural lessons for today and probably continue it on another blog another time!

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