Jump to main content

English as a foreign language

Living as a German in an increasingly English-speaking world

Personal observations

2020-07-10: why Germany has so far fared rather well in the COVID-19 crisis

Why has Germany so far handled the COVID-19 crisis rather well? A team of experts lead by the Johns Hopkins University (yes, that one) has been assessing countries’ readiness for a pandemic for years. High scores went to the US and the UK (which have obviously bungled the crisis pretty badly), with Germany only getting middling scores.

What went wrong? The panel looked at the wrong parameters. The number and degree of education of doctors, how much hospital and test lab capacity there is, that was ranked highly. All important, of course, but those may not be the deciding factors, after all.

Italy had it bad – they were ransacked early on. Other countries watched and took notice. And action. (Or not.) Back in January, German labs worked with their Chinese counterparts to develop test kits. And when the shit finally hit the fan really hard in March, they were prepared. The UK and the US didn’t think much of the crisis at first, losing valuable time. The US had test capacity, but no tests. They had slept through the alarm really, really badly.

Another very important factor: the welfare state. Germany has a working infrastructure to support people in need. Health insurance, unemployment insurance, government subsidies for furloughed or short-timed workers: all in place and ready to go at a moment’s notice. The UK doesn’t even have a concept of “short-time work”, much less government subsidies for it.

That’s one reason why lockdown measures were so much more successful in Germany than elsewhere. People weren’t so afraid.

Also, no special legal infrastructure was necessary to put lockdown measures in place. Germany already had an “infection protection law” in place; it only needed to be applied. And Germany has a decentralized government. There are local authorities that can coordinate measures locally. Some countries don’t have that luxury. England, for example, doesn’t have local government structures the way Germany has. France, even worse.

This is excerpted from this.

I personally would add: strong and credible leadership is also key. Sadly lacking in some parts of the world. And it shows.

2020-06-12: How I view people

Maybe there are people that are sill unclear on how I view my fellow human beings. So let me get a few things straight.

To say that I don’t care about attributes of yourself that you have no control over would be an overstatement. If I personally take an interest in you, and you let me on to this kind of information, I will know if you are gay or straight (or any other flavour of Q), Caucasian, Mexican, Vietnamese, or whatever it may be, what your native language, your favourite imaginary friend or other background is and quite a few other things. To say that I don’t care about these things would be rude.

I do care. Because I do care about you.

The one thing I don’t do is judge you by these things. I judge you by what you say and what you do. Not by who you are.

That will be all for now. Judge your fellow humans by their personal words and actions, not by whatever properties they may have.

2020-04-30: Why the lockdown was a good idea

Imagine someone sitting in a warm and cozy house while there is a bad blizzard outside.

Imagine that person commenting that heating was totally unnecessary because it was warm and cozy.

You would tell that person that they are completely crazy, right?

Anyone who tells you that the lockdown was unnecessary: it’s exactly the same thing.

2020-04-17: Stay safe, safe healthy and stay sane!

Inside your home, you can act as if you were not infected. Unless you know or suspect you are, anyway. Because the people living with you have probably cought any SARS-CoV-2 you might have before you ever knew you had it.
But outside your home, please act as if you were infected, even if you think (like I do) that in all probabilty you are not.
Wear some form of mask when you go out. Okay, if you are going for a walk and you are not expecting to meet any other people, fine, don’t. Have one around your neck and draw it up if you are encountering other people. But if you are going out for provisions, definitely wear something to cover your nose and mouth. An improvised mask, a balaclava, a scarf, anything. Anything is better than nothing.
You are not doing it for yourself. You are doing it to protect everyone else. So stay 1.5 to 2 metres or more (5 to 7 feet for your metrically impaired people) away if you can. Yes, I know you can’t at all times; you might want to hold your breath while you can’t, like when you are passing people on a crowded track.
If you are outside, it will certainly not hurt getting more space between you and other people, especially people that are exercising. (Please don’t exercise in popular spaces. Try to limit your intensive exercising to non-scenic routes if you can. Even better, talk a leisurely walk outside and then exercise on your stationary bike inside your home if you can.)
Please stay safe, stay healthy and stay sane.
See you on the other side.

2020-03-20: flatten the curve, and stay the fuck home

What is there more to say?

2018-10-28: Back to sanity

Finally, the clocks have been set to sanity around here, and normal time has returned. One would hope that we have suffered through “summer time” for the last time (but I don’t believe we have).

You see, the thing is that there is no such thing as “winter time”. If summer time means that you change the clock so sunset is not at 20:00 but at 21:00, winter time would mean that you change to clock to move the sunrise from 08:00 to 07:00. It’s an entirely feasible concept, but I am not aware it has ever been done, and definitely not here. No, we don’t have winter and summer time, we have normal and summer time, or rather normal and abnormal time. Sane and insane time, even.

Don’t forget that the reference median for UTC+1, to which we have returned, is at 15° East, near Görlitz on the German-Polish border. That means that all of Germany suffers a mild case of summer time even at UTC+1 (the sun reaches its highest point only after 12:00). The westernmost parts of Germany would actually be better served by UTC±0 as they are approximately at 6° East and therefore closer to the UTC±0 reference meridian (which of course goes through London).

Now time zones are of course a good thing. Before telegraphs and railways, there was no value in having the same time everywhere: every town and village had their own time. It was noon when the sun was at its highest point. When no communication or interaction could happen at a higher speed than that of galloping horse, it simply didn’t matter. Today that would be a nightmare. And while the almost globally (except for some nutty exceptions) accepted idea of hour-wide time zones is by no means the only possible choice, it appears to be a good compromise.

Strangely, though, the concept was pretty much perverted in Western Europe. UTC+1 is overall a good choice for Germany. For any countries west of Germany, like the Benelux countries, France or Spain (or Andorra and Monaco, of course), it’s a terrible choice. So I think those countries should have one more change, in the autumn of 2019, to UTC±0.

2018-09-02: Pumpkin Spice Season

It’s coming on to Pumpkin Spice Season again, and this is just to make people aware of the following fact:

Pumpkin spice does not contain any pumpkin, just as dog food does not contain any dog.

Pumpkin spice is a spice mixture for pumpkins, so many pumpkin dishes are flavoured with pumpkin spice. Dog food is food for dogs, so many dogs are fed using dog food.

However, while dog food is usually not used for anything besides feeding dogs, pumpkin spice is sometimes used to flavour other things, such as coffee.

It is still perfectly fine to contain no pumpkin, much as dog food is fine to contain no dog.

2017-10-27: Good-bye, Air Berlin!

As I am writing this, two flights that should have left almost an hour ago, at 21:35, are boarding at Munich Airport: flight AB 6048 to Düsseldorf and flight AB 6102 to Berlin-Tegel.

The latter is billed as Air Berlin’s final commercial flight under its own airline code – because of its scheduled arrival is five minutes later than that of the former.

It marks the end of an era: the end of the only credible competitor to the Lufthansa group in the domestic air travel market in Germany. From now on, it’s Lufthansa, or its low-cost offspring Eurowings, or quite literally the highway (or the train). The administrator is still negotiating with Easyjet, but I am not optimistic anything positive will come out of it.

Air Berlin used to be my favourite airline. It got suckier and suckier over the years, but with Gold status it was still bearable. I could see how well their attempts to squeeze out extra cash worked: On any Air Berlin flight I was on recently, all (or almost all) of the “Business Class” seats remained empty, and the XXL seats were empty or occupied by people like myself that didn’t have to pay extra for them. Desperate measures rarely work and often backfire. This was no exception. Air Berlin’s reputation was going downhill really fast.

Good-bye, Air Berlin! Your former self will be missed. Your recent self, not so much, but still.

Update: AB 6210, the “last flight”, has departed, while AB 6048 is still boarding. Maybe their roles will be reversed.

2011-10-23: Random ramblings of a New England traveller

We have spent the last three weeks travelling in New York and New England. I have been visiting the US five times in the last two years, but this has been the longest time I have ever continuously spent in the United States, and so here are some random ramblings of a New England traveller. Comments are welcome, as always.

While there is very good and tasty food available, there is also a lot of terrible food, especially on chain-hotel breakfast buffets. The food processing industry screws up everything. They take out fat and put in sugar; they take out sugar and put in high-fructose corn syrup; they take out the syrup and put in artificial sweeteners. Nearly every processed food item you can buy in a regular supermarket has something taken out that belongs in (like fat in milk and yoghurt) or something put in that does not (like extra vitamins into a fruit mix), or both. I tried one of these fat-free yoghurts from a breakfast buffet once; it tasted as obnoxiously chemical as bubble gum and had a texture like some kind of building material. On the other hand, a freshly boiled soft-shell Maine lobster with drawn butter is to die for. And even a home-made half-pound burger with fries in a country store somewhere in Vermont can be really really good.
Soft drinks:
Forget it. There is no sparkling water (and if there is, it has been brought over from Italy), and the sweet stuff is undrinkable because it is either sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (see above), which tastes awful, or artifical sweeteners, which are bad for you. Tap water is chlorinated and therefore also tastes kind of funny, even if it is available for free everywhere. So you end up drinking a lot of bottled, uncarbonated water.
I can happily report that New England is home to a number of excellent microbreweries that make really good beer, like the Long Trail Brewing Company in Vermont, and that their products are readily available in restaurants, bars, and shops.
Wine is expensive. Eight dollars plus tax and tip for a 6-ounce glass of house wine? Three dollars buys you a bottle of drinkable red in a German supermarket. We mostly abstained. See “Beer” above.
The amount of rubbish you generate is mind-boggling. Even in middle-priced hotels, the only plates, cups and cutlery available at breakfast time are discardable plastic. The Wal-Mart (and other) plastic bags are now very thin, but they are dispensed as liberally as ever.
The existence of speed limits everywhere, and the fact that it usally applies to trucks as well as cars, makes for a very relaxed driving experience, even on Interstates. Plus everything has tons of parking space. Or nearly everything.
Road signs:
I really love the way highways are marked as going north, south, east or west. Much better than the German system of listing intermediate destinations which makes it necessary to have a rough idea of the geography around you to figure out which way you need to go.
Most of the time, but not always, there is some form of sales tax added to the prices you pay, which sucks. Not because of the rate, which is ridiculously low at well below 10 per cent even in New York City, but because it means you can’t easily predict how much anything is really going to cost. Plus, you often end up with some amount just above an full-dollar amount which leaves you with a lot of bulky change if you just fork over a banknote.
Dollars suck really badly. The banknotes suck because they are all the same size and practically the same colour, even the latest editions of some denominations that have a hint of a different hue on them. The coins suck because they are so few one-dollar and half-dollar coins (we went through the whole holiday without seeing a single specimen of either) that you always get single dollar notes, and quarters as change, which are quite big, bulging up the coin compartment of your wallet. For a fun effect, try giving exact change to the person at the supermarket check-out. They will look at the coins in disbelief and start counting them as if they do it for the first time in their lives. They are obviously not used to handling coins, except to hand them out as change.
Customs and Border Protection:
Ugh. Nuff said.

All in all, we had a wonderful holiday and really enjoyed our time over there. But I do know that I am happy to be back home here on this side of the pond.

2011-08-29: Apple is out of innovation

Look at Apple today; it’s a sorry sight. No, I am not referring to Steve Jobs retiring as CEO of Apple. Clearly, I personally wish him all the luck in the world so that he can enjoy many more years in good or at least acceptable health, with his family; it is the sorry carcass of a company I am concerned about.

To me, Apple has never been a highly innovative company; their play has always been to take what others have found, combine it in new ways, make it pretty, and sell it. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but they should acknowlege their origins as the original copycat company and leave others alone.

Now, along comes Samsung with their 10.1 Galaxy Tab. I have such a thing so I know what it’s like from first-hand experience. The problem for Apple: their gear is a sorry piece of obsolete junk next to it. Apple: obsolete 1024 by 768; Samsung: 1280 by 800. Apple: no Flash (will they ever learn?); Samsung: Flash works fine. Apple: 4:3 grandma-TV aspect ratio; Samsung: 16:10.

So what does Apple do? Instead of innovating themselves out of a tight corner (which they obviously cannot) they try to throw photoshopped evidence at a German court to try and subdue a clearly superior product.

Forward »