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You can Du me; the formal or informal guide

Many European languages make linguistic distinctions based on interpersonal relationships. For example, a language can have two forms of the word “you”, and a speaker would use one or the other version depending on how well they know someone. In German this is the case with “Sie” and “Du” (“Sie” being formal and “Du” being informal).

This split leads to a chronic question for many native-English-speaking expats learning (or who have just learned) German: which form should one use, and when?  This, unfortunate confusion happens because these distinctions once existed in older forms of English, but they’ve since lost their place in modern English.

We expats learning the German language and culture are frequently struggling with this question, Sie vs. Du…so much envy for those lucky suckers learning English…

It’s hard when you are thrown into a new (and sometimes strange) culture. You are not just constantly out of your comfort zone but it seems that any faux pas, slight or not, somehow becomes this huge mistake in your head.

Sometimes improperly using sie/du can lead us into a downward spiral of self-doubt and we undermine our abilities of acclimation, but honestly let me tell you first things first, that’s nonsense. Get out of your head!

We, as expats can start to think and feel that we are alone when we make tiny mistakes like this.

Plot twist: we aren’t!

Most Germans make grammatical mistakes just like we do. In my experience it seems they just go by personal rules that work out unless corrected (sort of like guessing “Der”, “Die”, or “Das” for us–wing it until you’re told otherwise). Just think on the bright side, try your best and you will always succeed, or find the right answer. Germans are definitely not shy when a correction needs to be made.

But for those not so convinced..here is a little cheat sheet of suggestions i’ve found that will help you decide what to Sie and Du. (Or, rather, when to “Sie” or “Du”.)

  1. If both people are dressed casual, go informal.

  2. If both people are in an informal environment (chit-chat in line at the supermarket, or in the park) go informal.

  3. If one person is wearing a uniform in the place of employment (restaurant, café, shop, etc….) go formal.

  4. If there is more than 20 years difference between the people, go formal.

  5. In a work setting if both people are under 40 and wearing casual clothes go informal, otherwise go formal in the work environment.

Really though, these are just loose guidelines. Often they won’t exactly be the case. Usage of “Sie” or “Du” can be based on comfort levels or personal preference and how well you know a person. Just don’t fret, people won’t be offended when it is obvious you are not a native speaker. I myself have been here over half a decade and still fail once in a while.

The German language itself is extremely difficult and takes a lot of work to master. Most of the time trial by error when speaking. Just think of that great American motto of ours,  “Fake it till you make it”. I live by this when speaking German. The biggest road block you will find is lacking the confidence and getting trapped in your head. As long as you go out and give it all you’ve got, don’t sweat the little things and even ask to be corrected. In no time you’ll be Deutsch Sprechen wie ein Profi.

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10 things Americans learn when they move to Germany

For an American, traveling away from home can be scary. Especially when it’s abroad.

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But, truth be told, there is not much to fear, I have here for you  the top 10 things us expats must encounter when we enter Deutschland.

1. Personal lives are meant to be personal

Coming from America, the land of excess, personal information sharing is a big subject that’s always coming in plenty. You randomly open up to strangers waiting in line at the grocery store, you start discussing your family life with a bank teller or let your local barista know all the gossip on your recent break up. No no no my friend, not here in Germany. The people here tend to believe in keeping the small talk to a null and sharing is only reserved for family members and certain inner circles.

 

2. Life has three genders

Get ready to make your dictionary your best friend. In Germany the lovely and simple gender neutral english “the” is replaced by three other articles, der-die-das. Why? because artichokes are feminine, water is definitely neutral and boxes are of course masculine. And the fun doesn’t end there, depending on grammatical situation articles can even change genders. how fun is that??

 

3. Convience is but a concept

The German lifestyle is one of regulation, routine and leaves not much room for spontaneity. Want to go out with friends? you better plan ahead. Thinking about doing your laundry on a sunday? How dare you. Want a great career?cool, go and get a degree for that specific area and don’t move anywhere else. Everything is very well-organized and there is always a respected place or time. Gone are the days of shopping after 8pm or getting nearly anything done on a sunday.

 

4.Silence is golden

If Germans were American they would have only one amendment that really matters; the fifth. There is nothing more important than exercising your right to remain silent. While Americans find it a gosh darn shame to waste a perfectly good small talk opportunity, the Germans are more than relieved when you decide to keep a nice stuffy silence going in the local transportation on your morning commute. Be sensible my dears, excessive noise is but a luxury.

 

5. Everything can be recycled

As I have previously mentioned, Germans love their order. And this trickles down to even the smaller things such as waste. Well, to be honest, in Germany not much is waste because the majority of items can be recycled ( yeehoo!) Glass is organized by colour, plastics are separated, organic waste has a bin of its own, paper, electronics  all have their respected areas. Not to mention in every grocery store there is machine where you can exchange your bottles for cash. Recycling is not just a choice but a way of life.

 

6. Cash is King

Start learning to carry more notes around with you. Most places wont accept cards, regardless if its a debit or credit card. Sometimes the minimums are also a bit high. You cant always rely on cafes, shops or even the ticket machine to take your card. Unlike America, cash is your best bet when out and about.

7. Sparkling drinks are fabulous

The mystery of German fixation on carbonated beverages will always be there. They love it in everything. Water is always bubbly and juice is mixed half and half with this water. If you don’t like the carbonation you must always specify you want still water otherwise you will get sparkling. And sometimes on the occasion there wont be any still water available.

8. Bikes are best friends

Most city infrastructures in Germany are build with their avid cycling citizens in mind. Separate bike lanes and streets are a very popular integration. Opposed to America where our streets are massive and the automotist and cyclists are always in a power struggle. Here there is a leveled order between drivers of all kinds.

 

9. There is no one stop shop

Grocery store, pharmacy, butcher, baker, candle stick maker. Thats right. Over here along with the rest, everything has its place. Gone are the days of super walmart or Costco. If you want to get your shopping, you must hop around. True you can get a couple standard  or prepackaged options at a grocery store.

 

10. Always test stereotypes

With all of that being said. Germany can come off a certain way, but it does not mean every person you encounter will be the extra replica of your expectations or anything I have written here. In my experience I have been surprised once and a while by the variety. Granted stereotypes exist for a reason, but I can guarantee you there are a lot of very Americanesk Germans out there and very Germanian Americans. In the end its about personal preference I believe. Be open, be yourself and embrace something new.

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16 Signs you’ve been Germanized

Started from the bottom now we German.

It feel so short, but really its been some years now, and as I take a step back and look at myself I can see how much I have changed as a person from my time in this counry. Most of all I can see the habits I have exchanged..which honestly, I’ve been told is no suprise.

Here are my top 16 identified signs of Germanization

    1. You are confused when a stranger asks “how are you?” ( Like, who is this person? why are they asking, we are not yet on familiar aquaintance terms”
    2. Sprüdelwasser is life
    3. You’re becoming fluent in Denglisch. So good, its practically your mother tongue.
    4. Youve began writting the number “1” the German way, whichused to confuse you as it looked more like a “7”, but now you understand it simply cant be done any other way.
    5. You’ve mastered all the ways to use bitte in everyday interactions. It is not simply please but also pardon, here you are, not at all, youre welcome, and go ahead. SImaltaniously youve also achieved the ability to hold full conversations merely with the word  doch.
    6. You no longer need an extended period of time to go through all those previously seeming extensive variety of  euro coins
    7. You have dreams in German and sometimes recall memories of people back home speaking in German
    8. Sometimes you forget wörter in English and begin to question who you are anymore
    9. In wintertime, you have a special relationship with Hausschuhe
    10. Next to that you now understand the full range of seasons; Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring and Spargelzeit
    11. You get withdrawls from going too long without eating bread
    12. You drink only juice in  Schorle form..goodness forbid you dare drink straight up saft
    13. You can sort through plastic, paper, compost, and Restmüll in your sleep
    14. You make plans with friends a well week ahead and are shocked and slightly taken aback when some asks to spontaneously meet for dinner or hang out
    15. Sundays are for doing nothing, and you wouldnt want to spend them any other way.
    16. Brot is life and Brezn is love

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How to handle culture shock

How to handle culture shock

What is it

Culture shock is one major aspect of moving abroad that not alot of people go too much in detail to. It is “the anxiety and feelings (of surprise, disorientation, uncertainty, confusion, etc.) felt when people have to operate within a different and unknown culture such as one may encounter in a foreign country.” ( as defined by Wikipedia) However I would say it is referring to really anything new that puts us outside of our bubble. Whether you take it as good or bad, it occurs and on occasion can be overwhelming. So here are my tips on how to remain content in your transitioning.

What it feels like

Culture shock can result in feelings similar to a mild depression. Many people experience this after the initial excitement of moving abroad has calmed down and the reality of their situation hits. You start off excited and giddy for all the new experiences and ways of life but then once you realize the work involved you begin to become rather pessimistic. I find this to be quite true for Americans moving to Germany. With such a stark contrast in cultural and social atmosphere, many people experience this aspect of culture shock.

It’s phases

Culture Shock is experienced in a series of four phases:

  1. Honeymoon: Hurray! youve done it! youve managed to move somewhere new and the novelty of it all has come and swept you away. Everything is darling and glorious in your new home!
  2. Frustration: oh hey, wait. What is this? why are people like this? how come things work this way? ohhhh what I would give to have things back like they were in my country…all of a sudden the novelty is gone and reality of change sets in.
  3. Adjustment: Alas, this is the way life is. You realize now your choices and begin to figure out how to settle and live life in a different way. Usually filled with a feeling of neutralism.
  4. Adaption: Youve figured out a routine. Set up shop now are confident in your abilities to navigate and manage your new life and home. Things are looking up and you are prepared for new challeneges.

How to manage Culture Shock

Going abroad is not at all easy. Moving out of your comfort zone, or bubble of security is always so uncomfortable. However, you’ve got two options now; run and hide or toughen up and put your best foot forward. If your interested in the latter then check out these following tips to help you succeed in your conquest.

  1. First off, boost up your self esteem. Look at you, you did it. You made a huge step forward in the world. Youve done something most people dream of but are never brave enough to attempt. You should be proud of your new accomplishment
  2. Remind yourself these feelings are only temporary. Everything new can be uncomfortable at first, but this duration of feeling is oh so short lived.
  3. Try and avoid excessive communication with aquaintences back home. As helpful as it can be, it prevents you from living in the present and being engaged in your new surroundings.
  4. Sit down and make  list of all the tasks you want to accomplish. Whether it is learning the local language or visiting that one super cool cafe. Find what interests you and make a plan on how to experience it.
  5. Get involved with the locals. The best way to adjust to your new surroundings is by socializing. Join a club, do some sports, connect! It helps you feel more in place and naturally learn about your new home easily and quickly.

How to help manage your friend’s culture shock

Culture shock isnt just a pain first hand, but can second hand put a damper on ones spirits. You may have found out how to adjust, but once a friend or expat newbie comes to you at the start of the phase, there are many ways you can help them reach your new found level of exceptional expat transition.

  1. Help them find a purpose. One aspect of culture shock is the lonelieness and feeling out of place. So if one feels as if they have a real role to embody, this is easily remedied.
  2. Get them out! the best way to do this is not by asking if they want to but give them choices that dont include the option of not coming along. AKA instead of saying wanna go out tonight? say, would you like to go here or there tonight.
  3. Be a good listener. Sometimes the simplest things help. If they need to rant about all their frusterations or upset feelings ( even if you knowwww and have been there) step down a moment and give them the attention they need.

Yes, there can also be many other things you can do to help out with culture shock, but it is imporant to keep in mind the basics of the situation. It is a temporary phase, and the initial joy and excitement you experience when you first came will resurface eventually. Change is an important part of life and once you learn to embrace it and live off of it, there is no limit to the adventures you can have abroad.

xxA

German Healthcare: Beginners guide

German Healthcare: Beginners guide

As an American, I can say this is one aspect to living abroad and in Germany in particular that I am incredibly fond of; healthcare! Having lived previously in a state where the prices were too high for me to afford coverage, I can say it is a relief to have the security of always having insurance.

The German Healthcare System

The German healthcare system operate under a dual private/public system. It is funded by sanctioned contributions that ensure healthcare for everyone ( public) or when applicable you can take out a special private healthcare plan. However, in order to get Private Krankenversicherung you must review some strict conditions.

Public Healthcare

If you are contracted in Germany as an employee to a company and make under 61,000 euro annually you ar required to take the government (public) healthcare, or Gesetzliche Krankenversicherun (GKV). The public healthcare is run by a little over 100 Krankenkassen, these all take a basic rate of 14.6% of your gross monthly salary. Although, if you are an employed worker earning under 850 euros a month then you are exempt from this taxation.

This public insurance covers you for primary care with doctors registered to your plan, both in and out-patient hospital care and even basic dental care. In addition, dependents living at your same address ( and registered) will receive coverage at no additional cost. GKV however will not cover private doctors, private hospital stays nor vision (for adults) or alternative treatments.

In order to register for public health insurance  one must be registered at the local town hall and have received an Sozialversicherungsnummer and have proof of employment you are then entitled to the public healthcare with all the benefits of a national.

In term of registration, most employers will take care of this portion however you can visit and review the different types yourself. Some of the largest (and most commonly taken) providers in Germany are AOK, BEK and DAK.

 

Private Healthcare

In addition to the standard public scheme, you also have the option to take out a Private Krankenversicherung (PKV) match any of the following criteria:

  • an employee earning more than 61,000 euros annually
  • working part-time earning less than 450 euros a month
  • self-employed
  • a freelance professional;
  • a civil servant or certain other public employee.

The private scheme typically offers a wider range of dental and medical treatment options and in some cases is tax-deductible. The levels of coverage and premiums are dependent on individuals as opposed to the public scheme which looks mainly on a per family basis.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the healthcare system

Germany’s dual healthcare system is placed somewhere in between the American Market run system and the British state-run system. With many options to opt in or out of the pros and cons vary depending on your choice of public or private sector coverage, however here are a couple of the most commonly heard praises and complaints;

Pros:

  • Your GP choice is not limited by zip code. You have the free range of doctors and hospitals regardless of location
  • The Private healthcare has a multitude of  different options for providers
  • You do not  need a referral when looking for a specialist, they just need to be covered by your type of insurance.
  • The cost of state insurance is dependent on your taxable income
  • All students receive discounts and special benefits for state insurance

Cons:

  • The higher your taxable income is the higher your contribution to state insurance is
  • Some Private health insurers wont except expats until they have reached a minimum residency term
  • There are concerns that with the public/private system, many doctors will move to the private sector to earn a higher income and in do so leave less skilled doctors in the state care
  • In some circumstances insurance companies do not cover the full cost of a hospital stay. Patients staying overnight in hospital may be charged extra fees ( such as meals)

 

 

Helpful healthcare phrases:

  • Hospital – Krankenhaus
  • Patient – Patient
  • Sick – Krank
  • I am allergic to… – Ich bin alergisch gegen…
  • I need a doctor – Ich brauche einen Arzt.
  • I need an ambulance – Ich brauche einen Krankenwagen
  • I need a hospital – Ich brauche ein Krankenhaus.
  • There’s been an accident – Es gab einen Unfall.

For a list of body parts and other useful terms check out this link