Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Theory vs. Practice

There are two things you need to know about me.

(Well, there are a million things you should know about me, should you care to know me, but for the sake of this particular and specific post, only two shall do.)

1. I love linguistics more than I love literature. And I love literature.

2. I am firm believer in learning the theory first before applying such theory in practice. I mean, you need to know before you do.


I'm taking a phonetics class in my university. I love it. My professor is brilliant, and I particularly love the fact that I'm the only one among my classmates who has ever taken a phonetics class before - so I get to show off and ask questions like, "Is that a Schwa, or simply a weak e-sound?" or, "That's a bilabial sound," or "My gosh, that is clearly fricative!"... and I actually know what I'm talking about. And I am actually right. My teacher is so impressed. He gives me candy every time I score - which is not often, my participating, that is, because I want my collegues to participate as well, you know? I am magnanimous like that. We try to dumb down our private conversations, so that my classmates - my poor classmates who have never before had the pleasure of learning linguistics - can follow us and perhaps understand.

I don't have a problem. I know the difference between [ε] and [e] and [æ]. In fact, I know there is a difference. theory.

In theory, I know the [ε] is completely different from the [e] and from the [æ], because you position your tongue in a completely different part of your palate; and you open your mouth wider for one more so than for the others; and I know which sound goes with which tongue and mouth position! theory.

Because when you ask me to actually pronounce these sounds... well...

...they all end up sounding like a plain, normal e.

I am completely unable to make the sounds sound different! And I do everything right: I place my tongue in the precise spot, I open my mouth wide enough, I let just enough air through my vocal chords... but I am still unable to make the sounds differ. In fact (to make this even more embarrassing), I am unable to make either of the sounds properly in German! You see, in Spanish we have one sound for the letter /e/: [e]. That's it: you smile wide, the back part of your tongue goes up to meet your palate, and you blow lightly, as if saying the first sound in "elephant" or "elegant" - one simple /e/. Never short, never long; never weak, always strong. The Germans have 4 different sounds for the /e/, and I am able to make only one: the one that sounds like the Spanish /e/ - which is, of course, the one the Germans most seldom use.

Oh, well. At least I know the theory. At least I know the Germans have 4 different sounds. At least I know, theoretically, how to sound these sounds (even if only in my mind). At least I know there is a difference (even if I can't always hear it, or say it). At least...

...well, at least I know what this means. Right?

So what if I say "berry" /b[ε:]rѳn/ and people understand "bears" /b[æ:]rѳn/? It will make for interesting stories to share.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cheap little bread

It's been 9 months.

You'd think by now I'd have an idea of what goes on in the mind of a German when he/she speaks to me... at least by context, you know? But I still make some mistakes that make me question my language skills.

A few weeks ago, I went on a road trip with Mr. and Mrs. Siedenburg. It was very nice, I got to know a new part of Germany, and we had a fun time in general. At some point during our road trip, I asked if I could eat the banana I had brought. After my operation, I explained, I must eat every 4 hours; I must not feel hungry. Mrs. Siedenburg said it was OK, but that we would be eating cheap little bread in a little while.

"Cheap little bread?", I thought. Well, yes, I know the economy is bad, and I know we should save as much money as possible, and I know I don't have much money... but I can invite - I mean, I can pay for all of us to eat non-cheap, non-little bread. I mean, I don't want to pay 10 Euros for a little bread thingy, but I can pay 1 or 2 Euros, you know? Bread here is rather inexpensive, anyway.

She noticed my concern and reassured me that we would stop quite soon for the cheap little bread. Billiges Brotchen, was what I understood.

So we saw a bakery, parked the car, walked towards the bakery... and I said, I would be honored if I could pay for our meal (I did not say "cheap little bread" because I intended to offer something more than cheap, little, old, hard, yesterday's-bread bread). Both Mr. and Mrs. Siedenburg politely declined my offer.

I was so concerned! How expensive, or how cheap, rather, and how big, or how little, rather, must "cheap little bread" be in order to be considered "cheap little bread"? 50 cents? 20 cents? 10 cents? I looked around and tried my best to read the names and prices of the breads, just to make sure I would order the right thing. To my surprise, Mr. Siedenburg ordered something that cost 5 Euros, and Mrs. Siedenburg ordered something that cost 3. I tried to stay in between, you know, the average and such, so I ordered something that cost 4 Euros.

We ate, we chatted, we gossiped, we had such a lovely time. Then we went back to the car and rode back home. And we all lived happily ever after.

Well, I was watching TV with Honey a couple of nights ago, and we came upon a documentary about bakeries in Germany and what they offer and blah blah blah - we happened to tune in right at the moment when they were beginning to address belegtes Brötchen.

Belegtes. Not billiges. Belegtes means loaded, so belegtes Brötchen means loaded little bread, which is German for "sandwich".

*   *   *   *

On a different note, I've started a new Blog! But this one is in German: Ich versuche auf Deutsch zu schreiben. If you're comfortable with your German language skills, please feel free to visit me there. You must, of course, excuse my Grammar... ich bin nur eine Anfängerin!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

New Procedure

Bearing in mind that as of Tuesday I go back to being super busy --well, as busy as a University Student should be-- and wanting to find the appropriate way to optimize processes; and seeing that the Internet offers plenty of options for automatization of optimized processes; and accepting that I am a little embarrassed every time I send an E-Mail, as if saying, "Hey! Read me!"... well, I'd like for you to register to my Blog!

To the right of this column,
above my picture (courtesy of Rosita Lama Muvdi), there is a text box under the title "Follow by E-Mail", where you can enter your E-Mail address. By doing entering your E-Mail, you are registering to automatically receive every new Blog entry.

If you seem to be facing problems or inconveniences, please don't hesitate to contact me, and I will gladly solve these issues for you. I would be so awesome as a customer service representative...

Well, then, uh, thanks for reading, thanks for following, thanks for registering.

Hugs from the cold yet sunny Germany,


Friday, April 8, 2011


I watched and loved the ABC series, and just recently I finished reading the book. "Flashforward", by Robert J. Sawyer, is a book meant for SciFi lovers. And the ABC series had nothing to do with the book - except for the premise (that there was a global blackout in which people experienced a little over a minute of their futures) and the name of the scientist who alledgedly caused it: Lloyd Simcoe. Aside from that, it's like it's two completely different stories.

But that's not what I want to talk about. I also don't want to talk about how I understood little of the last 100 pages, due to the extremely detailed physics and quantum mechanics and blah blah blah; Sawyer could have been making up words for all I know, but still. I guess the whole SciFi thingy is just not for me. I also don't want to talk about how I spent two days reading a 300-page book that I didn't particularly like, just so that I could say (to myself, at least) that I read it. I remember informing my mother, about 15 years ago, that I was going to read The Perfume, by german author Patrick Süskind; she said "No". And not a "no" as in, "No, I can't believe it, how cool!", no. It was more of a "No, I'm pulling rank here: I'm your Mother and I forbid you to read that book" kinda no. When confronted with my questioning of her completely undendable decision, she said: "Human beings spend so little time reading, that when they do read, they must make sure it is a book worth reading, with a story that will, in some way or another, add something to their life". Clearly Das Parfum did not fit her strict definition of a worthwhile book. I get it. She had a point; she still has a point. And, today, I have to say that, although I am still not sure how I feel about her "forbidding" me to read something, anything, I should have taken her advice on "Flashforward". Man, what a bad book! But again, that's not what I want to talk about...

I want to talk about the possibility of the idea (or the idea of the possibility?) of being able to get a glimpse into the future.

I'm confused, I'll admit that upfront. I believe in Karma, which (loosely phrased) means that your past life determines your current life, and that all you get in this life is a direct result of your behaviour in your past life. Right? Which means, no matter how nice and giving and caring and awesome and altruistic and philanthropic and good and all you are, if you were bad in your past life, you will pay for it in this life. Which (again, loosely phrased) kinda means that your life is predetermined to work out in a certain way. Which means that "fate" and predestination really exist, and that you have no free will. Well, you do have free will in the sense that you can do all the good you want, but your free will cannot affect your future, because it's already predestined. And the whole idea of free will is that you can turn your life around by the choices you make.

Which brings me to the "confused" part, because I also believe in free will. But as I just said, you can't believe in free will and believe in Karma at the same time. If I am determined to suffer in this life because I was, I don't know, a mass murderer or something like that, in  my past life, then regardless of my good actions, I will still live a life of suffering. Right? But, if this life is the only life I get (which immediately deletes all possibility of a concept of Karma), and if I get to choose my path based on my actions, and if I'm able to realize I am making mistakes, and if I am able to fix them and correct my path and make of my life that which I want... well, that just seems awesome, right?

That's why I'm confused. On the one hand, having all the responsability left to the Old Me (in my past life) is just great; there are no bad choices, no mistakes that I make. Everything was already predetermined by the Old Me who screwed up majorly in the past life. Right? But, on the other hand, I hate the idea of not having control of my life, of not being my own Master and Commander, and of knowing that regardless of my efforts, I cannot change the course my life has taken.

Which brings me back to the point I wanted to discuss: If I was given the chance to decide whether I wanted a glimpse of the future or not, what would I choose? The characters in both the book and the TV series were "forced" into this, because it was actually an accident. But, what would I choose? I'd love to see that everything is all right in the future, but - well, what if it isn't? I love Honey, but what if the future showed me with someone other than Honey? Should I break up with him now because we're not going to be together in the future? (I dreamt about this already - we are in fact together in the future.) If the future showed me winning not a Literature Nobel Prize, but rather the Physics Nobel Prize, should I stop writing and start studying physics, because that's what the future said?

That's what's complicated about knowing the future: what's to stop you from changing your present to accomodate to the future? Or, even worse, what's to stop you from changing your present to try to change your future? That seriously did not work out for Oedipus. Why would it work for me?

I would want to say, "No, thanks" to the glimpse of the future thingy. But I know me, and I know that my curiosity is so great it kills me before the cat, so I'd say yes. And then - oh, gosh, then I'd go insane. The questions then become: how far along in the future? how long of the future? who's future?

If only an Oracle could tell me, "It's all going to be OK"... that really is all I need to hear. That really is all anyone needs to hear: that it's going to be OK.

But then again... if I could be shown the future, or if an Oracle came to me to tell me everything is all right, then that means my whole life has been previously written; that I am just a puppet, an actor playing a role... I'm not too sure I like that.

What would you say, if given the possibility to get a glimpse of the future in 6 months, or 21 years, for 2 minutes and 17 seconds?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Capital U, Capital S

I'm a University Student.

That's right - capital U, capital S. University Student.

I paid my dues (literarlly, the university dues, not like "I paid my dues" as if life had treated me so badly that I paid for it with tears, sweat and pain... I just slid my card and paid my dues. No tears. No sweat. No pain. Kinda anticlimactic, now that I come to think of it...) earlier today, and tomorrow I will get my official ID and my official documents and my official schedule (which I already know, btw. It's awesome!). So I guess today I'm a university student, lower-case u and lower-case s. But as of tomorrow, as of tomorrow I get to officially place capital letters on those two words!

A city viewed from the perspective of a University Student (I've waited 8 months, I get to use capital letters a few hours before it's official, ok?) is completely different from the city viewed from the perspective of a "normal" person (OMG, I just made it sound like university students and University Students are abnormal... but that's OK. We are. Right?).

I don't know if I would appreciate Augusta as much now, an ASU Alumni (alumn? alumna? alumnus?), as I did during the four years I spent there - the best four years of my life, no doubt.

I got to experience Kiel first as a normal person, as a normal citizen. It was interesting, it was new, it was first world, it was... it was a city. A normal city, filled with normal people, with a normal routine.

But as of tomorrow at 10 a.m. my time, as of tomorrow I will get to experience Kiel as a University Student. I will be surrounded by people who also crave further education, who use big words and don't find it arrogant. I will walk around a city within the city (you actually have to ride a bus to go from one building to another, that's how big it is...) having the confidence that I belong there, that I know where I am going and where I came from (though, let's be honest, I might have the confident face on, but I will more than likely be lost all the time...). I will deal with topics that only a few select find interesting, I will be able to ask questions without being laughed at (the laughing is mostly due to ignorance, I know, but it doesn't hurt any less).

I will return on the path I left six years ago. I will go back to school, I will go back to being taught, I will go back to taking notes.

Looking back at the last 6 years, and thinking about what the next 6 might bring, I don't regret having left that path. I don't regret it at all. The past 6 years have included more growth experiences, more personal insights, more deep, strong emotional connections, more... well, more, than in the past, ahem, 23 years.

Yesterday, I was a person, a normal person (lowe-case n, lowe-case p). Today I am a university student. Tomorrow I will be a University Student. Again.

Capital U, capital S.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

What makes the Germans angry

I am not being sarcastic with this comment: I find the Germans to be very calm people. Really! I am actually surprised they went to war... The Germans don't get angry - or, at least, the northen Germans don't get angry.

If someone cuts in line in front of them, they politely ask WTF, and request that the person go to the back of the line. They don't get angry.

If some service does not work properly (internet or telephone, for instance), they politely call the appropriate company and request that the problem be resolved. Now, Customer Service in Germany is nowhere as awesome as it is in the US, but it works. The problem gets solved (or it doesn't), and they don't get angry.

If something they buy does not function properly, they go back to the store and politely request a replacement. They get their replacement, and they don't get angry.

If someone is playing music too high, they politely ring the bell and ask the person to lower the volume. The person actually lowers the volume, and neither of them get angry.

If someone is being too obnoxious, they politely ask them to quit the crap. They don't get angry.

The Germans are direct, and they don't beat around the bush. They say what they think, when they think it. And although you might think their language sounds harsh, once you learn it, it actually sounds nice and smooth. The Germans are clear in expressing their feelings, good or bad, and they express them to you, in your face, if they concern you. So maybe some people think they "get angry" - but no. They are perfectly calm and relaxed. They just want what they want, and they want it now. They are, however, capable of requesting their wish politely.




Don't mess with a German on a bicycle. Having been through Honey getting his drivers' license in Germany, I can tell you that the Germans emphasize bicycle awareness. It's like the bike has priority even over pedestrians. Sometimes drivers are not all too careful... and some come really close to hitting ciclists, but  ciclists also usually overreact, they scream stuff that I am not taught in the most advanced of German Language Courses, things that I can only assume have to do with moms' professions, and feces and excrements, and words that describe profane sexual acts... they get angry. They scream and yell, other pedestrians also yell at the driver - dude, they get pissed! And the truth is nothing happened. Yes, something could have happened, but nothing actually happened. But if you want to see a German angry, mess with them while they are on a bike.

To be honest, the Germans only get really annoyed when they are "attacked" while on their bikes. They get upset. Thet get mad. They become unhappy.


You see a real angry German, a 100%-out-of-their-senses-German, a real needs-some-kind-of-medication-German, a real how-the-heck-can-someone-get-so-angry-German, a real OMG-I-don't-want-to-be-here-German when... drive "at speed limit" in the "unlimited speed" part of the Autobahn. There is something you need to understand: the Autobahn is no different from any other highway in your country. In fact, sometimes they are quite small and unimpressive. Sometimes - most of the time - they have only two lanes (the driving lane and the passing lane). And most of the time they do have a speed limit. The limit, however, is 120 km/h, which is approximately 75 mph. And this means that they all drive at 130 km/h...

But when they don't have limit regulations, the slow idiots drive at 140 km/h. And this makes the Germans so, so, so unmeasurably angry. I mean, seriously, what kind of stupid, useless, piece-of-crap jerk drives at 140 km/h?!? The "normal" people drive between 150-160 km/h. And they complain when they have to pass a guy driving 140 km/h. But when I say "complain" I mean they bitch and moan as if the other driver were driving 40 km/h. Dude, it's scary. Really.

I come from a country where, when you're lucky, you may drive at 100 km/h, but that's totally unusual because the vast majority of our highways have an 80 km/h limit. So forgive me if I can't fathom driving legally at twice the max speed in my country...

You can do almost anything here in Germany. If the Germans don't like it, or don't approve of it, they will politely inform you. But please, please, pretty please, whatever you do, don't brake too close to a guy on a bike, and please, please, pretty please, don't drive under 150 km/h in an Autobahn. You don't want to see an angry German.

You really don't.