Category: Expat Life

Because you’re better…

In an unusual turn of events, I had a chance not long ago to actually discuss intercultural communication with some ESL students. If you’re the kind of person who thinks that certificates and education mean more than experience, I should be better qualified to teach that than I am English.

And yet, I ran into communication dificulties.

It wasn’t something we discussed just because I felt like discussing it. I’m working with a company that has a supplier in Portugal with whom they have… difficulties.

Deliveries are late, promises are not kept, agreements are made but, for some reason, never adhered to. In short, they would be doing business with another supplier, if they could find one.

In short, this should be a company motivated to communicate better — if only to properly intimidate their supplier into delivering on time.

And yet, in discussion of a few German and Portugese “clichés” they seemed unwilling to acknowledge that any of the points (punctuality, directness) were cultural, rather than simply the correct way to be.

That’s what gets me: even a group of people who should be able to see the logic of thinking flexibly — or pretending to — would rather stick to what’s comfortable.

The experience has me re-thinking my plan to achieve renown by being the “voice of reason” that convinces the American left to stop acting like dicks, and the American right to stop being idiots. After all, if you can’t get a group of people who should see the money at the end of the tunnel to try and see things from another point of view, how are you going to get people for whom their ideas are their identity to think differently?

Short answer: I don’t know.

If someone asked me why he or she should see things from another point of view — after all, I’m for people being allowed to do what they want — I have a few answers.

First, of course, is because you’re smarter than the people you disagree with (or you wouldn’t disagree, right?), so you shouldn’t be afraid that trying to see the other person’s perspective will make yours less valid (and, if it does, then you’re a bit smarter, right?).

More importantly, we all have things we want to change. And, in my case, if sending fifteen angry emails in eighth grade English doesn’t change things, why not try something else? Similarly, if posting memes mocking Antivaxers doesn’t make them see reason, maybe changing the tone of your communication will.

I firmly believe that we communicate for a reason (even though I’m not yet sure why I write here) and, if you aren’t writing to persuade, I suspect you’re mostly writing to confirm your superiority over others. And that’s not going to change any of the things that you say you’re upset about.

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Proles and Royalty

I’ve been composing an essay in my mind about why the vocabulary of ‘white privelege’ should be abandoned in communnication aimed at increasing equality between races, as well as haves and have nots.

An important point, I think, is that the things listed in articles like this one, aren’t priveleges. It’s as though I started withholding water from one of my children and told the others they should be grateful for the priveledges they have. It’s crap.

It reminds me a lot of an impression¹ I have of how equality is viewed differently in the U.S. and in Germany. Both are systems in which inequality used to be the norm, and is now. . . well, the norm, but we get that it shouldn’t be.

Coming to Germany, I was surprised to hear the language that came out of a lot of otherwise educated, cultured people’s mouths. The German translations of words that I’d never use in the office in U.S. are used all the time here. The idea that I’d filter my language seems to a lot of people as though I were trying to elevate myself above my station, like I was trying to create a difference where none existed.

In the U.S., however, the impression I got — and this was from parents and teachers — was that my ‘equality’ was an obligation to be the best I could be. The idea (call it white privelege) that nothing was holdiing me down, and, as such, if I wound up with a gutter-mouth, it was my own fault.

In short, my perception is that ‘equality’ for my circle of Americans means that we can all be royalty now, the circumstances of your birth shouldn’t matter. In Germany, ‘equality’ seems to mean that we’re all proletarians, and an attempt to be anything more is old-fashioned and elitist.

I just wanted to get that off my chest. I don’t know what to do with it, but whenever I hear the words ‘white privelege,’ I feel the same thing: this sense that, if the system is unfair, it’s as necessary to cut those who are being treated properly off at the knees as it is to extend a hand to those who are being improperly. And I reject that idea. It’s not what equality means to me.

¹ I totally get that I move in very different circles in Germany and the U.S. This can be a differencce between conservative middle-class and urban, athiest working-class. But it’s not how I feel it.

 

The Translating Life

So, I’ve gone incognito for a while. And, while I have invested what feels like an entire weekend trying to set up a Virtual Machine for my python programming. (I’ll write about that when I’m finished being frustrated by it.)

The reason I’ve been out of touch is part of the reality of translating. Last week I had the opportunity to earn in a week translating what I normally earn in a month teaching. (Of course, I’ll still get paid for my teaching, so I just doubled this month’s income.)

So, I spent the last week basically hunkered over my computer translating a contract. It was interesting, and I got compliments on it when I was finished, but I’m still in recovery from the week spent hunkered down.

You know, one of the first things I saw when I first came to Germany was a forum conversation where someone was looking to house sit in different european capitals. The forum poster said she made her money translating and wasn’t attached to any one particular location. From that moment, I wanted to translate.

It turns out that translating, now that I’ve fallen into it as a second line of income, I appreciate the extra money. But, yeah, I miss my life whenever I get a contract. Now I’ve got to pick up a bunch of projects that have been dormant for a week.

That’s translating for you.

Update: A Wasted Trip to the City

Closed today, due to software update
Closed today, due to software update

I don’t know if anyone has been wondering what that status on my amateur radio license is. The last I wrote, I was waiting for a call sign.

Then, last week, I got a letter from the Federal Network Agency saying and I admit that I was a little nervous opening it. In my mind, I was already photographing it to send to my wife. I was already ending my emails to my dad with ’73 de DO…something!’ I was going to be a ham!

You can guess that there was not a callsign for me in the letter.

There was, instead, a letter saying that I would have to send a recent proof of registration (fun fact: you have to register in Germany, not unlike a dog), presumably to verify that I am a German resident and a copy of my residence permit, presumably to prove that I live here legally. (Did they think I would be able to register if I didn’t have a residence permit?)

It doesn’t matter, I have a residency permit. I just needed to run into town and, for five Euros, get a current proof of registration. No fun, but dooable.

Then, today, I made time to run into the city. Hopped on the bike, took off.

The office where I could get the registration, it turns out, is closed. Today and tomorrow, it’s closed due to a software update. Fun. I get to try again on Thursday.