Archives for the month of: August, 2010
Gloria Winters

I enjoy reading the obituaries in the New York Times.  It’s how I start the day.  It’s, by far, my favorite part of the newspaper.  Each obit is like a mini-biography.  From the famous to the infamous, if you’re somebody, the NY Times will include you in its obit column.  I find the obits of obscure people to be the most fascinating.

For example, I recently read the obit of Gloria Winters.  She was not a household name, but worthy enough to be included in the NY Times.  She played the role of Penny in the 1950s TV show “Sky King.”  I never saw the show, but was nevertheless intrigued by her obit.

After the TV series ended, Ms. Winters wrote an etiquette book for young girls, “Penny’s Guide to Teenage Charm and Personality.”  In the book, Ms. Winters declared, “Being attractive is the most important thing there is.”  Wow, how refreshing and what a truly honest look at reality.

As children, we’re told that it’s the inside that counts, not the outside.  We are reminded at home, school, and church that qualities such as honesty, sincerity, tact, and loyalty are what count in life.  Well, those qualities are important, but being attractive trumps them all.  Ms. Winters had it right, and she wasn’t afraid to say it.


Let’s face it, attractive people have an advantage over the rest of us.  Research has shown that attractive people get more attention in school, tend to get higher paying jobs, get promoted more often, receive more attention from the opposite sex, and are more likely to be viewed in a positive light.  Moreover, to add insult to injury, attractive people tend to score higher on scales measuring happiness.  Life isn’t fair.
   

Gloria Winters

I enjoy reading the obituaries in the New York Times.  It’s how I start the day.  It’s, by far, my favorite part of the newspaper.  Each obit is like a mini-biography.  From the famous to the infamous, if you’re somebody, the NY Times will include you in its obit column.  I find the obits of obscure people to be the most fascinating.

For example, I recently read the obit of Gloria Winters.  She was not a household name, but worthy enough to be included in the NY Times.  She played the role of Penny in the 1950s TV show “Sky King.”  I never saw the show, but was nevertheless intrigued by her obit.

After the TV series ended, Ms. Winters wrote an etiquette book for young girls, “Penny’s Guide to Teenage Charm and Personality.”  In the book, Ms. Winters declared, “Being attractive is the most important thing there is.”  Wow, how refreshing and what a truly honest look at reality.

As children, we’re told that it’s the inside that counts, not the outside.  We are reminded at home, school, and church that qualities such as honesty, sincerity, tact, and loyalty are what count in life.  Well, those qualities are important, but being attractive trumps them all.  Ms. Winters had it right, and she wasn’t afraid to say it.


Let’s face it, attractive people have an advantage over the rest of us.  Research has shown that attractive people get more attention in school, tend to get higher paying jobs, get promoted more often, receive more attention from the opposite sex, and are more likely to be viewed in a positive light.  Moreover, to add insult to injury, attractive people tend to score higher on scales measuring happiness.  Life isn’t fair.
   

This Saturday was the first day of school for many German children.  As I recall, I couldn’t wait to start school.  In some respects, it was my first real taste of independence.  I can still remember walking to school with my mother as she pointed out the stop signs, introduced me to the crossing guard, and reminded me never to talk to strangers, even if they offered me candy.  Mothers are like that.   
A Group of Children Carry Their Schultüten
In Germany, the first day of school is a very special occasion marked by an official welcoming ceremony.  It occurs on Saturday before the official start of school on Monday; and most importantly (a least for the kids), each new student is given a Schultüte by his or her parents.  A Schultüte is a large decorated cornet of cardboard filled with sweets and little presents!  As I was watching the children in the school yard, I couldn’t help notice how they were comparing their Schultüten to see which one was bigger, had the most sweets or presents, or was more elaborately designed.  I guess this is also part of the learning process:  instilling a sense of competition.  It’s never too early to start.    

Does Your Language Shape the Way You Think

There was a very interesting article in Saturday’s New York Times concerning language and how it shapes the way we think and grasp ideas. In many languages, nouns are assigned a gender.  In German, the articles are “der” (masculine), “die” (feminine) and “das” (neutral).  For example, a spoon is masculine (der Löffel), a knife is neutral (das Messer) and a fork is feminine (die Gabel).  Unfortunately, there are few rules to determine noun gender.  You simply need to learn the noun and its gender.

As the article points out, it would be impossible to say in German, “My neighbor is nice,” without knowing the gender of your neighbor:  Mein Nachbar ist nett (man) or Meine Nachbarin ist nett (woman).   The question for linguists is whether the assignment of gender shapes the way we view objects and use those objects in our lives.  Something to think about.  

This Saturday was the first day of school for many German children.  As I recall, I couldn’t wait to start school.  In some respects, it was my first real taste of independence.  I can still remember walking to school with my mother as she pointed out the stop signs, introduced me to the crossing guard, and reminded me never to talk to strangers, even if they offered me candy.  Mothers are like that.   
A Group of Children Carry Their Schultüten
In Germany, the first day of school is a very special occasion marked by an official welcoming ceremony.  It occurs on Saturday before the official start of school on Monday; and most importantly (a least for the kids), each new student is given a Schultüte by his or her parents.  A Schultüte is a large decorated cornet of cardboard filled with sweets and little presents!  As I was watching the children in the school yard, I couldn’t help notice how they were comparing their Schultüten to see which one was bigger, had the most sweets or presents, or was more elaborately designed.  I guess this is also part of the learning process:  instilling a sense of competition.  It’s never too early to start.    

Does Your Language Shape the Way You Think

There was a very interesting article in Saturday’s New York Times concerning language and how it shapes the way we think and grasp ideas. In many languages, nouns are assigned a gender.  In German, the articles are “der” (masculine), “die” (feminine) and “das” (neutral).  For example, a spoon is masculine (der Löffel), a knife is neutral (das Messer) and a fork is feminine (die Gabel).  Unfortunately, there are few rules to determine noun gender.  You simply need to learn the noun and its gender.

As the article points out, it would be impossible to say in German, “My neighbor is nice,” without knowing the gender of your neighbor:  Mein Nachbar ist nett (man) or Meine Nachbarin ist nett (woman).   The question for linguists is whether the assignment of gender shapes the way we view objects and use those objects in our lives.  Something to think about.  

Recently there has been a lot of talk in the German press about President Obama’s fall from grace.  In other words, how the American public has become disenchanted with the President.  First of all, I‘m not sure this is an accurate reflection of public sentiment; and second, if it’s true, I think the American public had unusually high expectations to begin with.  What did Americans expect from President Obama?  His resume was short, his qualifications minimal, and his political experience scant.  As I said during the presidential campaign, he sings a good song, but can he deliver the goods.

During the campaign, President Obama demonstrated suburb oratory skills, an uncanny ability to excite young voters, and good marketing tactics, but what did he bring to the table?  He did prevent a McCain presidency and that’s something!  Where would we be with President McCain and Vice-President Palin.  One shutters to thinks.  Moreover, President Obama offered a bright light after years of darkness.

Obama’s message was “change,” and his election, was, in some respects, similar to the election of President Carter who entered office following the Watergate Scandal.  President Carter’s message was “honesty,” and he offered Americans hope after years of Washington impropriety.  President Carter’s initial popularity quickly evaporated as the economy took a nose dive, the Iran hostage crisis escalated, and his perception as a leader turned negative.  This may be happening to President Obama.  I hope this is not the case because the alternative is a Republican Party moving further and further to the right. 

To his credit, President Obama has succeeded in getting a form of universal heath care, and even made an effort at bipartisanship in a polarized Senate and House.  He has also made some political gaffs, including his misplaced “Mosque” comments, and his invitation to religious leader Rick Warren to speak at his inauguration.  But for the most part, he has steered clear of controversy, a welcome relief after the Bush-Cheney years.  All and all, he has done a competent job, after 1 1/2 years in office. 


In Europe, the Obama’s are still viewed as “Pop Stars.”  That partly explains President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize and why Michelle Obama’s face can be seen everywhere. We see Michelle on the front page of the daily newspapers, on the nightly news and on almost every magazine cover.  We see her vacationing in Spain, wearing the latest fashion, or extolling the virtues of home gardening.  I don’t see this as a negative.  I simply find it fascinating that Europeans are so in love the First Lady. She has an almost Jackie Kennedy mystique.

Moreover, in the eyes of the German press, President Obama can do no wrong.  Reality hasn’t arrived.  When it does, Europe, like the USA, will see President Obama in a clear and unvarnished light:  neither a great President nor a poor one, merely an average one. 

View of the Spree

At last, a real German Biergarten in East Berlin.  Located in nearby Treptower Park, the Zenner Biergarten is the perfect place to relax on a warm sunny day. You can listen to Schlager, dance, have a Wurst, and/or drink a Beer or two.  It’s surprising that I haven’t come across this place before.

On the nearby Spree River, you can rent a row boat or kayak. Although crowded, the Zenner is not overrun with tourists.  There is a definite east European feel to the Zenner Biergarten and to Treptower Park as well.  It’s not because the famous Soviet War Memorial is across the street either.  It’s hard to put in words, but I know when I’m in East Berlin.  Whether it’s the architecture, the people or the mild disrepair, there is an iron curtain ambiance that one feels, even today, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

View of the Spree

At last, a real German Biergarten in East Berlin.  Located in nearby Treptower Park, the Zenner Biergarten is the perfect place to relax on a warm sunny day. You can listen to Schlager, dance, have a Wurst, and/or drink a Beer or two.  It’s surprising that I haven’t come across this place before.

On the nearby Spree River, you can rent a row boat or kayak. Although crowded, the Zenner is not overrun with tourists.  There is a definite east European feel to the Zenner Biergarten and to Treptower Park as well.  It’s not because the famous Soviet War Memorial is across the street either.  It’s hard to put in words, but I know when I’m in East Berlin.  Whether it’s the architecture, the people or the mild disrepair, there is an iron curtain ambiance that one feels, even today, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Quote of the Day
No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.
Lily Tomlin

I love this quote.  I’m reminded of it daily while riding my bicycle in Berlin, but that’s another story. 

Back to the subject of this post:  finding a restaurant in Berlin serving traditional German food.  There are plenty of restaurants serving Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Indian, Thai, Spanish, and even Mexican food, but one is hard pressed to find good German cuisine in the capital city. Today, I was in the mood for German food, so I went to Honigmond Restaurant-Hotel (Tieckstraße 11, 10115 Berlin-Mitte).  BTW:  Honigmond means Honeymoon.  It’s a literal translation:  Honey (Honig) and Moon (Mond).  The words, “die Flitterwochen,” and “die Hochzeitsreise” also mean Honeymoon.

I’ve been going to Honigmond for years, and I’m never disappointed. They have excellent German dishes; and what’s best, they have a lunch buffet for only 6,70 Euro.  They usually have 3-4 meat and/or fish dishes, assorted vegetables, salads, breads, a soup, a variety of German potato side dishes, and of course desserts.  Located in Mitte, the restaurant is a pleasant escape from the all the activity and noise found in this popular Berlin neighborhood.

Warning: Restaurant not recommended for the diet conscious.  German food means mouthwatering but also fattening.  Schade!

Texas Slogan for a Litter Free Texas

I was told that Northern Europeans have difficultly hearing the distinction between the words “Texas” and “Taxes.”  I decided to conduct a non-scientific experiment to see if this was correct.  I did this, in part, because Americans have difficulty pronouncing the letters “S” and “Z” in German.  For example, the words “Seit” (since) and “Zeit” (time).  The “Z” in German is pronounced “ts.”  Pronouncing the “Z” sound is particularly difficult for me. I always need to make a special effort when using a word with “Z” in it. 

In any case, I asked two Germans, one Pole and one Finn to tell me the difference between “Texas” and “Taxes.” They all had difficulty.  It wasn’t until I wrote the words out that they could understand the difference.  I can sympathize.  For example, how does one differentiate between words the “plane” and “plain,” or the words, “meet” and “meat.”  On the other hand, “Texas” and “Taxes” are pronounced quite differently, especially if you’re a native speaker.

People always tell me that German is easy to pronounce.  They say it isn’t like French, which is next to impossible to master.  I have to disagree.  I have studied both French and German over the years, and even become quite proficient in French (at least, I was until I took up German).  From my experience, learning German is an almost insurmountable challenge.  I quote from Mark Twain, no intellectual dummy:

“My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years. It seems manifest, then, that the latter tongue ought to be trimmed down and repaired. If it is to remain as it is, it ought to be gently and reverently set aside among the dead languages, for only the dead have time to learn it.
– Appendix D of A Tramp Abroad, “That Awful German Language”
Texas Slogan for a Litter Free Texas

I was told that Northern Europeans have difficultly hearing the distinction between the words “Texas” and “Taxes.”  I decided to conduct a non-scientific experiment to see if this was correct.  I did this, in part, because Americans have difficulty pronouncing the letters “S” and “Z” in German.  For example, the words “Seit” (since) and “Zeit” (time).  The “Z” in German is pronounced “ts.”  Pronouncing the “Z” sound is particularly difficult for me. I always need to make a special effort when using a word with “Z” in it. 

In any case, I asked two Germans, one Pole and one Finn to tell me the difference between “Texas” and “Taxes.” They all had difficulty.  It wasn’t until I wrote the words out that they could understand the difference.  I can sympathize.  For example, how does one differentiate between words the “plane” and “plain,” or the words, “meet” and “meat.”  On the other hand, “Texas” and “Taxes” are pronounced quite differently, especially if you’re a native speaker.

People always tell me that German is easy to pronounce.  They say it isn’t like French, which is next to impossible to master.  I have to disagree.  I have studied both French and German over the years, and even become quite proficient in French (at least, I was until I took up German).  From my experience, learning German is an almost insurmountable challenge.  I quote from Mark Twain, no intellectual dummy:

“My philological studies have satisfied me that a gifted person ought to learn English (barring spelling and pronouncing) in thirty hours, French in thirty days, and German in thirty years. It seems manifest, then, that the latter tongue ought to be trimmed down and repaired. If it is to remain as it is, it ought to be gently and reverently set aside among the dead languages, for only the dead have time to learn it.
– Appendix D of A Tramp Abroad, “That Awful German Language”