Tag Archives: communication

Signs of Singapore

13 Nov

During my trip to Singapore, I found some extremely funny signs. This is a bit of an obsession for me. Some of the signs in Singapore seemed to have an underlying hint of sarcasm which I thought was great.

Can you guess what this sign was meant to be telling you?

It was actually the sign for the ladies toilets. The sign for the toilet was similar, except that the man had, what I can only describe as, a Mexican-style moustache. At first I had no idea what the sign was meant to be indicating. I think I make this pose when I am deliberately being shy and coy, like after receiving a compliment and feigning a false modest. Like, “Oh, you shouldn’t have said that. I feel all embarrassed now!” Do you see what I mean?

I saw this sign in a bar and all I could think was, yes, finally someone has had the courage to, not only say it, but to make it into a sign! For those of you who don’t know, PDA means Public Displays of Affection. 

I wish that they had had this sign in the restaurant where I ate the hot curry. The seats were on the floor around a coffee table sized table and there wasn’t a lot of space between the tables. Because they clearly wouldn’t be able to survive an hour long dinner without pawing at one another, they both sat on the same side of the table and he was virtually sat on top of me. All the kissing and cuddling almost made my stomach turn. It was a wonder I finished that curry in one piece. Seems like everything is not perfect in Paradise though because after about 10 minutes, he got his iPad out and they were playing word puzzle games for the remainder of the dinner.

This sign was in a Buddhist temple that I visited.

Surely if you do nod off in a temple and you get caught, the obvious excuse is that you weren’t sleeping but meditating and reached another level of consciousness. Seems reasonable, right?

Everyone loves a bargain. Here is one that you can’t possibly not snap up on the spot. It’s that incredible deal of buy 1cocktail and get 1. Surely too good to miss?

This sign is translated into several languages but I think the picture in the middle says it all and there is no reason for translation. Basically, it you enter someone is going to pull a large gun on you so it is probably a good idea not to enter. Maybe this is what is meant by actions speak louder than words.

I saw this in a bar in Arab Quarter. Every bar needs rules. I agree with almost all of these rules. Sexual discrimination has no place in today’s society and Spitting is a disgusting habit.

However, why can there be no flirting with the cashier? I bet they have a high turnover of staff. When I worked in bars the only thing that I had to look forward to was the occasion flirt with a customer. But maybe the staff turnover isn’t that high. The staff can also sleep in the toilet! Wow, what a perk that is! Forget the private health insurance and the extra holidays, what staff really want is to sleep in the toilet.

And finally, because I have seen this a few times on hotel phones and it never fails to make me laugh:

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In case of emergency, please phone Switzerland. Those guys are pretty good in a crisis and they will know what to do!

A slight sense of impending doom 

28 Jun

Slowly, but surely, I am starting to feel a sense of dread; a terrifying sense that I have brought something upon myself and now I have to pay for it. I’m talking about my German exam which I will be taking in less than 11 days.

It seems like a strange comparison but it feels a bit like booking a holiday, quite far in advance, and all of a sudden it’s here and you think “Oh, that’s come round quickly!” 

Of course, this is all my fault because I signed up for the exam free willingly. The one reason I wanted to do it was to prove to myself that I am learning and getting better and that my time and money has not been a complete waste.

I’m always nervous before exams, even though I am normally more prepared than the person marking the paper. My worst fear on language exams is the spoken part. On all the other parts (writing, reading, listening) if you don’t know the answer, you can come back to it later or have a guess and no one can see the utter confusion etched on your face. 

Speaking is another matter. With speaking you have to answer immediately and the other person knows if you are making it up or you are not feeling great about what you are saying, just from looking at you. Unfortunately for me, this is how spoken language works. 

In my last exam, I was paired with a man from Spain and his accent was so thick that I really struggled to understand what he was saying. If this happens this time, I am just going to say that I don’t understand and can they repeat it because I can’t handle the stress of guessing what has been said. Thinking about it, maybe it will help me score brownie points from the examiners because they might not be able to understand them either!

From now until the exam, my life is a boring, never-ending cycle of listening to German, reading German, learning German working and practicing test German exams. My brain feeling like it is cooking.

I sound very conscientious but it’s not the whole truth. In actual fact, I have begun to find different activities to occupy myself with and ultimately help me to procrastinate! The bathrooms have never been so clean, the garden is looking very trim and tidy and my jars in the kitchen which keep flour, sugar, rice etc have all been neatly rearranged and filled to an optimal level. It could well be that the house is in a lot better state than my “German” mind by the time of the exam.

In positive news, I have started to write emails in German at work (sometimes of very technical topics) and everyone I sent them to has been very complimentary about my German grammar and language skills. 

Now if the exam could just contain a question about writing an email to a colleague about hedge funds, that would be just great!

Trends on the train

13 Mar

I have noticed a trend that I find quite worrying on public transport. Or should I say completely irritating rather than worrying?

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Lately I have seen several people on the train using their phones. OK, slightly irritating but mobile phone are so-called because people want to be mobile when they are using them. This I can cope with. What I can’t cope with is people using FaceTime during the journey. On one occasion I saw someone doing this without headphones.

I’m not quite sure what would possess anyone to do this. Zürich is very international and I completely understand that people might want to contact their loved ones in another time zones before it gets to late but why do this on a train packed full of commuters who just want to sit in silence, read the free paper and get home?

If it really is that important to speak to someone via FaceTime on your commute then why not stay behind at work for 10 minutes? Find a meeting room and have a chat with you nearest and dearest in private without strangers listening in to your conversation.

It is infuriating enough to hear one side of a phone conversation on public transport let alone being able to hear little Benjamin or Florence’s excitable shrieks in response to daddy’s questions about how their day at nursery was.I don’t know how social norms come into existence but, in my opinion, this is the opposite of both social and normal.

I even saw a man in the supermarket who was watching a TV series on his phone while shopping. The reason it caught my attention was that he wasn’t using any earphones. He was lholding up the device to his ear to listen to what was happening and not watching what was happening on his screen. If you are really so busy that you can’t sit down and watch the acting (which must be a fundamental of the show or it would just be done on the radio and would save the producers a lot of money) then you shouldn’t even bother.

Even more irritating for me is when someone sit near to me on the train and the music that they are listening via headphones to is so loud that I can hear all of the lyrics of the song. Of course this is irritating but, for me, there is added cause for concern. I used to work for a hearing aid manufacturer and I know the amount of damage that can be done to the ear when it is exposed to loud noise over a prolonged period of time. The ear is a very fragile organ and needs to be protected. The ear didn’t evolve with the intention of having a ear bud shoved down it and Justin Bieber on full blast.

I am never sure if I should politely lean over to my fellow passenger and explain that they might be doing some harm to their ears but I’m not sure if they would be able to hear me or, perhaps more tragic, if they would care about my friendly advice.

I appreciate that I might sound like a bit of a bore but private conversations are called private for a reason. And you might get a few less angry stares from your fellow passengers on the 17.31 if we can all hear a little less of Justin Bieber.

Getting things right

8 Feb

Why is it that no matter how old you get or how experienced you are, there are just somethings in life you never seem to get quite right? Practice as hard as you might, it never turns out quite right.

There are big things, like relationships, that people get wrong. Like saying the wrong thing at slightly the wrong time. We have all at some point opened our mouths to comment on something and immediately regretted it. As soon as the words tumble out of your mouth, you realise that you have miscalculated big time.

The classic is example is asking a woman when her baby is due. The nanosecond after you ask how long she has left for her pregnancy, you know she isn’t the slightest bit pregnant and she is just packing a few extra pounds and has missed the last few Weight Watchers meetings.

Or, loudly gossiping about someone, only to watch the eyes of your co-conspirator glaze over to give you the indication that the person is stood right behind you. There is categorically no way that they didn’t hear what defamatory comments you were making about them. You start to mumble and try to apologise but this just make things worse. It would be much less embarrassing to turn to the subject of your idle gossiping and explain that you were indeed talking to them behind their back and they weren’t meant to hear any of it.

There are also small things that seem largely irrelevant but even with practice you never seem to get them right. Things like being able to cook the right amount of rice spring to mind. I am sure that you can easily find a website on the Internet to tell you how much rice serves the amount of people you are cooking for but who has time for that? We are living in the 21st century.

Recently, I used a glass, smaller than a whiskey glass, to measure out rice for two people. Surely that can’t be too much? It turns out it was enough to fed the British army and probably some of the French army as well if they had been well-fed at breakfast time.

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I am coming to the conclusion that the absorption of rice changes overtime, because the exact opposite has also happened to me. A table full of hungry dinners arrive and I am feeling quietly confident about the abundance of rice that I have simmering in the pot. That feeling is quickly replaced by a feeling of panic, terror and abject horror when I come to serve up the rice at the dinner table and everyone has 30 grains of rice each.

While saying the wrong thing and cooking life seems to be the bane of my life, I will just try to keep my mouth shut and keep away from rice based dishes. Life is easier that way.

 

Disaster and two murders in a weekend!

5 Feb

Disaster might be a bit of a strong word but bad things have happened this weekend. The Wifi modem has broken and since Thursday evening there has been no internet connection at home.

I am not the sort of person who can’t go without the internet. In fact, not having the Internet  when I travel is one of the reasons that I like to travel so much. I normally only have the internet when I am at a hotel or restaurant and I can get a connection. I never pay for data roaming; partly because I don’t want to age 10 years when I finally get the bill and I realise how much data I have actually downloaded. I find pleasure in not being 100% contactable during time away and also not worrying why someone hasn’t replied to one of my messages.

It was a bit annoying that it had to happen this weekend. I had nothing planned this weekend, except a two phone calls via FaceTime with a friend and with my mum but now with no Wifi and a weak signal on my phone, that is not possible. I was looking forward as well.

fax-1904656__340Also, I had planned to spend some time this weekend on the internet researching some thing to do on my holiday in April. The weather is so cold and grey that a bit of research and thinking about holiday in a few months time was going to be momentary release from the drudgery of February. It seems like it was not to be.

Instead I have managed to do quite bit of reading. I have finally finished the second ever German book I have read. I am feeling a little smug again. This book was harder to read than The Reader because there isn’t a film that the book is based on that I have already seen. The book was a sort of crime thriller. A man is found dead and a private detective is hired to find out what happened. The book is called Happy Birthday, Türke by Jakob Arjouni, if you are interested. I also finished an English book that I only started on Wednesday evening. Because the Wifi broke on Thursday and the TV was also not working so well, I managed to get through a lot of it before the weekend even started. Coincidently, this book was also about a private detective. And, thinking about it, the book does start with the death of a man at the beginning. They weren’t the same book though. I am pretty sure that my German is not so bad that I wouldn’t have noticed.

If you are wondering how I am writing this without Internet, I am actually writing it on my phone. It isn’t the same as typing on the computer. I have fat figure syndrome and I keep hitting the wrong keys on my phone. It is taking me a lot longer than it would do normally. It’s frustrating. But hopefully a new modem will arrive tomorrow and normal service will be resumed. If not, I did visit a book shop yesterday with the intention of “just having a look”, but I came out of the shop ten minutes later with a bagful of books, so I should be able to keep myself entertained for a few days more at least.

The language question

1 Feb

After my blogging about going to Germany for a week, I realised that people may not have understood the real reason for this or, that they may be wondering why after 4 years in a country with a different language, I am not fluent already.

The main reason is because in Switzerland the language that is spoken is not the same as in Germany (“High German” as it is known) but Swiss German. The differences between the two are many and varied. So much so, that Germans who come to Switzerland to work or on holiday have difficulty in understanding the Swiss.

There is the well-known quote of the Irish writer, George Bernard Shaw who said:

England and America are two countries divided by a common language

I would say that this is true of the difference between Swiss German and High German as well. An example may help with my explanation. The German word for “taste” is actually the word that Swiss Germans uses for “smell”. So there could be a misunderstanding, when a Swiss German asks a German colleague, if they have smelt how bad the toilet is. The German will understand that this to mean “have you tasted how bad the toilet is”. This leads to confusion all round and quite a few puzzled looks in the office.

It is not just the words that might be confusing. The grammar and the sounds of the words are completely different in both languages It can take some time for a native German speaker to grasp the meaning of the Swiss language.

Of course the Swiss are also able to speak High German. In fact, they normally write emails, read books and newspapers in High German but only speak in Swiss German. A teacher once explained to me that Swiss people don’t like speaking in High German because this is the language that they are forced to speak at school. A child growing up in Switzerland will learn to talk Swiss German with friends and family. They will only learn High German when they finally begin school. Very early on, a child is programmed to associate speaking Swiss German with spending time with friends and family and having fun and High German with homework and school.

As this isn’t complicated enough, there are different Swiss dialects which are only spoken in certain regions. The word for “boy” is different in the Canton of Zurich to the word that they use in other cantons. The verb “to shop” is different in Zurich to the verb that is used to mean the exact same thing in Bern, which is only an hour away.

I would say that this is a little bit like the different words we use in England for a bread roll. Where I was brought up, I would use the word “barm” to refer to a sandwich roll but regional variations can be anything from bap, roll, barmcake, buns, bin lids, cob, teacake. I actually looked this up and there are 18 regional variations for a bread roll in the UK.

But teacake, for the record, is most certainly not a savoury bread. It is a sweet bread with currants in it that you have with slathered on it with a cup of tea on the side. I would just like to make that absolutely clear.

From the context of the sentence, it is normally easy to work out what the speaker is saying but it requires some effort from the listener to decipher what is being said. My point is that even Swiss Germans can have some difficultly in understanding each other.

When you put all of this together, you can see what my, and many others in my situation, problem is. There is a complete disconnect between the High German that I am taught in my language school and the language that is spoken in the office, in the supermarket and in the street. I spent the first year and a half wondering if I was learning another language because I was still struggling to understand what was being said to me and around me.

download-3Going to Germany was a tactic to hear as much German as was possible and to reinforce
how much I could understand and function in the language that I have been struggling to learn for so long.

I am not sure if I know of any other languages where there is this disconnect between the spoken and written language. It is completely confusing for someone trying to learn. In France and Italy for example, the language that you would hear after leaving in the language school would be the same as the language as on the street and the learning process would be accelerated.

For now, I am concentrating on getting my High German perfect but if I am to stay here longer term I will need to learn some Swiss German. I already have an okay-ish understanding of the numbers for example (so I can at least give the cashier at the supermarket the right money for my shopping, which was virtually impossible when I first arrived) and I know the days of the week. Except for Tuesday. I can never remember the word for Tuesday. But as I don’t consider Tuesday to be so much of an important day of the week, I am happy to let that one slide.

 

 

 

Operation Full Immersion: Day 4

18 Jan

The week seems to be running away and it is Wednesday already! I didn’t sleep that well last night because I knew that I needed to be at the language school for another private lesson for 8.30am. I was nervous that I would oversleep and I would end up missing the lesson after I had made a fuss about the group lessons being too easy. It seemed like I was waking up every half hour just to make sure that my alarm was still set and I hadn’t accidentally not heard it go off.

The private lesson today is with a different teacher than I have had for my other lessons. I met her briefly yesterday when she had introduced herself. On first impressions, she seems to be a little bit skatty with a hint of barmy. She tells me that she is a German-Russian and is wearing a T-shirt with the logo “Love Conquers Capitalism”. It’s an interesting choice.

From my school days, which seem a long, long time ago now, I know that sometimes the more eccentric the teacher, the better the lessons are. I am certainly not disappointed. The lesson is probably one of the most varied I have ever had. We seem to jump from one topic to another but I know, because she only has a limited about of time with me, that she is eager to find out where my strengths and weaknesses lie and to help me as much as possible.

She mentioned that when I speak, I speak really clearly. A mistake that a lot of people make when they are learning a new language is that they tend to mumble and hurry through the words rather than focusing on the individual words. This pleases me because for the past 6 months or so I have really been concentrating on my pronunciation. Even though people have commented that I speak like someone from Switzerland and not someone from Germany, I find this to be a great compliment. Maybe I am no longer sounding like an English person trying to say really long words, which is how I sounded until recently. She does, however, notice that I have a problem with the difference with “u” and “ü” which is something that I have been trying to improve. I think I am almost 90% of the time saying these correctly. I just have to practice a bit more.

We finish off by singing a song together in German. A German pop song. And no, it wasn’t by David Hasselhof. When songs from my childhood come on the radio, I can remember them word for word. Learning songs is probably a good way to learn a language. But I am not sure I could ever get into German pop. No matter how hard I tried.

Straight after my lesson I go to visit Schloss Nymphenburg, which is 15 minutes from the main train station. It is freezing cold and there is a school class who are ice-staking as part of their lessons on the frozen lake which is in front of the palace. The building and the grounds are impressive but it is far too cold to explore outside. I can imagine that in the summer that it is a glorious place to visit and spend time but not when the outdoor temperature is -7 degrees. IMG_4477.JPGHoused at the palace at the Natural Histroy Museum is a temporary exhibit of “The Wildlife Photographer of the Year”. I went to see the exhibition last year and it was amazing. The photographs in the competition were equally mind-blowing. I like taking pictures of animals and nature but I can never imagine taking photographs of this quality. I was studying the first category and was amazed. I then realised that this was a category for the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year for children aged 10-17. Unbelieveable!

After doing some work inside (yes, at Starbucks again), I braved the cold weather to do a free walking tour of Munich. I have been on a lot of free walking tours and have always found them to be a good way to quickly learn about the city and the culture. I was slightly disappointed that the guide was actually from Wolverhampton. He was actually a really good guide, was well informed about the history of the city and was very entertaining. As it was cold, he took us into some public buildings so that we could warm up a bit inside.

On a side note: when I went to Copenhagen with my friend Mark, we went on a walking tour. There were a lot of people and the split us into 3 groups with 3 different tour guides. We were delighted to be put into the group we were in because the other 2 guides were from the UK and Australia. Our guide looked so Danish; with blond hair, blue eyes and a huge beard. We were going to be given a tour by a genuine Danish local! It turns out he was from Belgium. It just goes to show that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

After something quick to eat, I headed back; more because the bitter cold weather had begun to creep into my bones. I have some homework and some things to look over before my lesson tomorrow morning. It is surprising how tired I have felt this week. Obviously, I have not been as stressed and busy as I normally would be if I was working in the office but the combination of the crisp, winter air and using my brain to think hard about certain things and trying to improve my German is definitely a remedy for insomia!