Ruth

About Ruth

Ruth spent 12 years living and working in Germany. She is fluent in the German language and most aspects of German culture, although some will remain ever elusive... She currently lives in Canada with her wonderful German husband and their two amazing children.

Birthday Etiquette

Nothing unsettles a German quite like wishing him or her a Happy Birthday before the actual birthday. The tradition of precision isn’t just in engineering appliances or designing public transport. In Germany, birthdays are also measured with exactness. I grew up with the relaxed approach to birthdays that is typical in North America: wish me happiness a day or two before, if my birthday is on the weekend; wish me happiness on the day if we happen to see each other; wish me happiness after the day has passed. All birthday wishes are welcome, and I don’t mind spreading out the happiness! The same approach goes for North Americans and birthday celebrations: Birthday parties can take place on the day, in the approximate week, or even six months later (these are half-birthdays, often celebrated for children born around Christmas, in order to spread the joy and gift-giving throughout the year).

When I moved to Germany, I was surprised to discover that Germans recoil in horror if you wish them Happy Birthday (“Alles Gute zum Geburtstag“) before their birthday! Continue reading

Bis Bald: 10 Things I Love About Germans

For my last official post as part of the regular writing crew here at The German Way, I’d like to be typically American and end on a positive note. Here are 10 things I love about Germans:

1. Their honesty. You will never doubt the sincerity of a compliment that comes from a German. In my first job in Germany, my boss’ comment at my mid-year review was “I have no complaints.” I am on the cusp of generation-feedback-junkie, and was a little underwhelmed at his comment. He then went on to explain that this was a typically German way of telling me I was doing my job well. Okaaaaay… so when they really compliment you, they must really mean it.

2. Their precision. This goes for all manner of things: conversation, instructions, engineering, … The list is quite possibly endless. Being out of the country, I miss the precision of engineering and design in German appliances. I am lucky to benefit from the engineering and design of the German car I drive. This precision extends to verbal and written instructions, all of which will be conveyed to you when you purchase anything. They care about things working properly, which is good. Continue reading

Weihnachtsgebäck

linzertoertchenGermany at Christmas is divine – any visitor to a Weihnachtsmarkt can tell stories of the booths of crafts, gifts, toys, knitwear, ornaments, junk, treats, Glühwein, Wurst, candles, etc. The air is chilly, the mulled wine is warming, and the festive atmosphere is unmatchable elsewhere in the world. I miss that about Germany.

Happily, I have plenty of treats to keep me in the holiday spirit: all the Christmas cookies I make each year (and there are dozens and dozens of them!) are from German recipes. Continue reading

Expat Tip: Want to Find Work in Germany? Have a Job.

There are some major cultural differences between German work culture and U.S. work culture, and many of them have been covered here on The German Way already (follow the link for the complete list!) From attitudes toward working mothers, or attitudes toward working women in general, to vacation time (ahh, 6 weeks is so civilized) and the Betriebsrat, newcomers to Germany have much to which they must adjust. One little secret I’d like to share with you today, however, isn’t one that gets mentioned in any expat guidebook: Germans like to hire employees who already have jobs. Continue reading

Don’t Mention the War. Read About It.

One facet of German culture that continues to impress me is how they have dealt with their WWII history. German authors have written extensively about it from the “inside” of German perspective, although I have yet to delve into their works. As an outsider, it is easier for me to identify with stories written by English-speaking authors, and there are a number of novels I have read that give insight into life as a German during those difficult times. We are all familiar with the Diary of Anne Frank, and many movies and TV series have made this horrific period of history painfully real. Literature remains one of the most powerful ways to represent the multitude of stories of that age, and as a self-confessed bookworm, I have collected many books set in the time period.

By no means exhaustive, nor in order of greatness, here are a number of my recommendations: Continue reading

A German Epic

Of the many cultural highlights I enjoyed while living in Germany, an Abo (subscription) to the local Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra was definitely one of my favorites. We regularly attended concerts featuring world-class musicians at the Liederhalle in Stuttgart, an impressive concert hall with phenomenal acoustic quality. The Stuttgarter Philharmoniker were unafraid to present the audience with challenging works, ranging from traditional to modern, and regularly impressed me with unique combinations of styles during each performance.

One of the most memorable performances I attended there was of the music to the 1924 Fritz Lang silent film “Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild’s Rache” (Kriemhild’s Revenge, the second of a two-part epic; part 1 was “Die Nibelungen: Siegfried“; music by Gottfried Huppertz) . The orchestra played the score, mostly in the dark, while the audience watched the black-and-white film on a large screen in front of the auditorium. I was blown away, both by the story and by the orchestra.

Having never heard of this epic tale, I began asking my German friends about it, and many of them had learned it in school. Das Nibelungenlied is an old epic poem, whose manuscripts date back to the 13th century, the authorship of which is unknown. Consider it along the lines of The Iliad and you get the idea. I found the movie so fascinating that I wanted to read the story for myself. While my German is fluent, and I often read German books and regularly read the newspaper and magazines, I knew I couldn’t handle mittelhochdeutsch (German from the middle ages) in poetry form. Happily, there is a contemporary author who has crafted the tale into a novel, and I found his book Hagen von Tronje, by Wolfgang Hohlbein, easy to follow and very enjoyable to read.

Another form of the tale which I have yet to experience is the Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner, a series of 4 epic operas that loosely follow the story of the Nibelungen. In fact, the German title is Der Ring des Nibelungen. This is another form of the tale that I am not sure I am quite ready to consume, although I might enjoy the attempt.

I can highly recommend either the 1924 silent film or the novel format of the epic as a good starting place for learning this mythical tale. Don’t worry – you won’t feel like you are back in grade 10 Literature class, and there is no quiz at the end. The benefit is in your deepened understanding of German cultural references (Yes! They regularly reference this tale when referring to things like the Nibelungentreue, and have done so throughout history).

Enjoy!

5 Reasons to Become an Expat

You may have enjoyed Hyde’s recent post on Ten Reasons Why You Should NOT Become an Expat here on the German Way Expat Blog. In the past few months I have found myself talking to many less-experienced expats, consoling them in their homesickness or loneliness, or convincing them that they can enjoy this adventure. Most of my adult life has been spent abroad and I have met many other expats and listened to their stories. What follows are my 5 reasons for loving the expat experience, whether it be a brief semester abroad or decades exploring the globe.

5. Break the Routine. So much of adult life gets settled into a routine: the daily grind of work and responsibilities. Perhaps you are living in a big city and stuck in the rat race, spending hours of your day commuting in traffic. Or perhaps you live in the suburbs and are subjected to the adult version of Mean Girls when you bring your kids to the playground. Continue reading

Here Comes the World Cup

I am sure you already know this, but as of the time of my writing, the World Cup begins in 22 days. In just over 3 weeks, soccer fever will consume Germany and much of the rest of the world. Are you ready?

If you are new to Germany and have arrived from North America, you might not be. The World Cup is big. Bigger than the Superbowl. And longer, more exciting, and more fun. “How can that be?”, you may ask. “Nothing is bigger than the Superbowl!”, you may say. This is something you must experience to believe.

Beginning June 12th at 5pm Sao Paolo time (10pm German time), you can spend your waking (and sleeping) hours consumed with the game of soccer. Lest you fear you will have to sit at home in front of your TV all day, rest assured: many workplaces will broadcast it in-house. All pubs will show the matches. And there is “public viewing” – the German notion of gathering in public squares to watch matches on giant screens, together. With beer. This is more fun than it sounds! (“public viewing” for Germans involves watching sports together in public, and is an awkward example of Germans adopting English words and giving them new meanings). Continue reading