Posts tagged ‘rules’

July 5, 2015


This is the first of a small series of German language blog entries that are designed to address some common mistakes Germans speaking English make.  Some content might be redundant with the content provided in the English language blog.

In dieser kleinen Serie fasse ich einige der haeufigsten Fehler zusammen, die Deutsche im Englischen machen.  Fangen wir mit den an sich einfachen aber doch haeufig verwirrenden Konzept des “besitzanzeigenden s” an, das im Deutschen am ehesten dem Genetiv entspricht.  Im Deutschen wird der Genetiv – der ohnehin fast nie benuetzt wird –  ebenfalls durch ein s signalisiert. “Das Haus des Grossvaters/Grossvaters Haus ist der Stadt” waere ein Beispiel.

Im englischen ist das ganz aehnlich nur ist das s mit einem Apostroph abgetrennt: “Grandfather’s house is in the city.”

So weit so gut. Was aber wenn man zwei Grossvaeter hat, die beide in der Stadt wohnen? In dem Fall wird der normale Plural gebildet und dann das Apostroph angehaengt um den Possessive anzudeuten: “The grandfathers’ houses are in the city.”

Unuebersichtlicher wird es bei Worten, die auf s enden, denn dann gibt es zwei Moeglichkeiten” Grandpa Charles’s house is in the city” oder “Grandpa Charles’ house is in the city.”  Beide sind richtig und haben ihre Grammatik-Gurus, die die eine vs. die andere Schreibweise befuerworten.  Die einfachste Empfehlung ist, dass man sich fuer eine Schreibweise entscheiden soll und diese dann auch durchgehend verwendet.

Natuerlich gibt es jede Menge zusaetzlicher Regeln und Empfehlungen, was man mit Worten, die auf x oder ch enden macht, was wenn es Eigennamen sind oder auf s enden oder Worte, die auf zwei ss enden und vor einem Wort stehen, dass mit s anfaengt?  “the hostess’s sink” – “das Wasch/Spuelbecken der Gastgeberin” waere so ein Beispiel – dass ja recht bescheuert aussieht.   In vielen Faell ist ebenfalles gesunder Menschenverstand und Konsistenz gefragt.  Wenn man schreibt dass man bei den Joneses zum Abendessen war dann sollte man mit den Sanchezes ins Kino gehen.  Wenn man allerdings bei den Jones’s diniert hat, sollte man mit den Sanchez’s ins Kino.

Wichtig ist erstmal, dass man die Grundlagen richtig hinkriegt, um Missverstaendniss zu vermeiden oder nicht wie ein Ignorant darzustehen.

possessive 2

Das ist ein ganz normaler Plural muesste also “Signs” sein, nicht sign’s. Das Schild macht so ueberhaupt keinen Sinn.


Das gleiche Problem, Hondas ist ein Plural – viele Honda Autos. Wieder ergibt das Schild so keinen Sinn.

Die Grundregeln sind:

  • In einem normalen Plural hat ein ‘s nichts verloren.  Meine zwei Soehne sind “my two sons” nicht “my two son’s” or “my two sons’ ” Das letztere waere richtig wenn es von einem Nomen gefolgt waere. z.B. my two sons’ boat- das Boot meiner zwei Soehne, also ein Boot das beiden gehoert.
  •  Ein Possessiv braucht ein Apostroph, sonst ist es kein Possessiv sondern ein Fehler.

Bevor es ganz bloed und umstaendlich wird kann man sich meistens mit einer Umschreibung behelfen.  Also statt “Illinois’s constitution” also “Illinois Verfassung” kann man ohne weiteres “the constitution of Illinois” sagen, also “die Verfassung von Illinois” oder – vermutlich korrekter im Deutschen “die Verfassung des Staates Illinois”.

Wenn man das gemeistert hat, kann man schon mehr als viele Muttersprachler.

May 5, 2011


The art of networking, pic:

Networking is a central part of American business life and one that Europeans often underestimate – at their own peril.   I hold to my opinion that among all the great things I learned in a US Business School networking and small talking were the most important.  And I really am not downplaying the importance of macroeconomics or cost accounting here.

Networking is more than sashaying around at a cocktail party Martini in hand.  Networking is actively building a group of professionals you have done business with or could do one day do business with.  It means to keep in loose touch with those individuals and be of help and assistance to them when asked.

And here is the critical idea: “ask for and provide assistance”.  If I need an introduction to Seth, the  marketing person in company X, and I know Jenny in company Y who knows that person I got and say “could you send Seth an email and introduce me?” and chances are Jenny will say “sure, no problem.”  Nobody feels taken advantage of and all is fine as long as some basic rule is followed:

  • you taketh and you giveth – Jenny helps me so next time Alicia asks me for the name of the hiring manager so her son can send the application for a summer internship to the right person I’ll say “Sure, I’ll do it tonight.”  (unless the son is a complete doofus in which case I better think quickly and come up with a good reason why I can’t).

Everybody thinks this is the most efficient way of getting stuff done – and you know what: it is.  networking doesn’t mean to condone nepotism it builds on the old idea of the network of trust.  I trust you, you trust Eric over there so I implicitly trust Eric.

Works!  Not always but more often than not.

February 26, 2011

Pointing my finger

We are back to my favorite – not – topic:  Guns, toy guns to be precise. Whenever I refer to guns in this post I mean toy guns, not real ones .

We have over the last few weeks drilled into our son to never, ever sneak a gun or anything that might remotely resemble a gun into school.  Smart boy that he is he had pointed out that kids he had nothing to fear because kids don’t go to prison and being kicked out of school sounded like fun and so it all culminated in the statement that mom or dad might have to go to jail if he wields a gun.

So we got through that all right and I started to relax a bit about that whole gun business and was hoping that I could stop talking about guns all the time because that a) I find it incredibly boring and b) it makes them all the more exciting and interesting for Bubbleboy, or more aptly Gun Boy.

Then the following conversation happened:
Gun Boy: “Mom, we can’t bring guns to school.”
Me: “Yes, I know. We have been talking about this for a while now.”
Gun Boy: “We are also not allowed to use our fingers as pretend guns.”
Me, incredulous: “Really, I haven’t heard that before. Is that a new rule?”
Gun Boy: “Yes, were playing the other day and were told that we can’t use our fingers as guns either.”
Both contemplate that new development for a few seconds ….
Gun Boy: “Mom, you know, that is really difficult because we always have our fingers with us.”

A whole new meaning to flipping the finger, pic:

I stopped and hugged my little guy – he squirmed out of it, not wanting to be hugged randomly anymore – for I felt so bad for him. He is six, he wants to play cops and robbers, cowboy and Indians or whatever modernized variation therefore they play these days (yedi knights vs. droids seems to be the flavor of the month) like generations of little

boys before him.  They take his plastic guns, his sticks, pencils, squirt guns, and finally now they tell him he can’t even use his fingers anymore. What is he supposed to do, play house all day or exciting math games, or draw flowers and kittens?

As much as I dislike guns myself, and as much as I am pro-gun control to the point where they would probably kick me out of most states in the country if I voiced my opinion, so – considering all of that I am going to take this little boy to the local gun club.  I want him to learn how to handle guns and I want him to touch them, I want him to grow up and have a relaxed attitude towards them. It might not have gotten through to the people at school but things you really, really want and can’t have become all the more desirable. I could tell a few stories about that myself, most people could.

But somehow, this lesson seem to have gotten lost somewhere during one school reform or another.

February 10, 2011

Dressing for the occassion, part 1

One of the eternally confusing things to me when I first moved to the US was the dress code. I expected people in business school to wear dresses and suits only to realize that wearing anything other than jeans/shorts, a t-shirt and sneakers would invariably result in the comment “wow, you dressed up today.”

I was shocked to see people in pink sweat suits at the symphony and unprepared for the first formal event I attended where everybody – other than me – knew that that meant long evening gown for the ladies.

Business casual for (pretty, young) women, pic:

Even the language around dress codes is somewhat confusing, especially when it comes to very formal events – which most people rarely or never attend.  So let’s look at the different dress codes in a somewhat systematic way starting with the ubiquitous “business casual”.

Many companies, even the once stodgy banks, these days expect business casual attire.  As the name indicates this is in the middle between casual (jeans, short, t-shirts, etc.) and business (suit).  Business casual is classic rather than trendy, neat, clean clothing, not too baggy, not too tight, definitely not revealing too much cleavage or a bare mid-riff.

Guy in business casual, pic:

For guys it is rather simple: khaki or dark pants, a pressed shirt, if you need it a sports coat or maybe even a nice sweater.  Leather belt and decent shoes – sneakers stay home – but so do neck-ties.

The how-to and how-not-to quick guide for men, pic:

Women can dress pretty much the same.  sounds sort of boring and is but business casual is not about excitement.  Skirts shouldn’t be too short (forget what you see on TV, lawyers don’t prance around in micro-minis), tops not too tight, shoes not to high, wheels not to spiky, everything in solid colors, the clothing should not be too bright (bright accessories can be okay).  Pantyhose is mostly optimal.  Jewelry shouldn’t be too big and flashy – you get the idea.

Since pictures say more than a 1000 words I included several pics in this blog.

February 5, 2011

About that beer

I had a discussion today with a German colleague – about beer.  To be more precise about that beer – or glass of wine – for lunch and how acceptable or unacceptable it is in different places.

Not an acceptable lunch - neither in the US nor in Europe, pic:

Where I live nobody ever has an alcoholic beverage during a business lunch.  Never, ever!  It is completely unacceptable and would put the “perpetrator” in the uncomfortable position to have to explain that they don’t need that drink, just enjoy it.

In Germany, and in fact many other European countries having one beer or one glass of wine with lunch is perfectly acceptable.  Two, it get’s dicey, three will raise serious questions, but one is pretty much normal.  And we are talking beer or wine, not hard liquor.

So here is my little cultural advice for the cross-Atlantic business traveler:

As an American, if your German business partners have a beer during lunch they do not need to be institutionalized.  If you want to stay with water or a soda, that’s fine, nobody will think less of you.  If you like to participate, have a beer/wine.  One – not a three Martini lunch.

As a European: if you have a business lunch in the US have a coke, water, orange juice, ginger ale, whatever there is without alcohol in it  – no wine or beer, not even alcohol free or light.  It is just not done and people will think less of you if you do drink.

January 11, 2011

Drop-off offense

When I started 1st grade my mom walked me to school for about 2 weeks and then decided that I was big girl now and could manage on my own. I think she secretly followed me a couple days and then she worried for a few more – and that was that.

I, on the other hand, pick my son up from school every day. It is just a little too far for him to go by himself from school to after-school especially given the four lane street he would have to cross. Admittedly, where I grew up streets weren’t four lanes wide.

The other day the pick-up here, drop-off there routine was upset by an important and unmovable meeting happening very soon after drop-off time. I figured, if I got my son to move reasonably fast – which is like willing a copy machine into copying faster – cut the chit-chat at drop-off, and hit all the traffic lights just right I might be able to make it with three minutes to spare.

The daily drop-off ritual, pic: © Steven Pepple |

Great plan, but as always in such cases, this turned out to be the one day where the teacher wanted to speak to me because of some incident involving my child (for once he was hit by someone accidentally and didn’t do the accidental hitting himself – relief) and so we were running terribly late. Ruthless mother that I am I thought up the following obnoxious plan: “Boy” I said “I am going to drop you off right where we always park. You my big, smart boy walk the ten steps to the door, open it, and run in – all by yourself.”

“Yeah, a real drop-off” my big, smart and increasingly independent boy said and couldn’t wait to get out of the car without mom in tow.

Boy, did I get in trouble for this in the evening when I picked him up. Turns out everybody under the age of 12 needs to be signed in by a parent else the school gets fined. 12?? Sign-in?? Please! My mom had to take care of her baby sister at the age of 11 and I – who was way less responsible than that – worked in restaurant kitchens for pocket money at 12.

I can see that you wouldn’t abandon a three-year old in the parking lot and leave him to wonder around and eventually end up in some neighbor’s front yard. But a six-year old? Come on, on the one hand we expect them to say, understand, and believe sentences like “it really hurts my feelings if you say unfriendly things to me and I wish you would make wiser choices” but then they can’t walk 10 steps, open a door and sign themselves in – once in a very big while, when mom is running late and is still waiting in the car to see whether those 10 steps are taken, the door is opened, and the kid disappears safely behind it.

In an attempt to avoid any even the remotest of risks from our children’s life I am afraid we will turn them into adolescents who will need mom’s help well into their 30s.

December 18, 2010


Sensitive topic, this one.  But it needs to be dealt with.

If you are in the US and you need to find the place they call toilet in other countries you do ask for one of the following:

the bathroom – nobody will think that you want to take a shower

the restroom – in most publich places taking a rest in there would be the last thing that come to min

This isn't - in the US, pic:

d but so be it

The Ladies’/Men’s room – not women’s room

The facilities – it might be contrary to intuition but people will know what you mean

The powder room – stay away from that expression if you are a man.  It is derived from the predominantly female habit of powdering ones nose

You do not, however, ask for the toilet.  Not in the US.  Not polite.  Maybe even shocking.

I remember my distance running days and that one run way up in the Sierra Nevada with a bunch of people.  One girl stopped and said she had to go to the bathroom.  She went into the bushes, of course, with no bathroom within 10 miles or so but to use another, more blatant or obvious expression was unthinkable – even up there away from civilization.

December 10, 2010

I wonder – again

The now infoamous butt drag, pic:

this time for real – about a news story that of the “only in California” type.

Let’s set the stage with a couple of definitions.

Wrestling is a sport in which two opponents struggle hand to hand in order to pin or press each other’s shoulders to the mat or ground.  Wrestling, believe it or not, has styles, rules, moves, and regulations.

One of the moves is called butt drag.  As the name suggests somebody grabs somebody else’s butt and drags it.  Presumably that requires some serious grabbing to obtain leverage  and sometimes the wrestlers try and get a better hold even by using a  finger in the rectum for more leverage which – as unpleasant as it sounds to us non-wrestlers – seems to be a not uncommon variation of the drag albeit not quite by the book either.

You are free to form your own opinion about the desirability of those activities, but if you decide to become a wrestler, it would stand to reason that you should be prepared to for some butt dragging.  If you don’t like to be touched there are alternatives: synchronized swimming comes to mind, pole vaulting, stuff like that.

In a poster case for “Only in California” a 17-year old wrestler in Fresno has been charged with sexual assault by his opponent – for dragging his butt.    The case is going to trial in January.

If this was April 1 I would laugh but it is December and therefore it ain’t a joke.

Some sore looser decided to get revenge and in our litigious society it isn’t enough to walk over and say to the guy  “Yo, homeboy, keep your hand off my ass or else …” It is not enough to go to the trainer and accuse the other of something less life altering, let’s say “unsportsman-like behavior”.

No, it has to be sexual assault, lawyers need to get involved, judges, courts, and likely money will changes hands at some point.   Parents will be pulling their kids out of wrestling practice in droves for fear of litigation and ruining the poor kids’ lives rather than enriching them.  I am starting to wonder what cockamamie claims could possible come up in my son’s martial arts class …

Welcome to California in 2010!

October 24, 2010

Casual Conversation

Americans, especially Californians  can be very casual people as many Europeans – showing up in suit and tie to a meeting in Silicon Valley and met a CEO in jeans and shirts – can attest to.  There is also plenty of casual conversation in business settings, e.g. before the meeting, during a business lunch/dinner, etc.  There are, however, unwritten rules to keep in mind for such conversations.  Importantly, certain topics are completely off-limits and others are touchy and should be avoided.  Others are perfectly safe and those are the ones you should stick with.

Business is more casual in California, © Daniel Sroga |

Topics that should be avoided under all circumstances are anything off-color (meaning with even the slightest sexual connotation) and religion.  The latter I mean in the broadest possible sense.  With so many different religious beliefs in this country you are likely to offend somebody by making a offhanded remark about God, the afterlife, reincarnation,  sin, redemption, religious ceremonies, even evolution.  Many social issues, e.g. abortion or  gay marriage, have religious undertones and it  is best to stay a mile away from those topics even if you can’t think of anything else to say.  It is better to be remembered as dull than offensive.

Politics is almost as touchy as religion, and you want to be very careful  especially with people you don’t know very well.  If you must bring up politics, be positive and high-level and refrain from harsh criticism.

“Many Europeans are very taken by your president” is a good thing to say whether you agree or not.

“Most Europeans think American right wing politicians are completely crazy” is not such a great thing to say, whether you agree or not.

Safe topics: probably the same as everywhere: the weather, family, the beauty of the place you are visiting “California is simply stunning.  What do you recommend in do on my day off in this area?”, sports, if you are so inclined, your hobbies, popular culture, recent trips you taken to wonderful places “Next time you are in Europe you should visit Lake Como.  There is a reason why George Clooney lives there.”

Finally, smile a lot, keep the conversation lighthearted, don’t force your points.